Thoughts from the ammo line

Ammo Grrrll is thinking about DEFINING MOMENTS and a life-altering lesson. She writes:

In every life there are watershed moments, often fraught with grief and peril. A parent dies young; a tragic accident destroys hopes and dreams; a baby is born with special needs.

But, sometimes, defining moments are very small, yet life-altering things. Like that proverbial butterfly fluttering its wings in a far-off land and causing seismic changes elsewhere.

In 6th grade, our class in Lincoln Elementary School got its first male teacher, a young go-getter just out of Teachers College, age 23, full of enthusiasm and new ideas. His name was Mr. Hagen, and I will wager that every little girl in the class had a crush on him.

Somehow we learned that he had an upcoming birthday and we planned a big surprise party for him in collaboration with his young wife. I’m pretty sure in retrospect, this party was no surprise at all due to all the whispering, tittering and general excitement whenever he would leave or enter the classroom. Surprises are highly overrated anyway.

Committees were chosen to decorate, to gather money and shop for a collective gift, and to order a cake from the local bakery. I was on the cake committee along with a girl named Kay who I kind of worshiped, as she was everything I was not.

First of all, she was extremely cute, round-faced with a button nose and dimples. Cuteness was not my long suit at that juncture. Unlike now. Heh. A short scrawny tomboy with a bad haircut and largish nose can only score so high on the cuteness scale. Now I have a much better haircut and have the “scrawniness” problem more than solved. But, back to 6th grade…

Kay was always prim and proper, a doctor’s daughter, dressed in beautiful clothes, very different from the hand-me-downs and bargain basement frocks Mama gravitated toward for me. But more importantly, she was always impossibly neat and clean. Her starched, ironed white blouses stayed pristine. No grass stains, condiment stains or blood stains. How did she MANAGE that? Nary a wrinkle, whereas I was really happy years later to see linen make a comeback. Linen comes wrinkled and is considered cool. Ketchup stains optional.

We went to Yeutter’s Bakery and ordered a large sheet cake. In those days, we had upwards of 200 kids per class – okay, at least 36-38. The cake was to be decorated like a lake with a little boat on it and a man in it with a fishing pole. Mr. Hagen loved fishing. By the way, I think the little fisherman was a “Groom” without his top hat. Very few men fish in a tux. More’s the pity. There’s not a man alive – short, tall, fat, thin – that doesn’t look great in a tux.

But here’s the defining moment: the lady taking our order asked us, “Girls, what do you wish to spend on this cake?” and Kay answered, “Money is no object.”

Money is no OBJECT? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? I understood each individual word, but not in the aggregate. I had been trained always to select day-old bread, and the cheapest brand of the rare canned goods that Mama didn’t put up herself. I thought thrift was the ENTIRE object.

The class had not ponied up enough change to get both a gift and a cake, so Kay’s Daddy had given her a twenty-dollar bill. Which bought a darn fine cake in 1958, trust me, as it still would today, only with much more change left over. I’m not entirely certain I had ever even seen a twenty-dollar bill. For sure, I had never owned one. For example, at age 12, I once babysat all day with four boys, the oldest of whom was a year older than me, the youngest two in diapers, and I got $2.00 for 8 hours. My mother thought that was too much and made me try to give back a dollar. Really. The lady – Bless Your Heart, Mrs. Schindel, wherever you are! — refused the refund and I was temporarily rich beyond imagining.

I kept repeating that phrase in my mind: Money is no object. And tried to figure out what that meant in practical terms. I concluded that it meant that if you really wanted an item, or an experience, that you should save up for it and just get it. Of course, this was decades before the now-popular concept that somebody ELSE owed it to me.

And I also determined, that very day in Yeutter’s Bakery, that I would find the kind of job that someday would enable me to say those magic words, if only to myself.

Mr. Ammo Grrrll has occasionally come to regret that defining moment. But I steadfastly believe in the general wisdom of it. Especially the older we get. No luggage racks on hearses and all that…With barely a minimum of nagging, wheedling and crying, I convinced him to get the heck out of Minnesota for the winter, starting when we were just 52. First 3 months, which is really only half of a Minnesota winter, then 4 months, and finally, 5. We had 12 great winters in San Diego and Palm Springs, before moving permanently to Arizona. Like Travis McGee, the great John D. MacDonald’s protagonist, we were “taking our retirement in installments.”

It took a while, but Mr. AG has grasped the concept of that defining moment, even though his Mama’s thrift made my Mama’s penny-pinching look like a drunken sailor in his first strip club. On Mr. AG’s sixth trip to Israel, he decided to fly Business Class instead of Coach so he didn’t arrive already exhausted. Good for him. Got something fun in mind that you’re putting off? Do it now. And enjoy every minute. Money is no object.


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