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Beyond Dollars

Jim Wasserman

“RIFFING OFF” is a term used in music and particularly jazz. It describes when a musician picks up a musical line played by another musician and then runs with it, adding his or her own style or take.

I love riffing off my co-writers—and when they riff off me. I also do it sometimes with HumbleDollar articles and blog posts. I read a thoughtful piece and then, as the day goes on, I think about the core concept or even just a single line, and let my mind dwell on it.

That happened when I read a recent Richard Quinn piece. He began by recalling his grandmother’s silver napkin rings, and then went on to discuss his and his wife’s collection of Waterford glass. I was struck that he conceded that today’s monetary value of the accumulated crystal might not be all that much, but that—in terms of memories—such items were “priceless.”

That got me thinking. I wanted for very little growing up. But I have almost nothing physical left from all the accoutrements of a privileged childhood. What I do hold on to is a tiny terra cotta pot.

One day, my father brought home a group of these pots, one for each member of the family. He proceeded to paint one thing on each: a crew cut on the big one represented my father, a ’60s updo my mother, nerdy glasses my bookish brother, deep blue eyes my sister. As for me, the youngest, there was the tiniest pot—with an open, yelling mouth. My dad hung all the pots on the patio together, and they became priceless. I still have mine, and I believe my siblings still have theirs.

Another time, my father brought home a stack of large cardboard boxes from his factory. I don’t recall who started it, but everyone in the family joined in making a long tunnel. It was just before Halloween, so we started adding creepy things inside, creating our own haunted crawl-through house.

We offered to let trick-or-treaters crawl through it to get to the candy. It was a neighborhood hit, and I remember rushing my own door-to-door collecting, so I could get home and help my family run the tunnel for others. Years later, my wife, sons and I riffed off that memory, creating our own neighborhood Halloween haunted tunnel, though with more modern tech. That’s now a family favorite memory for a new generation.

I share with Dick the experience of offering formerly valued items to my children, only to be met with a resounding “meh.” But let’s not lose sight of the things that have value beyond dollars and beyond what we can sometimes appreciate: the memories, the family moments, the unseen glue that connects us. Those are the family treasures we should guard and cherish.

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Ormode
Ormode
1 year ago

When I was six years old, I started to read and accumulate books. My father took an old china cabinet that was sitting around, used some spare paneling and my set of baby blocks, and converted it into a little bookcase. This is just about the only thing I have left from the 1950s. Of course, it would mean nothing to anyone else, and they will just toss it out when I pass on.

Jim Wasserman
Jim Wasserman
1 year ago
Reply to  Ormode

Homemade stuff creates some of the best memories. When my sons were 7 and 8, we put in some shelves for their books, toys, and junk. They “helped,” so the shelves were slanted and didn’t meet quite right at the corners. When we moved, one of my sons said he wished we could take the shelves with us as they meant a lot to him. Maybe the things that mean something only to us are the secret treasures we accumulate in life.

Mik Cajon
Mik Cajon
1 year ago

“privileged childhood”…what does that mean?

Jim Wasserman
Jim Wasserman
1 year ago
Reply to  Mik Cajon

Oh my, Mik, there are so many ways it was privileged. First, I never wanted for shelter or food (a 2017 study indicates 13 million children go to school hungry due to poverty), nor was I ever seriously worried about my personal or economic security. I was provided a top prep school education with all the then-latest tech (a recent study says that 1 in 4 households today don’t have internet; imagine that in the remote learning of today!). My race (though I grew up a minority religion) was not a barrier, though my good friend, who is African American, was denied entry to some things and forbidden by some parents from even talking with their daughters. I received plenty of gifts every holiday, and if I was denied, it was an ethical, not economic, decision by my parents (cue Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish” for comparison). I had counselors who helped find a college for me, and there was no issue about paying for it. Basically, I was born on third base and just needed someone to hit a sacrifice fly to get me home. BTW, I am not one to say people should repudiate the privilege they were lucky enough to get by birth lottery. I do think we who received it should acknowledge it and recognize how many don’t (and do what we can to level the playing field). Be well, my long-time friend.

Mik Cajon
Mik Cajon
1 year ago
Reply to  Jim Wasserman

My personal life experience is the opposite…working class poor parents who didn’t qualify for any special programs/benefits based on their ethnicity/race…to try and level the “playing field” I completed a bachelors degree after 10 years of night school and working full time to pay for it…I’m still looking and wanting some kind of privilege others say I have…enjoy.

Last edited 1 year ago by Mik Cajon
Chazooo
Chazooo
1 year ago
Reply to  Mik Cajon

Mik you are intrinsically privileged, having been born in America, having both parents, presumably having good health, enough to eat, shelter, enough income to afford Internet to participate here, and just enough accomplishment to make you arrogant about your struggle instead of being grateful for the opportunity. Why do millions of people walk to our southern border?

Mik Cajon
Mik Cajon
1 year ago
Reply to  Chazooo

My ancestors legally immigrated to the USA…no financial and/or health benefits were ever provided to my knowledge…most died prematurely from a lack of resources and dangerous work…I pray my family will also have a better life as a result of their ancestors and my work ethic…”arrogance” not so much.

Last edited 1 year ago by Mik Cajon
Jim Wasserman
Jim Wasserman
1 year ago
Reply to  Mik Cajon

I am impressed and you have my respect for achieving what you have done, Mik. I would love to hear more, maybe as a piece here on HD?

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