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More Stories - The Way We Were

There's more to learn in life than just school lessons.  I taught my children how to handle money with an unlikely tool; the poisonous rosary pea.

 

Rosary Peas and Money Management

    I put our two youngest to work for pay when son Mark was barely four years old and Catherine not yet two. This may seem harsh but it served a purpose and they enjoyed it.
The area in which we live was platted before 1920 with alleys in the rear (as well as latrines, etc.) A verbal agreement among many early builders was to stagger the homes; one at the rear of the lot, the next at the front, for privacy and to let the breeze through in pre-air conditioning days. Fences were mostly unheard of, and many property boundaries were set with hedges of Surinam cherry, areca, colorful crotons and anything else tha could be trained into a hedge. Utilities were eventually run through the alleys, as well as garbage collection. When we rented across the street, we lived on an alley that was well traveled and pretty much maintained. Not so with the house we bought later; it was on an alley that curved oddly and was a muddy mess. There was a thick Suriname cherry bush hedge across the back. To my horror, I discovered that the hedge, and much of the alley, was infested the rosary pea vines. This is a beautiful but invasive plant from Asia that produces pea-size oval seeds of brilliant crimson with a black spot. The seeds are sometimes used as decorations, stuck on with glue, or even drilled to make necklaces or rosaries, If swallowed by humans or birds, intact, they are indigestible and pass through the body, but if broken, chewed or drilled they contain one of the most poisonous compounds there is; a tiny bit will kill. These attractive "beads" are sometimes gathered by children as a playthings, without realizing the danger.

    I showed the "pea" to my children, and explained its danger; this mostly went over Cathy's head, but I feared that Mark might experiment with them, he was that kind of child. I told them that for each seed they bought me, I would pay them two cents. (That was pretty good spending money back then.) Further, they could spend it at the corner store any time except close to mealtime; either I would take them or Mark would get a death-grip on his sister's hand all the way there and back and supervise her spending.

    I took a handful of pennies and we went shopping; I showed them things they could buy for a penny or two, like little lollipops or twists of bubble gum, and how many pennies would buy, for instance, an ice cream bar. Mark understood but Cathy was still too young to get the idea completely. I got them little plastic rakes for children, and this kept them busy for part of nearly every day for weeks. I kept a bottle of change on a high shelf; they would bring their booty which I counted, pay the ransom and flush the seeds down the toilet. Mark would then help decide what they could buy, or if they should save it and look for more seeds. This was a great lesson in counting, spending or saving.

    After some time, the seeds became harder to find; Mark suggested a raise to a nickel each. Eventually when they were almost eradicated I upped the reward to a quarter, which was rarely earned.

    Mark asked for another way to make money. We had some sand spurs in our yard; the bane of barefoot people in Florida, with nasty spurs that embedded in one's foot or hitched a ride on shoelaces, socks and pant legs ready to prick one's finger during removal. This house had been sitting vacant and the sand spurs had proliferated. They had to be dug up entirely. I gave the children a rusty trowel and offered a dime for each plant, complete with root. Soon we had no more sand spurs.
 
    Later during a recession when my husband was out of work, we took on odd jobs with our kids, and gave them each a small share of the profit for their own use. By the time they were in their early teens, they helped and earned in my business, were signers on our checks, made deposits, and carried and used responsibly our credit cards. Cathy shared her brother's and father's cars and saved, until she found and bought her own, free and clear at seventeen. All our grown children have remained industrious, and financially responsible.

    I don't think there's anything wrong with youngsters learning young the benefits of working, earning and saving money. Many proponents of stricter child labor laws may disagree, but there's more to learn in life than just school lessons.

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