More Stories - The Way We Were
more to learn in life than just school lessons. I taught my
children how to handle money with an unlikely tool; the poisonous rosary
Rosary Peas and
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.
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