It arrived in the mail so unceremoniously it may as well have been the cable bill. Every day for a week I’d been stalking the mailman–each day’s yield amounting to a worthless stack of grocery ads and credit card offers which were quickly discarded into the recycle bin. All of that changed on the seventh day when–atop my June issue of Real Simple–I saw an envelope from Honda Financial Services, the words “DMV Documents Enclosed” splashed across the front in bold red letters. At long last, it was officially ours.
Sixty-one months before, worn down by endless backseat bickering, my husband and I succumbed and ventured off to our local Honda dealer hoping to trade our outgrown SUV in for a minivan that would a) put an end to sibling territorial wars and b) hold up against all the miles our carpool could dish out. In the end, I had to sacrifice the automatic tailgate lift and built-in GPS, but still, we came away that day the proud new owners of a silver Odyssey with both leather seats and a DVD package. Oh yeah. And a $640.05 monthly payment that would take us five years to get out from under. If we made it that long.
I come from parents who lived beyond their means. My dad had a thing for chrome and it seemed every time the calendar turned over he brought home a new four-wheeled baby. He’d spend the next fifty-two weekends conditioning her dash and waxing her hood but then discontent would get the best of him and he’d trade her in for a sleeker model. With each new set of wheels to pass through the garage my mom would breath in and breath out, likely running numbers in her head, doing her best to reconcile their limited income with his expensive habit.
Unlike me, my mom came from parents who lived well within their means. Growing up on the heels of the Great Depression, my grandparents are waste not want not kind of people. My mom tells the story of how her dad made her buy her own bicycle. After a whole summer of picking weeds she finally saved enough to buy an orange ten speed in the summer of 1972.
Maybe it was the sweat and toil leading up to that purchase that scarred her for life. Maybe that single experience set hard and fast in her mind the declaration that never would she deprive someone she loved of a purchase that would bring great joy, budget be damned.
As an adult, I’ve chosen a different purchasing path. I like to think that I’ve found the ever elusive happy medium–a zip code smack dab in the middle of frugal and frivolous. Only time will tell. I’ve born witness to the fact that each generation has its cycles. My grandparents would scoff at the hardships my teenagers perceive to be unfair, while my teenagers are incredulous of my mom’s bike story.
Confession: each of my four children were gifted a bike at a very young age, no strings attached. I figure it was the least I could do. That first set of wheels, after all, came pretty cheap. The next set (four instead of two, with keys and a title) will be considerably harder to attain. With any luck, though, all that hard work will teach them a valuable life lesson. That is, sleek and shiny is great, if you can afford it, but when you get right down to it, the luster of a title free and clear outshines even the most sparkling chrome.