Dinner parties were integral to the culture of the post war baby boom era of the 1950s and 1960s. If a couple had social standing, it was almost obligatory to hob nob with others of equal social standing over drinks, food, jokes and cigarettes. My mother was known for putting on great dinner parties - she’d work herself to a froth over an elaborate feast, to the point that one of her friends commented at her funeral that my parents’ guests would be having a great time while she was fast asleep in a quiet corner.
As a child, I was both fascinated by and annoyed at the intrusion into our sprawling home. My siblings and I were encouraged to make an appearance, manners expected, then disappear. We didn’t do so good on the disappearing part. After all, what child can resist watching adults morph into sotted fools? And so it was that I inserted myself into one memorable summer party when everyone who was anyone in our rural community was invited.
One of the couples in attendance were Chicagoans who had a summer home on Lake Michigan, seasonal fixtures if you will. The Bateses were of old money, and they were old. Mr. Bates was a kindly gentleman who enjoyed seeing the ‘little ones’ and rather fawned over us. Unfortunately, he was also senile. So when he gave me a dollar at that party and patted me on the head, Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah! Everything was going my way. A dollar in 1960 was the equivalent of $8.64 in today’s money, so it was a small fortune to a five-year-old.
Eagle eyed and not at all asleep in the corner, Mom observed the interaction. She was most displeased; I was admonished not to bother Mr. Bates again and got the distinct impression a line had been crossed. But, I was five-years-old and if Mr. Bates forgot he already gave me a dollar, might he give me another? I didn’t go after the man, I did my dutiful disappearing act for a respectable amount of time. A half-hour later, I edged back into the cluster of couples and revelers, worming my way toward—you guessed it—Mr. Bates.
He patted me on the head and asked which of the six children I was, forgetting he’d done exactly the same not an hour earlier. And gave me another dollar. Which I greedily took. Which Mom discovered, scolded me, and made me give it back.
In my childish mind, I thought if someone didn’t know they had already given me a dollar, what could it hurt if I got two? Maybe I could come back for a third! My piggy bank was growing fat, I could be RICH! Just thinking of the things I could buy with Mr. Bates’ unwitting generosity had me in ecstasy. Until Mom sternly set me on the straight and narrow.
I remember first denying I’d gotten the second dollar, then pleading my innocence (I did nothing wrong, Mom!), then justifying what I done by saying it was Mr. Bates’ who wanted to give me the money, and finally arguing with her that I shouldn’t have to give it back. Inside, though, I knew I was wrong and that I shouldn’t have done what I did.
The lesson remains with me to this day. If I’ve been given too much change or not charged enough for a purchase, I go back to the clerk and make things right. I understand the value of hard work and that it is the only way to feel good about having the money for needs and wants and maybe a few splurges. Thanks to Mom, I grew into an adult who left the ways of childhood behind me, and understands that a clear conscience before man and God is priceless.
1 Corinthians 13:11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man (grew up), I put the ways of childhood behind me.