My parents bought gasoline differently. A few years ago, I resolved to favor my father’s way. I learned a lot as I operated on my modus operandi. This year, I’m planning to push myself further in his direction.
Dad had his routine. Late every Saturday afternoon, he would pull into the same station, where they offered a free newspaper with every fill-up. He knew if he got there mid-afternoon, they’d have the early edition of the Sunday paper — a bigger paper, but the same deal. From my shotgun seat, I’d hear him banter about politics with the proprietor.
Then he would head to the liquor store. My memory suggests he bought the same things every week: Slim Jims, Beer Nuts, and a 12-cent comic book for me. He probably bought liquor too. I remember him drinking it, but not buying it. The comic book distraction must have worked as intended.
My mother, on the other hand, bought gas only when the fuel gauge demanded it, and then only a few dollars at a time. She would wait until the last possible opportunity, producing panic, usually toting rambunctious children in a station wagon without seat belts.
When parents model such competing life strategies, adulthood may begin with confusion and uncertainty. I know mine did. Eventually, those conflicting models showed me that I have more choices in life than I know how to number. I’ve tried to make sense of how my parents’ choices made sense to them.
My father grew up with poor but generous parents. They were itinerant machinists. They often moved to stay employed, including a short stint in Eugene and then Portland during World War II. Grandma sewed army boots. Grandpa worked in the shipyards.
They gave whatever they had. Grandpa built us a playhouse that lasted forever. I still have the comically shaped blanket that Grandma crocheted for Dad beside his deathbed. Every day in the hospital, he’d feel chilled and tell her the same thing: “Make it longer.”
My mother’s upbringing was very different. She grew up in a stately house, an annual stop on the suburban garden club tour. Her father traveled often and worked long hours as an accountant. Unfortunately, his work values followed him home. He was calculating and parsimonious with his affections.
He taught me to swim with my eyes open by throwing nickels into a hotel pool, but only after he learned pennies wouldn’t motivate a ten-year-old. He claimed they were quarters and chuckled when I discovered his ruse.
And so my parents navigated their world very differently. Mom answered to the fuel gauge. Dad watched the calendar. “What’s left?” versus “What’s next?” Did my parents argue about their differing lifestyles? I don’t remember. I do know we had the first two-car garage in the neighborhood.
I no longer buy gas only when I absolutely need it. This year I will survey other tanks that I’m filling only they are nearly empty, and try to change my approach. I believe abundance is more available than my awareness tells me, and I’ve devised a way to test it.
I will start each week with a small sum of money in my pocket, to be used for things that I don’t feel like I need. I decided I could spare a couple thousand dollars for this experiment — $40 per week. The amount matters less than the intent — to spend it in ways that don’t feel “normal” or “right” to me.
If my hypothesis is correct, after a year, I won’t wish I had that $2,000 back. I will have discovered new things that I enjoy but never tried because my fear disguised itself as frugality. I may better understand why others buy things that I don’t, after trying it alongside them. I’ll bet I won’t feel like the money was wasted, even though that was my expressed intent.
The abundance that surrounds me doesn’t always feel available to me, but maybe that’s less about the abundance and more about my ability to avail it. With a year practice, I may get better at it.
Don Kahle (email@example.com) blogs