Every week, we invite someone to tell us their story about money. This week, Los Angeles-based writer Joey Slamon tells us a story about the emotions money can create.
I’d like to say I don’t care about money. I’d love to be one of those cool, free-spirited hippies who lives with only what they can carry in their knapsacks or squeeze onto their rickshaws.
But the truth is, I love money.
Not because I love spending it, quite the opposite. I’m actually quite a hoarder with my money. No, I love money because of the emotional attachments I’ve developed for it. To me, money is a way of showing how much you care about someone. How much you spend on their birthday or Christmas present is a direct correlation with how much you care for them.
And it’s my grandmother’s fault.
I was born in 1982 and for 4 short, wonderful years, I was my grandmother’s favorite. My grandma (or Sito, as we called her) had three children but only one son, my father. And in the Syrian culture, men reign supreme. Maybe not even the Syrian culture anymore, but definitely the old-school mentality my Sito had. Women were to serve men and men were to provide.
And since my father was a doctor, well, you could burn your retinas on the pride she beamed.
So to be the only child of her only son, well, I was set. It was a given that I’d be her favorite grandchild and life was good … until my brother was born. Everyone loves my brother more than me, to this day. But from the second he was born, it was clear that with my Sito, I was old news. Her son had a son and she couldn’t have loved him more.
It’s hard when you’re a child of around six to realize someone doesn’t love you as much as they love someone else. Especially when that “someone” is your own grandmother. And that “someone else” was this annoying, attention grabbing thing that kind of looked like me. But I wasn’t worried. Surely she’d have to see I was the superior grandchild and more deserving of her love and praise than my stupid brother who couldn’t even stand up on his own. But my efforts went unnoticed.
There is photographic proof of my grandmother’s love of my brother over me.
In every photo of the three of us, she’s practically pushing me out of frame so she can make room for her more loved grandson. This happened for years. One morning while visiting her in Pennsylvania, with my family she made a huge breakfast and there were three dishes on the dining room table. After coming back with a run with my father, I was starving and sat down at one of the place settings. You know what my Sito said? “Oh are you hungry? There’s cereal in the pantry.” He had made breakfast for my father, my brother and herself, so she could be surrounded by the ones she truly loved. I stood in the kitchen with my mother while we quietly ate old Wheetabix and my mother promised me a trip to Dunkin’ Donuts later to make up for it.
But it didn’t matter.
I knew that deep down she loved me as much as she loved my brother. I knew this for a fact because every Christmas, we’d each get a crisp $50 bill from my Sito. My other grandmother wrote checks, but my Sito sent cash. As a child with no allowance, seeing that much money at once was mind blowing. To this day I get a special feeling when seeing a $50. My Sito could pretend that she loved my brother more than me once a year when we made the trip to see her, she could dote over him and all but ignore me at her house in front of our family members, but here was cold hard proof that at the end of the day, my brother and I were the same. Each deserving of the same fifty dollar bill.
When she passed away years later, we were looking through some of her old belongings, and that’s when I saw it: The ledger. My Sito ran a cigarette and candy shop (which was a thing in the 70s) and was always a meticulous accountant. I never saw her pay for anything without writing down the exact amount to be officially recorded later. And going through her old money ledger, my heart welled with pride. This woman, who did so much for everyone around her, managed to stay independent even after the loss of her husband due to her meticulous finances. Good for her! To hell with men! We can be just as smart and capable with money! I vowed then and there to be as diligent with my own finances as an ode to my Sito, to run my own life and never let anyone tell me I was “less than.”
And then I saw it: December 15th, 1997 – the entries for Christmas presents for her grandchildren. My brother’s name – Matthew – and next to it, $50. And then my name:
Joey – $25.
I was shocked and immediately went to my mother, hoping she would explain it away as a mistake. That my Sito obviously loved us both the same and there was no way she would give my brother double what she had given me. That I hadn’t been living a lie for the past 17 years and that the secret confirmation I had that my grandma loved me just as much as my brother was simply recorded wrong in the ledger.