• Written by  Margaret Miller Curtis

It’s been said -and I think it’s true- that we may forget what someone said or did, but we never forget how they made us feel. As money is power, and how we use- or misuse- power is important, money can be a touchy subject.

I particularly don’t like being pressured to spend or give more than I can afford.  When I first began making a little money of my own, having saved my babysitting money, I stopped to admire a purse in a downtown clothing store in Marianna. One of the owners saw me admiring it and started pushing me to buy it. “Oh Honey, that would be just perfect for you; it’s the kind of purse that will go with anything,” she said and ignored my statement that I didn’t need a purse. I was just admiring it.

I could not have afforded the purse even if I needed it, but she continued to harass and embarrass me until I agreed to buy it. When I came home, Mother, of course, made me take it right back to the store.   The owner looked at me with such disdain that you’d think I was returning stolen goods. 

I was brought up to never ask someone what they paid for something, and as I’m not sure what to say when somebody asks me that, I struggle to find a way to dodge the question. Once, after a flood had ruined our back yard, we installed new sod and a neighbor asked me how much it cost. I made a face and exclaimed, “TOO MUCH! which made her laugh and drop the subject.

I was also taught to be honest. When asked to chip in more than you can afford to buy a gift for a boss, teacher or whomever, it is better to say you’d prefer to buy your own gift, but “thanks for asking.” It also prevents embarrassment to be clear about who will be paying when a group decides to meet and eat at a restaurant. If it is to be “Dutch treat,” that should be announced ahead of time. Most restaurants don’t mind giving separate checks.

 A dieter who only orders a salad for dinner won’t be happy if asked to pay “her share” of a large bill produced by others who ordered everything from wine and appetizers to desserts. Rather than fume about the injustice, it would be better if she cheerfully announced that she was paying her own bill and that the others could share their bills if they preferred to do that. On the other hand, if I invite someone to enjoy a restaurant meal with me, I tell them that I hate arguments about who pays, and as I’m doing the inviting, I will do the paying, and I don’t want to hear any more about it.

When I was growing up, girls were not allowed to accept gifts of clothing or expensive gifts from boys because it suggested inappropriate intimacy. It was OK to accept candy or flowers, and to give without expecting reciprocation.

One Christmas, I had my first date with a popular basketball player who I genuinely liked. I was a freshman in high school and he was a senior, and I was flattered when he gave me a box of Stauffer’s chocolate covered cherries for Christmas and took me to a drive-in movie. Everything was OK until I told him I had to be home by a certain time. He said he wouldn’t take me home until I gave him a kiss first. I had nothing against kissing him, but that sounded like a misuse of power and I refused. We were both stubborn people, so he kept driving around the block again and again, until he finally gave up. I was grounded for the rest of the month for not being home on time, and he started dating another girl.

I wished our date had gone better, but I still believe that any expression of love should be freely given and freely received, with no sense of obligation involved. We all have our troubles and partings, but life has a way of giving us other and sometimes better opportunities.

Even though we should give without expecting reciprocation, I do believe in sending thank you notes. I love sincere thank you notes so much that I’ve saved some of my favorite ones. I was once a volunteer in an organization headed by a wonderful woman who always sent me a glowing thank you note for any help I had given. This motivated me to want to do even more work, proving that giving appreciation matters. 

Being appreciated matters because a thank you note is also a gift, one that acknowledges the giver’s kindness and generosity.  When our children were growing up, I made sure they sent thank you notes to relatives. I mailed their letters just as they were written even if their spelling was more imaginative than correct. I did not make them re-write the letters because I thought that would cause them to dislike having to write them.  (I am also hopelessly sentimental and as their errors reflected their age at that time, I’ve saved some of them.)   

However, one of their great aunts once returned their Christmas thank you notes with all their childish errors corrected in red ink and harshly advising that they work harder on their spelling. One of our sons was deeply offended. “I didn’t like her stupid present, anyway,” he said. “Tell her not to send me any more gifts.”  

I did not do that, of course. Good manners require us to care about how people feel. 

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