Back in September Mr. Groovy took his last business trip. While he was gone for two nights, I took our usual daily two-mile walk around our neighborhood without him. I listened to Gretchen Rubin’s Happier podcast instead of the finance shows Mr. Groovy and I normally walk to. On one of those days, Gretchen and her co-host/sister Elizabeth, discussed material possessions that bring us comfort. It was a pleasant conversation—nothing that made me think too deeply at the moment, which was just fine with me.
When I returned from my walk I started grinding and brewing some fresh coffee and immediately went upstairs to change out of my sneakers. As I made my way back downstairs, the aroma of coffee hit me. And for a brief moment, the aroma brought me back in time.
When I was a little girl, our next door neighbors in our apartment building were Minnie and Sol. Minnie and Sol were best friends with my parents and the four of them were like the Mertzes and the Ricardos.
Most weekday mornings Minnie knocked on the wall that adjoined our two living rooms. This was the cue for my mother to join Minnie in her apartment for coffee. And I used to tag along when I was not yet old enough to go to kindergarten.
I loved sitting at Minnie’s kitchen table. I stared at her wallpaper with the streets of Vienna and listened to the grown-up talk. Occasionally they’d gossip about a neighbor or discuss some other topic they didn’t want me to hear, and one of them would nod towards me and say, “der kind, der kind”. This was Yiddish for, “the child, the child”. I knew what the expression meant but I kept staring at the wallpaper or humming to myself because I wanted them to keep right on talking.
The real highlight for spending mornings with Minnie was that she served me coffee. You see, Minnie perked real coffee, not that instant Sanka crap my mother drank. Minnie would set a cup and saucer down in front of me and pour a little bit of coffee in the cup. Then I’d fill the rest with milk. At the center of her kitchen table Minnie kept a small dish with sugar cubes and tongs. I had never even seen sugar cubes in a restaurant, let alone someone’s home, and I became preoccupied with them. Occasionally the cubes made it into my coffee but mostly I popped them into my mouth.
An added bonus of drinking coffee at Minnie’s was that she served real, sliced deli cheese—not those Kraft American singles wrapped in plastic my mother bought. And that just blew my mind. Kraft singles were okay but the difference in taste and texture of real deli cheese was astonishing to me. My mother went for convenience and Minnie went for the real deal.
But going back to my mini vacation from Mr. G this past September—when that aroma of coffee hit me as I descended the stairs, I was instantly sent back to a weekday morning decades ago. And for a moment I could hear Minnie’s signature knock, knock, knock on the wall. I could feel my flannel nightgown touching my skin and the warmth of my pink, fluffy bedroom slippers. And I could hear my gleeful mother yelling to Minnie through the wall, “Coming! Coming!”
But what does all this have to do with money?
Comfort. Some aromas can transport you back to a happy place. For me, the fragrance of musk oil or frangipani oil (it’s sort of like the smell of Palmolive green dish soap) catapults me back to the Kings Plaza Mall in Brooklyn. That’s where I spent every Saturday with my girlfriends. A group of us traipsed around the mall all day long going in and our of stores. We tried on clothing, smelled incense, bought makeup behind our mothers’ backs, ate pizza, and secretly smoked cigarettes. It was a time when everything was right with the world and all of life was ahead of us. It was a time when a silly joke made us drop to the ground in public squealing with laughter—and then we’d squeal even more when grown-ups walked by us with horrified faces. We’d squeal and roll until we couldn’t catch our breath.
But the aroma of coffee often takes me back to my childhood and my neighbor Minnie’s apartment. Minnie not only turned me on to real coffee—she also bought me my first big girl pocketbook and put a dollar bill inside for good luck. My mom and Minnie were my comfort, long before I stepped out into the cruel world of kindergarten.
Do you know what gives me that sense of comfort today? Mr. Groovy, my home, Groovy Cat, a warm sweatshirt, a clean dry towel after a shower—and money. Knowing Mr. Groovy and I have money in the bank and in investments keeps me from worrying about health insurance and growing old. Having money keeps me from fretting over unexpected household expenses or car maintenance. Having money allows me to plan vacations and buy food—sometimes even without sticking to my grocery list.
I realize I take after my mother in finding comfort in money because money was my mom’s comfort, too. By the time she retired from the work force, my father was already showing signs of Parkinson ’s disease. Mom was the one with the pension. Mom was the one who knew how to file for Social Security—in fact, she was the one all the widows in the apartment building flocked to when they received a letter in the mail they didn’t understand. Mom was the one who planned my parents’ escape from New York to Florida and hired the movers. Mom was the one who kept everything afloat. Having all the responsibility for both herself and my father stressed her out, but having money in the bank was her savior.
After my parents settled into Florida living, and years after mom retired, she still got joy from giving my brother and me an “accounting” of her pension, her social security payments, her CDs, and her IRAs. And by no means was she a Scrooge. She spent money—although mostly on her children and grandchildren because travel was the only thing she longed for, and my father was pretty immobile. But money was the one thing that allowed her to sleep at night.
What allows you to sleep at night? Is money your comfort? Where or how else do you find your comfort?