Thursday, January 25, 2024


When I was a kid, a millionaire was a rare and special thing to be. The only millionaire I remember did things like send us gift boxes of cellophane tape at Christmas. I confess I’ve always thought of tape as a luxury item, to be used sparingly, and not as a mere convenience for attaching sheets of paper to other sheets of paper.  The gentleman in question was a Detroit-based millionaire named Charles E. Feinberg, who, my father said, was a shareholder in  3M, the company that manufactured all kinds of tape. I’m guessing that every Christmas he received a large gift box from 3M, comprising all their products for domestic use, and then had to figure out who among his acquaintances would be the beneficiary of his largesse. We knew he didn’t care about Christmas, being Jewish, and we sure weren’t going to tell him we had a common ancestor. This was easy. Dad took pains to disguise that unhappy accident of birth, even sending us to a Baptist Sunday School for tips on how best to assimilate. We suspected the real reason was Free Babysitting on Sundays.

At first we were neutral about it. Later it became a burden when it was impressed upon us by fellow churchgoers that we couldn’t get into heaven because we were not baptized. Finally, neighbour women were sent to convey to our mother that it was frowned upon to send their unbaptized children to Sunday School with our paltry collection coins in our sweaty palms. Our mother imperiously conveyed a message in return: that she could understand their need for a church to attend because they were weak people, while she herself was strong and did not need a guiding hand to raise her children.  I could have added that she had a pretty good hand and applied it regularly to her children, but even I was embarrassed and ashamed when she once invoked the little-known fact fact that our neighbour had a child who lived in an institution, and this might be the reason she was in need of spiritual guidance. That was a low blow, and I knew it. I started going to the park on Sunday mornings, and despite the subterfuge, no one ratted me out. Eventually I dropped the pretence, and stopped going outside altogether. For some reason, I never connected the slightly diminished Baptist collection plate with our frugal mother’s equanimity at my disobedience. 

But back to our millionaire. I imagined all millionaires did was count their money and invest in Honeywell, a company that manufactured thermostats, but which I imagined provided vats of honey to millionaires. I didn’t even like honey, but this seemed like a reasonably luxurious thing to have on hand if one were very rich. And honey, like cellophane tape, was sticky.

It’s no longer 1961, and probably Charles E. Feinberg of Detroit, Michigan  managed to increase his earthly fortune before shuffling off this mortal coil. He was elderly at the time, which only added to his mystique. I guess that I am now about the age of Charles E. Feinberg and I, too, am a millionaire. At least, I reason, if I can purchase a house for a million dollars cash, and have some left over, I must be a foreign member of that Detroit Jewish √©lite who keep a vat of honey in their cupboard. I haven’t quite risen to the level of owning shares in 3M, so I’d better exercise caution and refer to myself as a thousandaire. 

There’s no point in attracting undue attention to oneself, after all.

No comments:

Post a Comment