Call Me Crazy

I’ve started hiding money around my house.  Not a lot. Just ones and fives. Maybe an occasional ten.

Nobody’s going to get rich if they find it, but when I’m doing a really thorough house cleaning (which believe me, isn’t all that often) and I’m climbing on ladders to dust the hidden nooks and crannies, I’ve started putting money up there out of sight.

It’s not just in the obvious places, like stuffed inside the antique kitchen implements that are arranged in Cracker Barrel restaurant style on the shelves over my kitchen cabinets. I’ve also pushed some bills through the slats of the air conditioning vents and even removed an electrical outlet here or there to poke in a few bills.

I don’t do it so that I’ll have a secret stash if I ever get in a financial bind. My memory is so bad, it wouldn’t be worth the effort to try to find it if I needed it. I do it because when I die, I want people to find it and say “That Betsy. She sure was a crazy old broad.”

When I was young, I remember hearing stories about my crazy Aunt Sally. People say that when she died, they found money stashed all over her house. They also found a dead coyote in her freezer.

Now to me, that doesn’t seem all that crazy. I’m sure Aunt Sally (who I never met) had a perfectly logical explanation for the coyote. Maybe times were hard and she was keeping it in case she ran out of food. Maybe she killed it in the winter and couldn’t bury it because the ground was frozen. Maybe she just wanted a dead coyote.

I do know that everyone loved the stories of “Crazy” Aunt Sally and because of those stories, she has been remembered far longer than anyone else in that generation of our family.

Recently, I was filling out an application for a passport. One of the bits of information I was supposed to provide was my father’s birthdate and place of birth. I didn’t know the answer. I asked my sisters and they didn’t know the answer either.  Somewhere in Pennsylvania and sometime in November 1918, they thought. I knew that much, myself. But none of us remember much more. Not just about his birthday, but about the man, in general.

Granted, it’s been some time since my father died. Thirty two years, to be exact. But there is almost nothing left of him. Not even memories. His brother and parents are all gone. Because of Alzheimer’s, my mother’s memory of him is gone. He was a good, sweet man. But just an ordinary man. He wasn’t extreme in any aspect of his being. He wasn’t eccentric. There was nothing about him that made him really stand out.

He did have five children to carry on his genes.  But genes do not a legend make. We do not sit around at family gatherings and share belly laughs or colorful tales about the man that did his part to create us and rear us.  The memories, like the man, are functional – almost utilitarian. There were no crazy quirks to add color to the memories. No eccentricities to recall. He lived. He worked. He raised some kids. He died.

Thinking about all of that is what made me decide to start hiding the money.

I don’t have any children of my own, which makes the likelihood of my memory lasting very long after I die somewhat limited at best.  But I think if I make a real effort, I might still have enough time left to make myself into a memorable oddball. I do have nieces and nephews so there is still hope that tales of Crazy Aunt Betsy might survive.

I could probably do it the easy way and buy a nice pleasant memory from each of them. I have some money saved up and I could give them all a nice hefty sum when I go. Certainly getting them all a new car would give them something to remember me by. Maybe. But remembering my money isn’t really the same as remembering me . And although a nice gift like that might illicit a smile, it probably wouldn’t result in a laugh when they are sitting around a big bonfire at a family reunion.  A new car doesn’t get anywhere near the reaction as a dead coyote.

I wish I could do something really dramatic when I go, like lying inside an open casket at my memorial service, wearing one of those pairs of fake glasses with a big nose and mustache. But I kind of doubt that I can get a funeral home to fulfill that wish for me.

So I’m starting with little things like hiding the money.

Oh, I’ll have a will, of course. I’ll leave each of my heirs a long detailed list of my assets, which I’m sure will be several million dollars by then. But I won’t just be boring and write them each a tidy little check. I’ll let them know it’s out there for them somewhere, if they can find it. If any of them remember my stories about Crazy Aunt Sally, eventually one of them might check the freezer.

(Published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: All In the Family, c2009)

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