Grandfather versus the banks, or, Not with my money you don’t!

My grandfather came of age when there were few banks in our rural area. He was gradually warming to them when the Great Depression hit and so many of them failed. It was an attitude that he never really overcame.

United States #bank failures

Depositors line up at the failed L.W. Schwenk Bank in New York City, June 1914.

“They’re out to get my money, but they’re not putting one over on me!” he’d cry, and find another Mason jar to put his dollar bills in. “Bury ’em in the yard, that’s the best,” he’d always say. And he did. But not in our yard. We all feared that his minute fortune was out in the cow pasture somewhere. On any given day perhaps a gopher could wipe him out just as efficiently as any crooked bank president.

We begged him to tell my grandmother where everything was. “Don’t worry,” he’d assure us. “I’m not telling anybody.”

“Then just tell Grandmother,” I’d urge.

“Nope, she can never remember a thing.” He had a point.

So that was that.

Then one morning my grandmother thrust our local newspaper under Grandfather’s nose as he was trying to eat his breakfast in peace.

“There!” She tapped an article that she had folded face-up. “Leonard’s started a bank. Surely you can trust him.”

He put down his forkful of ham and squinted at the paper.

Grandmother tried another tactic. “I’ll just leave it here so you can read the article. Sad, you two being friends since you were just children, and you don’t even seem interested. I wonder what he’ll think….”

Now, making Grandfather feel that he was hurting someone’s feelings was a surefire way to rouse him to action. He began to squirm as he read. “Well, if it’s in the paper he’ll know I know about it.”

“He sure will.” She cleared away a few dishes and kept glancing at him. “I hate to see good friendships end because one doesn’t think the other is trustworthy.”

“I never said I didn’t trust Leonard!”

“Actions speak louder than words,” she said, taking the plate of biscuits and gravy off the table just as he was reaching for a second helping.

It sunk in.  After his shortened meal, Grandfather called for my grandmother to pick him out a nice suit and tie, the kind one would wear to a big business to-do – or a funeral. (He was colorblind and depended on her to keep him from showing up in mismatched socks and outfits that clashed.) Once he was in his sartorial splendor, he told us all goodbye in his most solemn manner. You would have thought he was going to a hanging.

My father was at work, but my mother and grandmother and I stared out the door after him as he drove slowly away. We were all jumpy, and finally we sat down in the living room and tried to read. I doubt a page ever turned.

It seemed like forever before we heard the car pull back into the garage. “Now don’t anybody say anything about it,” Grandmother warned. “Just let him tell us when he wants to.”

Naturally she was the first to cave, and he was barely inside the door before she asked, “How is Leonard?” (Real subtle, Grandmother.)

And to our surprise, Grandfather sat down with us and explained just how the whole thing worked. He even proudly produced a savings passbook, a small booklet that recorded his very first deposit and had lines for all the additional transactions that were surely to follow.

Grandmother paled when she saw the amount written at the top. “We can’t have only one hundred dollars saved up!”
“Now, Fannie, don’t get yourself in an uproar. Of course we have more. And it’s up to you – ” he pulled out a roll of bills – “to hide it until I’m sure this whole setup works. No sense putting all our eggs in one basket. I’ll go back every few days to be sure it’s still there. If it is, then I’ll let him hold on to the rest of it. Now you go hide this while I change clothes and run out to check on the chicken houses.”

He stopped at the door and turned to my mother. “Maybe you’d better go with her – she’ll forget where she hid it.”

My mother made a choking sound. “Allergies,” she lied as she dabbed at the tears of laughter forming in her reddened eyes. “I’ll be sure and supervise.”

I was sent off to play while the great hiding place search began. Children, after all, will blab anything – or so adults say.

We were feeling pretty proud of ourselves. All we had to do was get through the next few days until Grandfather was over his initial nervousness. By the time Grandfather returned, the deed was done and all was well. We had really pulled one off – or so we thought until my father came home.

“What’s wrong with Jesse?” he asked. “He drove past the shop five times, just going around the block. Someone even swore they saw him finally park and go in that new little bank. I told them they were nearsighted. Imagine – Jesse in a bank!”

Grandmother tried to shush him. “He went to Leonard’s new bank,” she whispered.

He was thunderstruck. “Jesse? In a bank?

There was no time to elaborate, for it was time for the whole clan to gather and watch The Grand Ole Opry. I don’t think my dad paid any attention in his astonishment.

We thought we had handled it pretty well until the last twangy note of the Opry faded and my dad headed for a long soak in the tub. The rest of us were cleaning up the house for the night when my father came rushing out of the bathroom, clutching his pajamas closed and waving a handful of money.

“Look what I found stuffed behind the water cutoff valve! Why, there must be enough here to -”

Grandfather drowned out the rest of Father’s announcement. “Fannie, I told you to hide it someplace safe!”

“I did! We didn’t think anybody ever looked in there!”

“Well, I do,” Father said. “That’s where I hide my Seated Liberty Silver Dollar!”

The next day Leonard received a visit from the entire family. We women said hello on our way to the department store to look at the new fabrics.

In the meantime the men did their banking: My grandfather deposited the remainder of his minute fortune, and my father inquired about safe deposit box services – for his one silver dollar.

©2015 by Jill Teresa Farmer

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