I watched my parents struggle in every way that two people can struggle when raising a family with meager means. In those days, creditors would come to the door and politely ask for a payment for that week or month. I would see our mom shake her head and declare that she did not have the money. Neither the face of the creditor or our mom’s was ever pleasant to look at. As a child, I did not understand the expressions, but I knew that what one was saying was different from what the other was saying.

Our mémère lived below us. She owned the two-family home and I knew that somehow we relied on her generosity as well. There were some curiosities about her that caught my attention, and one of them was that she would lock the hallway door with that skeleton key every Friday at noon. I wanted to know why.

So, every Friday at noon, I would scoot down, knock on the door and ask to visit. At first Mémère would simply say, “Come back later, dear.” For a time, I accepted this, but my interest was never abated and I was determined to find out what she was doing. At some point, Mémère gave up, unlocked the door and said, “Come in.” That is where the lesson began.

I saw on her dining room table, a book, a binder with envelopes all labeled – CMP, Pooler’s Oil and Gas, New England Telephone, Christmas Club, taxes, etc., a pen and some scratch paper. I started in with the questions, “What is this?” pointing at the book with several sheets of yellow colored paper.

“A checkbook,” she said.

“What’s it for?” I countered.

“Paying bills, dear,” with as much patience as she could muster.

“What bills … ?” and as I continued my questions and she continued to answer them, I knew in that one moment – that one episode of sitting with my grandmother – how to save money, plan for bills, use envelopes and write out checks.

I was all of 12, but I was determined that this was what Dad and Mom needed to do. I knew this would be their salvation and that Mom would never have to say she didn’t have the money and I wouldn’t have to look at her face and see what I can now, looking back, identify as sadness. If they could do what Mémère was doing every Friday at noon, everything would be OK. It never happened for my parents, yet we all survived and we are not at all the worse for wear.

It was and is one of my most favorite teachings as a child. I started out with a shoebox that very day and put envelopes – for who knows what, but I had envelopes – labeled and ready to be filled.

Today, I have in my possession the green box that Mémère used to hide her checkbook, her binder with envelopes that had all the labels and the cash that she would save up in until the end of the month when she would put it all on the dining room table, sort, write a deposit slip and proceed to pay each business with checks. For many years, my husband and I performed the same weekly ritual.

Today, of course, we have a more technologically convenient way of paying bills. It is not any more efficient (in my opinion) than Mémère’s way was all those years ago.

Merci, Mémère, merci.

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