Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Money Bag
A Memoir of a Grandparents' Legacy

This is a paper my daughter Kari wrote about my parents and one of the memories they left her. I thought this might inspire you to think of memories and traditions you can leave to your children or even the generations following them.

by: Kari Evely

As a young girl, the smell of wood chips and citrus fruit would invade my nostrils at the mere mention of a trip to Florida. When confronted with the prospect of journeying to this southeastern state, I suppose most young children would experience a different aromatic sensation, like salty ocean breezes, or fried seafood. But for me, Florida meant spending time at Grandma and Grandpa Maynard’s house, picking oranges and grapefruit in their backyard, and making things out of wood in the workshop attached to the house. The drive from Kentucky to Florida was about fifteen hours, but I never minded it very much, because with each passing mile I felt myself getting closer to my grandparents, and time spent with them was worth the wait.

When palm trees began to overwhelm my field of vision, I could tell we were getting close. The most frustrating part about that long drive was that all the way through Georgia, a region that seems eternal to a child on her way to Florida, I kept waiting for the “Welcome to the Sunshine State” sign, which I felt would signify an end to my journey. Yet when I finally saw it and was filled with an overwhelming sense of excitement, there was still a good four or five hours of the trip remaining. I would start to keep a sharp eye out for Grandma and Grandpa Maynard’s house shortly after entering the state, and I was usually asleep by the time we actually reached their neighborhood.

But the long hours of driving were forgotten as soon as we reached the one story house with rocks in the front yard and a circular driveway in the center, which was home to a maroon General Motors Suburban. As we drove up to the house I always thought about the key hidden inside a fake rock near the front door and was reassured by its unseen, yet reliable presence, although I cannot remember an instance in which the key was required to enter the house, since Grandma and Grandpa were both always there when we arrived, greeting us with enthusiasm and food.

Looking back on those trips to visit my grandparents, I must confide that I cannot remember any one specific trip that sticks out more distinctly than the others. Memories of those childhood visits are not arranged chronologically or alphabetically, but rather, they are made up of meaningful moments, smells, and traditions. Although these memories do not serve as a complete history of time spent with my mother’s parents, those that I have are vividly clear, and continue to shape me.

Even as a child, I could see that my grandparents were in love with each other. They were practically inseparable, and they always put the other person’s interest before their own. My grandmother took care of both of them when it came to food, clothes, and all other issues requiring domestic common sense. My grandfather set adventurous goals for them both and saw to it that they were carried out; things like driving to Alaska and planting a garden.

For my entire life, my grandfather was never in good health. He suffered from diabetes, multiple heart problems, and something I’m not sure of that took his once booming voice and distorted it into a small, raspy one. I never got to hear what I imagine was the clear solid voice of a general, but my mother insists it was grand. Despite his poor health, Grandpa Maynard was full of life and kindness, and he never let his physical illness undermine his mental agenda. He was always willing to teach my brothers and I new crafty skills as well as lessons in character.

A true cowboy at heart, Grandpa Maynard would take us camping, teaching us how to set up a tent, make a fire, and open a can of beans with a pocketknife. He took us hiking and canoeing, and taught us to make fisherman’s knots so our scaly catches wouldn’t get away. He showed us how to plant carrots and pick oranges without damaging the tree. We would play poker for hours on end with Mexican pesos, eating pork rinds and popcorn with Mexican seasoning on it, while sporting silly hats, which were required of everyone sitting at the table. Grandpa would let us pick out patterns for projects we could make in his workshop, showing us how to use his scroll saw, sander, and a thousand other hand and power tools, treating us as equals while still watching out for our safety.

Of course nobody is perfect, and Grandpa Maynard never made this claim. He would swear like a sailor when he stubbed his toe or hit his thumb with a hammer, and after these profane rants had gone on for a while, Grandma could be heard quietly saying, “Oh, Howard,” not so much in the spirit of a reprimand, but rather a reminder that children were present. Also, Grandpa was a terrible driver, and it’s a wonder he didn’t get into more accidents than he did, especially considering that he and Grandma took annual four to six month road trips, pulling a huge, silver air-stream all over the country. He would do things like change lanes abruptly, almost knock another vehicle off the road in the transition, and then say, “Can you believe that guy? Doesn’t he have anything better to do than be in my way?” He was a real menace when it came to parking his big Suburban, usually bumping the car positioned in front of him, which indicated to him that he’d gone just far enough. Yes, my grandpa was far from perfect, but he lived his life to the peak of his ability.

Although more subtle than Grandpa, Grandma Maynard was equally self-sacrificing and generous when it came to her grandchildren. She would always wake up early, make coffee, fold clothes, and do a million other household tasks, before I’d even woken up. As soon as I opened my eyes she was there, asking me if I wanted a strawberry pop tart with icing on top, which she knew to be my favorite. Throughout the day she tirelessly made us snacks and meals, and taught us the most effective techniques in squeezing orange juice from the fresh oranges we picked. I never particularly liked the sour taste of grapefruit, but I acted like I did, because Grandma would carefully slice one in half and cut every individual section of the meat, making it fun to eat, as if the rind were a disposable bowl.

Another thing I remember about Grandma is how she would always take me shopping during the visit closest to my birthday, encouraging me pick out something girly that I would enjoy without worrying what my brothers would think. Being the only girl of five children, I was constantly attempting to prove myself a tomboy, running the risk of being severely teased and embarrassed if I were to do something scandalous, like wear an article of pink clothing or play with Barbies. It would have been easier on Grandma if she had just handed me the money and patted me on the head, but she always set aside time for our shopping excursions and I loved her for it.

One of my strongest memories concerning my grandparents is tied to an old fashioned white burlap sack that was originally made for rough riders to carry money from place to place on their horses. Looking back I’d say it was probably a replica, but if you had asked me at the time, I would have sworn its authenticity up and down. We called it “The Money Bag,” and excitement would overtake my brothers and I upon glimpsing the plain sack. You see, it was a game we were privileged to play.

Just before we would come for a visit, or before they left to come visit us, Grandpa would take “The Money Bag” to the bank and buy change to replenish what we had taken the last time we’d seen him. Each visit, he’d get out “The Money Bag” once and only once. Then beginning with the youngest, each grandkid was allowed to stick his or her hand in the burlap sack, with the goal of pulling out as much change as their hand could hold. Any change that fell out of your grip while transitioning the handful from bag to table did not belong to you, and it was required that the fallen money be put back in the bag. In other words, you could only keep what you could hold in one hand.

For weeks before a visit I would practice stretching my hand as much as I could, willing a larger grip. When Grandpa would pull out that bag my heart would begin to race. It was hard to breathe as I awaited my turn, and even harder when my hand slowly became immersed in the cold, hard coins. Forming my hand into a claw, I tightly grasped the change, but not too tightly, having learned from past experience that too tight a grip could be responsible for a loss of coins on the way out. There is great strategy involved in such a practice, and concentration is key. Once my hand was out of the bag, the pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, and occasional half dollars sparkled and gleamed in the daylight. Setting the bright array of coins carefully onto the table, Grandma would help us count our haul, carefully writing our names and the amount we had obtained on zip lock baggies to put our treasure in, so as not to confuse our winnings with another sibling’s.

Grandpa was careful to include equal amounts of all different coin denominations, never being too liberal with pennies. Depending on what age or hand size we were at the time, we would acquire anywhere from 4 to 18 dollars, which when you think about it, isn’t very much. But the amount is not what made it great. This “Money Bag” tradition was held sacred to all who participated, not because it was a good way to make fast cash, but because it was unique; and since it was designed especially for us, it made us feel special.

Year after year, the “Money Bag” ritual endured. As I grew from a child into a teenager, the money itself did not seem as wonderful, but I still noticed a sparkle as I pulled a handful of loot from the bag, the tradition never growing stale. Some of the rules changed over time. For instance, as my brothers’ hands grew bigger and bigger, Grandpa was forced to make a twenty dollar limit. But reaching into that burlap sack was always something my brothers and I looked forward to, and we felt great pride when we would tell our friends about the tradition and they would stare at us unbelievingly, wishing their grandparents would let them dip their fingers into a big bag of money.

Time passed and Grandpa Maynard’s health declined more every year. He and Grandma were no longer able to gallivant around the country, and although my family still visited them in Florida, the visits became infrequent as my brothers and I grew older and developed lives that involved active social calendars and school events. When we did see them, Grandma was preoccupied with worry over Grandpa, and Grandpa was tired and unable to participate as actively in our lives as he had in the past. The poker games continued, but they were far shorter and less lively than the ones we were used to. However, even in his ill, exhausted state, Grandpa still made it a priority to get change from the bank to fill “The Money Bag” whenever he was going to see us. Seemingly small, this gesture reminded us of all the things he used to do with us, and still would be doing were it not for his stubborn body. And so this single tradition reminded us of how much he loved us, and it continued until his death.

My grandparents were such a complement to each other, that when Grandpa passed away, Grandma was unable to live without him. Technically, she lived for a few years after his death, but to all of us who knew and loved her it was obvious that she died the same day he did. With both my grandparents gone, there was no one to carry on the tradition of “The Money Bag,” and I pushed it from my mind, not meaning to forget, but doing just that.

Years have gone by since I lost Grandma and Grandpa Maynard, but last Christmas they came back to life. One of my older brothers got to thinking about “The Money Bag,” and realizing how much it had meant to him. How much it had meant to all of us. So he began searching websites until he found what he was looking for; a company that manufactured moneybags just like Grandpa Maynard’s. He ordered not one, but six moneybags: one for each of us kids, and one for my parents to share. On Christmas morning he had all of us simultaneously open our identical presents, and as each of stared in awe at our burlap bags, all of our memories of Grandma and Grandpa Maynard came flooding back. The bags we were holding represented our childhoods. The camping, the woodworking, the oranges, the bad driving, the pop tarts, the shopping trips, all came back to us in a flash, and all we could do was stare at those bags and marvel at the people our Grandparents had been.

At that moment I truly understood the notion that the people we love never really die as long as we still love them and hold onto memories of time spent with them. Whoever I am now, and will become in the future, owes a lot to the things my Grandparents taught me. The knowledge and experience they bestowed on me, and the example of pure love they displayed for each other, are things that will always be a part of me and will continue to shape me in the years ahead. Someday I hope to be to my grandchildren what my grandparents were to me, and you can rest assured that when the time comes, I’ll be at the bank filling my moneybag for them to reach their hands into; and I’ll be careful not to include too many pennies.


  1. Beautiful story, Kari & Jill!

  2. I laughed. I cried. What wonderful memories of a wonderful couple! It is inspiring and convicting. I wish I had that for myself and well as for my children. It makes me want to make special memories one day for my grandchildren. Thank you for sharing your memories!
    ~ Jenni