Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Last Farthing

(In the spirit of the times, I'm recycling this post from April 12, 2007.)

This little antique frame was a special present from Dee. It holds coins that equal a quarter of a penny...a farthing. As far back as Henry VIII this was a measurement of money, and these pieces are from Victorian times. It is a very sentimental gift with lots of meaning.

When we first met in Salzburg, we were both living on extremely tight budgets. Every schilling was counted and spent with thoughtfulness...not always wisely, but with good intentions. One night Dee offered to take me out to dinner, and pay. I protested, saying he couldn't afford it, and he said "I'd spend my last farthing on you."

There have been lots of last farthings since then.

Dee spent his last farthing on our first home, an 8' X 35' trailer which we lived in for a year before we bought a 12' X 48' for the next 3 years of college. (By the time we moved into a house we had 3 kids!)

While we were in school Dee worked teaching German at the old LTM, and running the pro shop at a golf course. During the winter we lived on farthings. He had a $50 a month income from the ROTC that sustained us until he became a research assistant.

After graduation, with a real job, we had long stretches where we forgot about farthings. We were making big bucks by then, and our kids were little and didn't cost much. We could afford all the necessities and lots of luxuries. We saved for missions, college and retirement. Our kids even had trust funds. (There wasn't any actual money in the funds; we were planning ahead.) But things weren't all they were cracked up to be. It was time again for farthings.

In 1985 we decided to make some dreams come true. We sold everything of worth, rented out our house, and moved to York, England. All 7 kids and Dee went to school and we returned a year later with a lot of fabulous memories and a Master's Degree in Historic Preservation. We had spent our last farthing on this great adventure, and we started over with a new career.

The first year Dee was asked to sit on a committee for the LDS Church Sesquicentennial in England. Everyone on the committee (except Dee) was seconded from university positions, so they all had salaries that came with them. Dee was a very honored and respected volunteer. We sold art work, cameras, guns, cars, and eventually our house to get a few farthings. It was a second year of education, and most of Dee's future projects grew out of the experience he gained, but it was pretty tight. By then the kids were expensive. All the mission, college and retirement savings accounts had already been emptied, and the trust funds became a memory.

It was worth every farthing.

Over the years, we have had many huge opportunities. People are willing to pay a lot of money for Dee's expertise and skills. Projects are numerous, but when they end in a blaze of glory and publication, suddenly he is unemployed until he arranges for something new. It always comes back to farthings. It's a precarious and adventurous way to live. He has invented a way to be paid for doing what he loves to do. He'd actually do it for free (and has done a few times), but it's better to make a few farthings and pay the rent.

Sometimes we've been down to $300....$200...(once it was 37 cents,) and we have seen miracles happen. Dee calls them "privileges of poverty." One Memorial Day we wanted to plan something fun and we decided to spend our last farthings on a family outing. The kids all gathered around the table with their donations and we came up with about $50. We got out a map and found some ghost towns within a few hundred miles. We went exploring for old roads, houses and train stations, and spent our money on Gyros at a tiny diner called The Greek Streak, in a little town down south. It was a great weekend!

Another time we were celebrating Heidi's birthday at a restaurant of her choosing. The promised checks were in the mail, but had not arrived the day before, and we didn't know how we'd pay for dinner for 12. Dee told me that he'd rather spend his last farthing than disappoint Heidi. That afternoon we received a letter from Micah who was on a mission in England. It had $100 bill in it! Someone had sent it to him, and he said that rather than exchange it for pounds, he thought he'd surprise us! What kid sends money HOME?? (The birthday dinner cost $96 with the tip.) When you live close to the edge, you experience a few thrills.

It never seemed strange in our family for the kids to contribute. We always knew we'd spend our last farthing on each other.

Have you noticed miracles as a privilege of poverty? In these tough times it would be great to look for and record the blessings that come. Dr. Phil was on Dave Letterman tonight, and he mentioned the silver lining that could become visible to families because of the recession.
  1. Instead of buying the kids a new toy, take them outside and play catch.
  2. Instead of going to a movie, take a long walk together.
  3. Instead of the fancy restaurant, take a picnic to a park.
Old-fashioned entertainment might bring back some old-fashioned opportunities that cost just a farthing, but are worth more than gold!


Christie said...

Loved the post then, and love it even more now.

kenju said...

I love it too. It's always good to remember and honor the lean times (and we had more than a few). I love the synchronous way money arrived just when you needed it!

Sheri said...

I like your snazzy new heading. Love the post also.