I love to read. I read before bed. I read in the evening after homework is completed and I have a little extra time. Sometimes in the summer, after I finish the lawn I pour a big glass of lemonade and sit in the shade at the picnic table and read while the breezes cool me down and the birds are singing away.
Sometimes I have two or three books going at the same time, but usually it’s just one. And that can pose a problem. Since I live in one of those big old (1910) haunted houses (see It’s a Wonderful Life) with our bedroom on the third floor, sometimes my book is next to the bed and sometimes it’s outside on the picnic table. When I go to reach for it I find it inevitably in the other place. For this reason I have become a huge fan of these mark-down bookstores. I can find last year’s best sellers for, like, a buck. Since it doesn’t matter to me if I read the best seller within the month it was printed I gloat at buying at such a discount.
This discount has also afforded me an additional luxury; sometimes I buy two of the same book –- one for upstairs and one for down. Total investment = $2.
Now, my children and wife think I am insane and people that hear about this phenomenon roll their eyes and say the same, but you know what? It’s none of their business. This little indulgence of mine is hurting no one. There is even the added benefit of finishing a good book and being able to loan it out freely because I have an extra in my library. Little rewards that I give myself like this, they make me happy. And it’s good to be happy, especially if it takes so little.
Theory & Practice
I first started understanding this theory when I was about 12. Up until then, my parents were responsible for providing all my avenues to indulgence; a bountiful Christmas, a kind word, a pat on the back, a listening ear, but as I got older my want for independence grew strong.
My dad used to always say that the “greatest gift a child can give his parents is his independence” so I set about doing just that. As I began working, I found that the money I made was mine to spend as I pleased. That meant that if I stopped at the corner store on the way home from my lawn cutting jobs and bought a Coke, it was up to me if I wanted to buy a second one; my money, my labor, my decision, my indulgence.
By the same token, there was an Army/Navy store in town that sold surplus khaki pants for $1/pair. I could buy a couple pair and cut ‘em off for shorts or wear them as is but they were lighter than jeans and all the guys on the roadside work crews were wearing them so it became my personal fashion statement; white tee shirts and khakis; who knew I was 20 years ahead of the fashion makers.
One day my dad said, “I don’t remember buying you any school clothes in years.” I said, “Yeah, I got it covered.” I was 14 and proving my independence made me happy. I still remember the look on his face.
Somewhere around 21 my grandmother rewarded my college graduation with a gold watch. It had been given to her, years before, by a widowed friend and there was this whole big story to it but the bottom line was, grandma wanted me to have this very expensive piece of jewelry.
Well I certainly thanked her but privately I thought it was something that I’d never have an occasion to wear. It sat in a box in a drawer for years. One day I was mentioning this thing to my uncle who’d long become one of my closest confidants. “I guess I should sell it, Unc. I mean I hate to do that because it was from Grandma and all but what else can I do with it?”
He was cutting my hair at the barbershop at the time. He paused with scissors in one hand and a comb in the other and said, “Just wear it.”
I looked up and said, “Wear it? I work on a road crew and make pizza at night.”
He said, “Yeah, just wear it. Let them all guess what’s going on.”
Well you know what, I did just that. I started to wear it all the time and it always got a reaction and initiated questions and I always had a new story as to how I got this flashy thing to wear with my tee shirts and khakis, but I tell ya’ Grandma never could have guessed how much pleasure I got out of that watch.
After years of dependable time keeping it got pretty beat up and I took it in to be reconditioned. I still wear it and smile fondly at the memories; the ones that would have never occurred had I left it in the box; the memories that make me happy.
In my late twenties I was driving home from work one night and saw a “for sale” sign sticking to the window of a 1978 black Datsun (Nissan) 280Z parked at the gas station. For a week I passed that bugger and kept telling myself that the practical, paid for, hunk of junk I was driving was all the car I needed.
My curiosity got the best of me one day though and I pulled in and asked the price. The guy wanted $4,500 as the thing was in mint condition. I walked away but couldn’t get it out of my head. The following morning I emptied my bank account and offered him $3,900 cash, which he took after some consideration.
I drove it to my parent’s house and my dad was really happy that I had done something so nice for myself since I had always been so practical. “What are you going to with your old car?” he asked. “Well, I’ll still drive the old one most of the time; this thing will be for evenings and weekends.” He didn’t say anything, so I said, “Why?”
“Well it’s already ten years old and I can tell you love it,” he said, “Why don’t you just drive it? Let it be your car all the time, you know, part of who you are.” I did just that. And that car and I became as one.
I put over 100,000 miles on that car and changed oil and plugs religiously. I have so many photos in my albums with that little gem in the background it frightens me to think what memories I could have missed making if I had left her in the garage like I originally intended.
I sold her years later for $2,000 with almost 150,000 miles on it and I cried silently as I watched it pull out the driveway for the last time. And you ladies that are rolling their eyes, right now can go pound salt! If you don’t understand, it’s the same reason you don’t get The Three Stooges!
On December 27 I turned 45 years old. If I am very fortunate, my life is half over. I have seen the second half of many lives and have found that there are many opportunities to learn from the first half, although many don’t.
The little rewards I gave myself in the first 45 years are the things I relish as I reflect back and I plan to ferret out many more in the years to come and indulge them as fully as possible. Will the rest of the world understand? I really don’t care. Every person that once said, “You should preserve that nice car,” or “A watch like that should be saved for special occasions,” I have to thank. It is they who laid the foundation of these memories as my choices seemed to offend the norms of proper behavior. The more the masses protested, the more sure I became that I was on the right path. The path I chose, not the one that was chosen for me.
My wife and kids brought a cake to the table after dinner on the night of my birthday. They also brought a bottle of non-alcoholic champagne on a tray with a crystal wine glass for each of the seven of us.
It was Sheena, my second oldest daughter (and the one most like me) that set the tray up and was carrying it in. I saw the crystal glasses and began to chuckle (not wince) as she almost dumped the whole tray twice. It’s the finest stuff we own and I knew in any other house there would be parental screaming about this by now but my wife and I said nothing.
You see, those glasses have been sitting in a cabinet since we got married. They haven’t seen the light of day for ages. What are we saving them for? Well evidently Sheena thought my 45th birthday was the right occasion. Who am I to say she was wrong? I’ll always remember that 45th birthday celebration as those glasses clinked high in the air. What a great idea to use the good stuff.
To thine own self be true, my friends. The rewards will take care of themselves.