Emerging Writers: The Secret, by Angela Rieck
A Life Vignette.
I knew a secret…that I quickly told my sisters. I had discovered that my grandfather had money. My parents hid it well, their children received few Christmas gifts and occasionally Christmas gifts that were refurbished hand-me-downs from an older sibling. Many of our clothes were handmade and my mother knitted all of our woolens. Summers brought early morning weeding on the farm, rising at 5 a.m., grabbing a breakfast and a machete, walking down the rows of corn, cutting down weeds. By noon, the work was over and my mother piled all six kids into a tiny sedan and took us to the country club. A country club in a rural area is nothing like a suburban country club, but it was a country club complete with a golf course, tennis and pool. My paternal grandparents lived in a grand home with more bedrooms that I can remember and oriental carpets that created a soft padding for the expensive antique furniture that filled each room. So mine was a quixotic childhood where I became comfortable with both wealth and poverty.
My grandfather had been raised to be a farmer, but he realized that was not his calling. When the depression hit, he saw his opportunity. As the story goes, a local farmer had gone bankrupt and the chicken supplier had 50,000 chicks that would have to be destroyed because there were no chicken houses to raise them. My grandfather had chicken houses, but no money to buy the chicks. So the supplier and my grandfather made a deal. He would raise the chickens for slaughter and they would split the profits. When the time came, his were the only chickens available, making it very profitable for both partners. But rather than put it in a bank or buy his children new clothes, he invested all of it in the futures market. When FDR was elected he was rewarded by quadrupling his money in 3 months. Then he invested in the stock market and bought land, lots and lots of land. So by his forties he had amassed enough money and retired.
But my parents also had a secret…that the money would not be ours. While my grandfather was amassing his wealth he was also producing a large number of children. Nine in all; and no matter how great a fortune, when it gets broken up 9 ways, it gets a lot smaller. As a German, he believed that inherited wealth made the progeny lazy. So he promised all of his children a farm for their livelihood and he gave his 30 grandchildren enough stocks to afford state-college tuition and pronounced that he would spend and give the rest away.
Since we would not be receiving money, we were wisely raised as though they did not have it. But I did have that college tuition, my ticket out. So my 18th birthday finally came, and I left the summer before college started; to get away, never to return. My sisters and brothers followed.