I was reminded yesterday of an incident from my childhood in which I cajoled my dad into buying me a toy he apparently couldn’t really afford. We had gone to a shabby department store (precursor to Wal-Mart and much lower rent than any of the -Marts I know of) for something, and I believe I recall that we were in a bit of a hurry. The toy section was all the way back against the left-hand wall as you entered, and we passed it on our right as we were making our way to the front. Whether he let me stop and browse or whether the toy in question just caught my eye I don’t remember. Nor do I remember whether I squawled and cried or whether I held forth with a persistent whining pleeeeaaaaaze or attempted some other, less conventional method of acquiring the desired object.
I do remember that I walked out with the toy and that Dad had been very reluctant to buy it. Again, details elude me, but I don’t imagine he was holding back just to be mean. I’ve always had the impression that it was a matter of money, that he as much as told me he couldn’t afford it right then, and that I pressed until I got my way.
I’ve always felt a little guilty about this incident when I’ve thought back on it, though of course I meant no harm and was simply a kid governed by the sense of materialism foisted upon me by the bright, exciting images brought to me by various sponsors during my 6-hour weekly dose of Saturday morning cartoons.
It’s not the money that bothers me. I was the kid, after all, who was convinced for much of my childhood that we were poor (a conviction that probably colors my recollection of this event). I remember gazing into our pantry for snacks and being discouraged to see a Stonehenge of condensed soup cans, some stale cookies, remnants of potato chips, and (maybe my recollection of my gastric melancholy is a little off, here, but these seem fitting enough culinary companions) gallons and gallons of castor oil and wheelbarrows full of turnips and rutabagas. To have such a dearth of brightly-colored, gelatinous sugarfood surely meant that we were poor.
I was also the kid who, from time to time, fearing for the state of the family finances as measured by my survey of the pantry, would sneak some change or dollar bills I had earned by doing some trifling task or another back onto my dad’s dresser with his pocket money. I’d say I more than made up, over the years, for the $20 the toy set my dad back.
No, it’s not the money, but the guilt that bothers me. Nobody wants to deprive his child of a desired object, and I know it must have rent my dad’s heart to say no to me in this case. I distinctly remember that he seemed very regretful to turn me down initially. I can’t help thinking of my own future finances and of the things I may wind up having to refuse my daughter and how I’ll be much more hurt by that than she will, who will run home and delight in playing with cardboard boxes and bubble wrap.