Of Grandmothers & Garage Sales

[From February 2003, Better Investing] One of my favorite goldies — this one hits really, really close to home… about pockets of priceless opportunities …

As our extended family gathered over Thanksgiving to be with Grandma Vi, memories were rekindled. My wife’s grandmother is the matriarch of that side of our family. Her wisdom and serenity provide an exemplary ambition for all of us. Grandparents play a special role in our lives and the moments that our children have spent in Grand company are, as the commercial says, “Priceless.”

Grandma Vi lives for a good game of cards. Of course, she defines a good game of rummy as one that she wins.

My memories are many. But at the same time, they’re too few. I can always use more of those essential reminders that better shape days ahead. Tom Brokaw writes of Greater Generations,and Grandma Vi is among those he writes about.

We picked her up at the airport one wintry afternoon a few years ago.

Instead of relaying her to other relatives for the remainder of her voyage, we decided to keep her at our house overnight. It was a selfish moment. We plead guilty with no remorse.

As the card games continued well into the night, she shared stories of working as “Rosie Riveter” on an assembly line during World War II. Somehow, raising four children under those conditions places raising two today in different light. My wife and I learned things we never knew about toughness and coincident gentleness.

I shall never forget the look on her face as we described, and she noticed for the first time, how much we pay for a cup of Starbucks coffee.

A crowning moment came at a garage sale a few years ago. I’m not sure why, but we’d decided to subject ourselves to the trauma of holding a circus in our front yard. Grandma Vi is a garage sale expert. She came to share the passion and help us survive the ordeal.

During a break from the frenzy, she wandered over to the clothes rack and found that my wife was willing to sell one of my favorite coats.

Imagine that.

Grandma Vi studied the merchandise and decided to make an offer. She’d explained earlier that morning that price tags are meaningless. There’s so much more to this garage sale sport than that.

Grandma Vi inquired, “Are you sure that you’re willing to sell this fine coat for $10?” (The price tag said $20.)

It was a good coat, with no imperfections. I replied,“Well, sure. But you can have it if you have a friend that you’d like to give it to.”

She continued, “Oh no, it’s for me and only me. And $5 or $10 is more than fair.”

I was out of my element. The confusion nearly overwhelmed me. I stuttered, “Uh… but you’re aware that it’s clearly a coat for a man? And it’s free to you?” She smiled. It was one of those smiles.

We see them often near the end of most card games.

Grandma Vi closed the deal. “You see, I never intend to wear the coat, though I’ll give it to somebody who needs it when the opportunity arises. But I’m intrigued by the fugitive $50 bill in the left coat pocket. At this rate, I may be able to afford a cup of that newfangled coffee. How many more coats are you selling?”

Look Beyond Price Tags, Check Pockets

Some lessons sink in more rapidly than others. Just last week I did a load of laundry. My family winces whenever I do because I seem to have great difficulty with color separation and identifying those items designed to elude the clothes dryer.

As a reminder, my wife displays a pair of dress pants much like a trophy of a downed animal. When I was finished with this particular prey, the liner extended below the
pant legs. Replacement shopping opportunities usually follow.

There’s a reason that I’m on the holiday card list at Kohl’s.

It’s also important to check pockets for fugitive pens. You know the rest of the story.

Check the pockets.

Microsoft has some $40 billion in cash. Novartis has $13 billion and Intel has $12 billion. Johnson & Johnson,Cisco Systems and IBM have some $7 billion in their “pockets.”

What do you think they’re going to do with some of it?

Meanwhile, the stock market garage sale is in full swing. Find the companies with price tags less than book value. Discover the companies with disproportionate amounts of book value consisting of pockets of cash.

There’s always a bigger fish. Some of the bigger fish are hungry with cash burning in their pockets. Some of the smaller fish are swimming in the barrel in the garage.

Shop better. Shop Grand. Check the pockets. Thanks, Grandma Vi.

2 thoughts on “Of Grandmothers & Garage Sales

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