When I was growing up, my family wasn’t poor, but we used to eat cornflakes with a fork to save milk. Even though we lived somewhere between upper poor and lower middle-class, my parents always had enough to provide us with a summer vacation. I have written about our vacations before because we usually got lost, and each picture had the same word written on it: “somewhere.”
“Look at this picture, it was taken ‘somewhere in Colorado,’ and this one is from when we were ‘somewhere in Texas.’” Our destination each summer was always … somewhere.
I don’t remember when or how this tradition started, but at the beginning of our family vacations, our parents would give each one of us boys a $5 bill. Back in the late ’50s and early ’60s, this was a huge amount to a child . Wait a minute; it’s still a lot of money. Anyway, this $5 was for us to buy souvenirs or something to eat. When the money ran out, it was out, and we couldn’t ask for more.
The thing I liked best about my parents’ gift was that it came with no strings attached; whatever I wanted to buy, I could. Looking back, I think Mom and Dad did a really smart thing. It kept us from hounding them with phrases such as, “Can I have this?” a thousand times over. It also taught us money management.
Still, a young boy having a grand sum of $5.00 to spend on anything he wants, no questions asked, is a terrible responsibility. I was smart enough to know that if I spent it all at the first stop, I would be penniless for the rest of the trip, yet if I held the $5.00 to the last “somewhere” we stopped, there might not be anything worth buying. I could end up with lifelong regret for not picking something up at the first stop.
What was a boy to do? I don’t know why, but back in those days, souvenir shops like Stuckey’s were dotted across America; you couldn’t drive more than 20 minutes without running into one. You knew you were getting close because about 1,000 miles out, giant billboards would start teasing you to have your wallet ready, because Stuckey’s had something you couldn’t live without.
Of course, these signs contained words intended to hook a young boy, such as “world’s largest jawbreakers.” Soon, a voice inside me would whisper: “I bet you could put the whole thing in your mouth.”
Next thing I knew, I was trying to open my mouth as wide as I could in preparation for the challenge. But that only lasted until I saw the next billboard, advertising everything from leather moccasins to beef jerky, fireworks to rock candy and the best selection of what-nots in the entire world. With each stop, my brothers and I would climb out of the car and search up and down every aisle. We examined, poked, shook and prodded to find a treasure worthy of our investment.
I remember once in the middle of our trip, I found the gift of all gifts: a ceramic log that held toothpicks. At the end of the log sat a woodpecker with two small spikes coming out of its beak. When you pressed the head of the woodpecker, it would bend over. inserting the spikes into the log and stabbing a couple of toothpicks. When you let go of the woodpecker, its head would pop back up to deliver a toothpick or two.
Growing up in rural America, we thought no meal was complete without a toothpick. When we sat at the table for a meal, we had plates, forks, knives, spoons, napkins and a toothpick container.
After a good meal, my grandfather, father and all of us boys would stroll outside with a toothpick dangling ever so carefully from our lips. Sitting around picking your teeth with the grownups felt like a rite of passage. Grunting sounds accompanied each tooth-picking session: “Unnnhunnnnn, that was a good meal.”
“Unnnhunnnnn, it sure was.”
That woodpecker toothpick delivery device sat proudly on our dining room table for years.
Use your summer vacation to train your children in money management. Luke 16:11 asks, “So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?” If your child can’t handle material wealth, they won’t be able to handle spiritual truths. It is not how much you have or don’t have, but whether you have the mindset of a steward, one who takes care of things. Teach your children stewardship, and everything else will fall into place.
Otherwise, they might end up spending $5 for a woodpecker toothpick delivery device.