HOW MUCH IS "ENOUGH"?
by Eva Cashen
The odor of coffee drifted into the bedroom. Nan Williams slowly-opened her eyes, sighed and sat up in bed. She could think of nothing she despised more than getting up in the morning. "Another day, another dollar," she murmured as she reached, for a cigarette. Lately she found a cigarette in her mouth every minute she was awake.
She put on her robe and ran her finders through her hair and walked over to the closet. It contained four dresses, a few blouses and some skirts. She didn't select a dress, she just grabbed the first one in line and walked into the bathroom to get dressed for the new day, which she assumed would be the same as every day she had known for years. On the way she took a quick glance into the kitchen, and sure, there he sat, reading the paper just as though nothing had happened. Anger began to swell in her.
A cup of coffee was waiting for her when she came to the table. She sat down to drink it, lighting another cigarette. As usual, she had no appetite for food this morning. Jennie came downstairs, all dressed and ready for school. Nan noticed how neat and pretty she looked and for a moment her anger subsided. For a freshman in high school, Jennie had such a sweet, little girl look. She was as proud of her as she was of Jimmy her seven year old bouncing, jumping, noisy little man. The clatter on the stairway indicated he was on his way down. Why must he run so early in the morning -- her nerves were on edge.
Jennie poured a bowl of cereal for herself and one for Jimmy. Nan thought guiltily, "I really should make them a hot breakfast once in a while," but she was one of those slow starters who had no ambition early in the morning, but found a burst of pep late in the evening. She was ignoring Bill. She knew if she said one word to him, there would really be an argument. Generally he knew better than to say anything to her before she had a few cups of coffee to ease her back into the human race.
"Mom," said Jennie, "there's a freshman dance Saturday night. Do you think I could go?"
"What about the Simmons?" she asked, "Patty isn't going to the dance, so she said she'd baby-sit for me this one time."
"What would the dance cost?"
"And how do you intend to get there and home again?"
"Gall's mother will drive one way. Do you think you could drive the other way?"
By now, the anger she felt for Bill had returned. She wanted to lash out and Jenny just gave her an opening. "Now how could I drive? I'll very likely have to work that night, you know. You mean you really are willing to throw away the $3 you could earn baby-sitting and spend another dollar for admission to a dance? I see your father's habits are beginning to rub off on you!"
"Look," said Bill, "if you're mad at me, yell at me. Leave the kids alone."
Nan was immediately sorry she had said anything. Her head was aching and she was in no mood for a battle. She picked up the newspaper and pretended to be interested in it. Anything not to have to talk be¬cause she knew her temper would get the best of her.
"Mom," chimed in Jimmy, "why can't I carry a bag lunch like all the other kids do? I hate taking hot lunch all the time."
"All the other kids don't take bag lunches or they wouldn't keep having hot lunches! I just don't feel like packing lunches in the morning. Besides, the hot lunches are much more nourishing for you."
"That must mean they're cheaper," injected Bill,
"Yes, they are," she tried to remain calm. "When you figure the cost of sausage, fruit, cake or pie, it runs higher."
"Don't forget the bread in the sandwiches. That must cost another penny or two." Bill was really goading her into a fight now. Still forcing her voice to stay calm, she replied icily, "The last lunch I made I added up all the things and the lunch came to 36¢. Hot lunches are 35¢ and they are much better for him."
"See, Jimmy, you can't win, A whole penny, I knew she figured it out and if it turned out the cold lunch cost 34¢ she'd crawl out of bed a few minutes earlier and make it for you."
"Maybe, just maybe, if you watched the dollars a little, I wouldn't have to watch the pennies so closely," she snarled as she walked out of the room to finish getting ready. She didn't want to have a scene while the kids were eating although Jenny was just poking at her cereal, still pouting about the dance.
"Just this once, why don't you let Jenny skip the job and have some fun? I'll give her the extra four dollars." That irked her! He had a knack of making himself look like the big hero to the kids while she came out as the nasty villain.
"Work isn't going to hurt her. She has to develop a sense of responsibility. When I was her age...," she left the statement hanging in the air. She was always irritated by people who referred to "when I was your age..." and then went on describing the trials and miseries they lived through. Now she had almost done the same thing.
"When I was her age, I worked 40 hours a week after school and gave all the money to my parents," he mimicked what Jan had told him previously "I had to buy all my clothes and everything else I needed," he continued, trying to ape a feminine voice.
"It didn't hurt me," she snapped back. "It taught me the value of a dollar. I didn't say Jennie had to work all the time, but that one night a week baby-sitting job isn't expecting too much!"
"Mrs. Simmons wants to see me after school, Jimmy, so I'll be late getting home," Jennie said to her little brother. "First, I'm staying for cheerleading tryouts. I'll probably be about an hour late." "If I get chosen as a cheerleader," this part she addressed to her mother, "there are no games on Saturday night, so I won't have to miss work." With that she left the table and raced upstairs.
"You better play at Jerry's house until Jenny gets home," Nan told Jimmy. "If anything happens, my phone number at work is next to the telephone."
"Sure, call your mother at work. It'll only take her 45 minutes to get home to help you," Bill said sarcastically.
Jimmy went upstairs to be with Jenny. It was touching to see how well they got along for being so many years apart. Whenever they sense an argument between their mother and dad, they always managed to vanish together, "I'm not in the mood to discuss my place of employment or anything else for that matter. I have a lot of dictation waiting for me and I don't care to get upset and not do a good day of work just because you feel like arguing," she said.
"Since you insist on working, you could at least get a job closer to home. You waste an hour and a half a day traveling to and from that job. Why don't you check into that secretary's assistant job at the school? The principal said you could have it any time you wanted, and it'd take you five minutes to get to work."
"I don't 'insist on' working -- I have to work! And 'that job' as you put it, has done us a lot of good. I couldn't get as much money anywhere else. I don't have to check on that job at the school, I know all about it. It's only for five hours a day, and then there's no work in the summer, at Christmas, or at Easter. I'd be lucky to clear $2,000 a year there. I'm a secretary, I certainly wouldn't want to be a secretary's assistant. You'd have been satisfied living in that old broken down house for the rest of your life. I wanted the kids to have a decent home in a decent neighborhood and we need every cent I earn to keep this house." Her voice was getting shrilly.
"If that house is such a broken down wreck, and it is, why don't you sell it? It would pay a lot off on this house. Maybe the mortgage payments could be reduced and we'd have enough money to live on."
He'd never understand. That house brought in an 18% return on their original investment, but he was irritated because he had to go over and make repairs and paint. Sure it took up a lot of time, but you have to expect to do something in return for money.
"I haven't the faintest idea how we stack up financially. You keep it a big, dark secret."
That was true. She had mentioned once things were fine and he went out and bought himself a new car, borrowing $2,500 from his parents. From that time on, she never discussed finances except to make note of how small his pay was. He had no idea the old house was paid in full, or that she had a goodly amount in the bank and owned some stock.
"What is the balance due on this house?" he demanded.
"On a twenty thousand dollar house? What’s wrong with that?"
"I'd rather not have any mortgage at all."
"I'll be darned. I guess I must be a failure. Here I am, 40 years old and you, 34 years old, and we've got a great big six thousand dollar mortgage on our house."
"Don't forget the $1,600 sewer assessment we have to pay off this year!"
"Why? Everyone else is taking five years to pay it off. Why do we have to pay it off in one year?"
"It's bad enough paying $1,600. I don't want to pay any interest on it too."
"Everybody pays interest'."
"Well I don’t!"
"I've heard there are some people in their sixties who are paying their assessments off in five years—and some of these people have more than $6,000 mortgages."
"Isn't it about time you went to work? I've had enough of this for today. I didn't get to sleep till after two, remember?"
"Neither did I."
"So who's fault is that? Must be the tavernkeeper's -- he should close earlier so you can get home. Don't bother me anymore. I've got a hunch dad'11 need me to work tonight and I'm tired."
"So tell him no. You don't have to work a full time job and then go in and wait tables for him every time one of his waitresses doesn't show up. The kids wouldn't mind having you home once in a while. Maybe you could even find time to clean up the 'decent home in this decent neighborhood.'" What’s the use of having a $20,000 house when it looks like a pigpen?"
"You could help once in a while yourself!" she said defensively. It was true. Working so many hours left her no time to keep the house in order.
"I do. I make coffee for you in the morning."
"Big deal. You need the coffee for your hangover when you wake up. Why don't you get a part time job and then I wouldn’t have to?"
"You know I can't. When there's work I have to be there. I don't work from 9 to 5. I work when the people need me."
"Which isn't too often!"
"Business always slows down after September, but by March it picks up."
"Sure, and in the winter, you're down to no hours a day and no pay a week."
"Someday I'll take over the business, and then things will work out alright."
"I want things alright now -- not someday. Why don't you tell your folks you need a raise? I make more per hour than you do and get them to pay you a minimum amount each week, even when there is no work."
He knew he was underpaid. Every time he mentioned it to his parents they reminded him that someday he would have the whole business and then they would tell how they struggled through the depression years on much less than he was earning. He couldn’t get anywhere discussing it with them.
"I'll tell you what," by now he was shouting, "there isn't much work today, so I’ll go out and hold up a bank and get you what you feel you need. How much—how much do you need?"
She remembered all the jokes she had heard about how futile it is for a man to argue with a woman because a woman always resorted to an illogical answer, and she was sure the sexes were mixed up in this house. He was the one who always came up with the most stupid solution.
"Enough," she answered sarcastically.
"How much is 'enough'?" he asked. Better figure it out carefully, real carefully.
Then call me at work and tell me so I'm sure to get 'enough'."
"I don't carry my home problems to work. I'll tell you when you get home. Do you think you'll get home before 2 A.M. this time?"
"Maybe. Maybe a little before." The door slammed as he walked out. She tried to remember how long it had been since he had stopped kissing her goodbye in the morning.
When she first started working at the hospital, she was shocked by the dirty, miserable looking alcoholics who were admitted. She was even more stunned to see "divorced" or "widowed" on many of their case histories. "Who would ever have married someone like that?" she'd wonder. Through the years she became aware that these alcoholics were not born that way. They had been children once, young men later, and it had taken years, many years, of drinking to reach the dissipated state she saw them in. Lately she had been looking at Bill very closely. His constant running to a tavern when he was irritated sounded like what she read in the case histories of the men at the hospital. She felt he was beginning to show signs of turning into an alcoholic and the more she made comparisons, the less patience she had with him. She could not stand weakness in a person. He showed his weakness by not standing up to his parents, and by not understanding her fear of poverty.
"How much is 'enough'?" he had asked her.
That's easy. Enough to buy new furniture for the living room and & decent car for her. His was like new, but hers was a wreck. One thousand cash right now would be enough.
Well, maybe a little more. The $6,000 to pay off the mortgage and the $1,600 for the sewer. Then her biggest worries would be over. But then, in four years Jennie will be ready for college. At the state universities you can get by now for about $1,500 a year, so $6,000 stashed away, earning interest would take care of her college bills. Might as well figure another $6,000 for Jimmy. He'll get to the age of 18 before too long. Let's see now, $20,600 should do it. Whoops, backtrack. His car isn't paid for yet. Still a balance of $1,000 on that.
Okay, $21,600. Now -- no more worries.
What if a depression came, or sickness? The taxes would have to be paid or the house would be lost. She went to get a pencil and paper, glancing at the clock. She still had 15 minutes before she had to leave. Jenny came down and muttered, "Bye"! Jimmy doesn't leave for another 45 minutes. He has to lock up the house when he goes and open it when he gets home.
Back to the taxes. They're running $600 a year now, and they in¬crease a little—sometimes a lot—each year. Settle for $650 a year for 15 years. By then Jimmy would be out of college and money shouldn't be too much of a problem. That's $9,750 more. The interest that earns should take care of the increases in the tax rate. Add the $21,600 to that and now she felt $31,350 should be enough.
Just a minute. "The way things are going now, Bill and I will probably get a divorce." They couldn't go on forever the way they have been. If he really is an alcoholic, he could wind up like those she saw at work -- no money, no job, on the county. That would mean no support money for the kids. There'd still be the utilities to pay, food to buy, and clothes, insurance, miscellaneous. She could cover these bills with her pay, but suppose she weren’t able to work. More computations. At least $5,000 a year would be needed. Investing $100,000 at five percent would do it. She decided on using five percent as the interest rate because of the way this fluctuates, up to 5-1/2%, down to 4-l/2%. By now, "enough" had taken a leap up to $131,350.
"As long as I'm dreaming, how about arranging a nice vacation each year, maybe even to Europe?" That would mean she'd need another $5,000 a year, so she added another $100,000 invested at etc., etc.
Just last week Bill had shouted, "Are you sure two houses are enough? Don't you think you want a third one?" She hadn't answered because she already had her dream house picked out. Last week it was a far away dream, but right now, while she was letting her imagination run wild, it became a necessity. This one would cost $75,000 to build, plus lot, plus swimming pool, plus furniture -- $90,000 easy. She'd sell both of the other houses to help out. That would cut the cost to $60,000 or so. Now add it all up. Wow -- $291,350. right as well round it off to $300,000. We can easily spend the extra $8,650.
Of course, the new house will mean higher taxes, higher insurance, larger utility bills. Children coming from such a house should really attend private colleges, not settle for the state universities.
"I forgot about income taxes! That would eat up a good part of the interest." Getting out her tax books, she discovered that if they had a million dollars invested, they'd be lucky to have $23,000 left after all the taxes were paid. Two million Invested -- $46,000 a year. Not bad. A recheck of the tax rates showed her that the higher the income the higher the percentage you give back to Uncle Sam and the state. "If I were to get $200,000 a year, I'd have to give $110,000 for federal taxes and about $20,000 to the state. All I'd have left would be $70,000."
"Aren't you going to work today, Mom?" asked Jimmy. The dream ended abruptly. There was barely enough time left to get to work. She rushed to the mirror and dabbed a little lipstick on. "I really should do something with my hair and get some decent clothes one of these days," she thought looking at the drab, dull-looking woman in the mirror. The "trip" she had just been on now made her even more dissatisfied with her present life. Looking around the house with dirty dishes pilled high, the bed unmade and the living room in disorder, she remarked., "What a mess!" A quick goodbye kiss for Jimmy and off to work. At the door she down to pick up a dime lying on the floor, checked the date on the coin, and put it in her pocket. A friend had suggested she pursue a hobby to take her mind off of her troubles. Nan thought this a good idea and proceeded to take up coin-collecting. "That figures," her friend said. "If you want to get your mind off of money, try coin-collecting. What I had in mind was something like bowling, horseback riding..."
As she was driving to work, she remembered the dime lying on the floor. "The way those people treat money," she fumed to herself. "A dime won't make or break us, but I remember when...when a dime was...was...more..."
"What I need is a cup of coffee, I've got to think some more."
In a restaurant a short way from home, her mind strayed back to when Jennie was on the way. It was fun being "just a housewife," having dinner waiting when Bill came home. He was so prompt in those days. Then at night they would play scrabble, gin rummy, watch television, or go for a walk. They were always together and life was wonderful. One bad habit she had, and for that matter still has, was taking the weekly paycheck and paying for everything they owed, even before the bills were due and leaving out just a small amount for food and incidentals for the week. Many a time they ran short before the next payday, but at that time Bill used to laugh about it.
Bill came home rather early one night. "I hurried through the day's work so we could eat early and go to the show. You said you always wanted to see "Gone With the Wind" and it's at the Abbott."
"Great. The Abbott's real cheap too."
"Okay, penny-pincher. A good picture at a cheap theater—right down your alley. By the way, you shortchanged me again this week. I used everything I had for gas and smokes.
All I've got is a quarter left. Hope you've got something left."
"0-o-oh, 1 don't think so."
"Where did it all go? I had a big paycheck last week."
"I know. I finished paying the doctor bill."
"For what? You don't have to pay him until after the baby gets here."
"I didn't want to have a bill like that over our heads after the baby was born. I'd rather pay it up ahead of time."
"You, my dear, are a character — a real character! he laughed. "Most doctors are lucky if they get the money by the time the kid gets to college and ours is all paid for and we haven't even got it yet."
"We could go to the show tomorrow, after you get paid."
"No we can't, I have to go out of town tomorrow. Come on, dig deep. It's 35¢ each. You must have some money around here."
She had 20¢ in her purse, and another 15¢ in her coat pocket. "How's 60¢?"
"Fine, if we had another dime we'd have it made."
They hunted through drawers, purses, coat and pants pockets. They began acting sillier and sillier while the hunt continued as he checked the refrigerator, the ice cube tray ("I'm looking for some cold cash," he quipped.), the stove, washer and finally the lining of the coach. And there was a dime, stuck in the lining. "We've got enough!" she shouted.
"Yep, but we'll have to suffer—no popcorn tonight."
Suddenly she squealed, "Look, over there, by the bookcase." Another dime. "Now we've got more than enough!"
"What happened? We were so happy then. What happened?" she asked herself. Time -- time, the healer, or time, the monster -- had done something. What? When had things changed?
After Jennie was born she had decided that her child would never know the poverty she had known as a child. She didn't want her child raised in the neighborhood they were living in because it reminded her too much of the neighborhoods she had lived in -- crowded, poorer type homes, taverns everywhere. She went back to work and took the baby to a babysitter over Bill's objections. She felt a few years of hard work would bring escape from there. A home in the suburbs was what she aimed for. She even began working in her dad's restaurant on weekends, figuring that the faster she made the money the sooner she could stop working. Arguments began between her and Bill with him leaving in anger to "get a drink!" The more she worked, the worse he acted. It was a vicious circle. She returned to work almost immediately after Jimmy was born and Bill gave up arguing about it. He was staying away more and more. Then she found this house and talked him into buying it despite his misgivings. He knew she'd want and need more furniture, another car because she'd be so far from work and he knew everything would cost more. It'd be a long time before she'd stop working now.
"Was it worth it?" she wondered. The few years of hard work had turned into 14 years. Bill and she had reached a point where they never talked to each other without sarcasm and anger. She couldn't remember the last time they went out together. "Sure, I'm always too tired to go anywhere with him, but not too tired to run off to the restaurant a couple nights a week."
They were probably shocked at the office when she called in sick. For ten years she had never taken a sick day. “Who knows when I'll really get sick or need surgery? Those sick days I've accumulated will last for six months should I ever really need them." Even sick days she hoarded like money in the bank.
Out came another pencil and paper. The old house would sell sell quickly. That would pay off the mortgage, the sewer and his car. A quick total of the monthly bills showed they could live on his salary. They had the money in the bank and the stocks to fall back on in an emergency. Next week, after she gave notice at the hospital, she would go down to see about that job at school.
Now she looked at the house. "What a mess," she repeated. One good thing -- when in the mood, she was a very fast worker.
At 3:30, Jimmy got off the school bus and walked up the road, kicking at stones, just poking along. His eyes widened when he saw the car in the drive and he broke into a run.
"What's the matter, Mom? Are you sick?" he asked as he raced in.
"No, I Just felt like staying home."
"Hey, does it look nice in here. What happened?"
"I just thought I'd clean the joint up a little."
"Something smells good."
"That, my dear, is dinner cooking. I even made an apple pie, just like they do on television."
"Great. Can I have Jerry come over here to play as long as you're home? I’m always playing at his house."
"Sure enough. Call him up."
The house was in pretty good order. Now to work on herself. She took out the scissors and cut away at her hair. The electric curlers she gave Jenny for Christmas would come in handy. Then she got out a pair of slacks she used to wear years ago. Boy, were they baggy! That wouldn't do, but wait! ''Maybe – yes -- that would work. She took a pair of Jenny's flairs and cut the pant legs on her baggy pants to match, got cut the sewing machine and in no time—presto—a neat pair of flairs! That's another thing she made up her mind to right then and there. Next week she was going shopping. A few stylish things to wear wouldn't hurt.
"Can I go through with this? Can I really change my whole pattern of life?" She couldn't be certain, but one thing was certain—no one in the was happy under the present arrangements.
Jenny came in. You cannot miss sadness on a teenager. Their shoulders sag, their mouths and eyes droop, they walk as though each step causes great pain. Jenny was sad. She registered a slight sign of surprise at seeing her mother home and the house cleaned up and asked the same question Jimmy had asked, "Are you sick?" Nan remembered the cheerleader tryouts and her heart went out to her little girl. She hadn't made it. "I'm sorry, honey," Nan tried to console her. "Maybe next year you'll make it."
"I made the cheerleading squad," Jenny said, but she sounded far from happy about it.
"Then what's wrong? Is it because of the dance?"
"No, I made up my mind I'd have to miss that. But...oh, never mind." She was trying not to cry, but the tears dropped down her cheeks.
"Tell me, honey. Really, I'm not a monster. What is it?'
"It's Mrs. Simmons. She's starting work next week. She'll start at 4:30 and... and..." Now the tears were joined by sobs.
"There, there, it can't be that bad. I don't see what Mrs. Simmons has to do with you getting so upset."
"She wants me to watch her kids from 4:15 to 6:30 when her husband gets home from work. She said she'd pay me $10 a week and Jimmy could stay at her house until you get home.''
Nan knew the reason for the broken heart and she was ashamed. Jenny was sure her money-hungry mother would make her take the job and. that would be the end of her cheerleading career. And Nan knew if this had happened yesterday, she very likely would have made her take it.
"Who said I'm not a monster?" she thought.
"The answer Jenny is no," she said stroking the girl's hair. "No, no, no. You will not take that job. You're going to be a cheerleader and you're going to be free after school. No more taking care of your brother, no more missing dances because of baby-sitting. Call Patty and tell her she can baby-sit for you tomorrow. And there are going to be other changes around here too."
Another thing about teenagers, they rebound fast. She zoomed to the phone and the glee in her voice as she talked to Patty was something Nan could never measure in dollars and cents.
Bill came in as she was setting the table. He was puzzled by the good meal, the neat appearing house, and the gay mood the children were in. Jenny was so thrilled about being a cheerleader, she couldn't stop talking about it.
"What's with the burst of energy? Even the dishes are done. You usually wait until midnight if you do them at all!"
"I usually do a lot of things I don't intend to do anymore,"
He finally noticed the new hairdo and the slacks. "You look nice tonight. Care to go out with me for a change? Or are you too tired?"
She was tired. Dead tired. But this time it was a pleasant feeling."
Let’s go. By the way, I have an answer to your question."
"How much is 'enough'?"
"Oh, that. I thought we’d forget about that. He shrugged his shoulders. "Alright, What's the answer?"
"I remember when a dime was enough. And an extra one was more than enough."
He grinned and hugged her as he remembered too. One way or another, they both knew things would definitely be different from now on.