Friday, April 21, 2017

Scholastic Spotlight: Tobias Zikmund

Money and Me

Zikmund, Tobias

Grade:  11
School:  Park River Area High School, Park River ND
Educator:  Kierstin Hurtt
AWARD:  Honorable Mention, Personal Essay/Memoir

Looking back, I think that her old mantra finally struck home that time. ¨We are not made of money.” The amount of oxygen wasted on that phrase in our house was a bottomless abyss. But this time it worked. It made me think.

As is big family tradition, the amount of hand-me-downs in my childhood was plentiful. An older brother and a mother with a burning passion for rummage sales contributed to the collection. The big blue boxes holding those secondhand treasures were only occasionally brought out. They would be emptied layer by layer and their contents perused. I was then made to try on all the clothes. I would duck around the corner into my bedroom to slip on the clothes before being scrutinized by my mother’s critical eye.

Such a grand event was paired with cleaning out the drawers of the clothes that were already in my wardrobe. Pajamas and socks in the top drawer. Pants in the bottom drawer. Shirts in between. Drawer by drawer, the clothes that were too small were packed away back into the big blue boxes. I didn’t receive many hand-me-down pants, considering I had quite the collection of love handles and sported a bulging belly, but I got enough.

The most memorable night of sorting through clothes was sometime in mid-elementary. The sky was dark through the upstairs windows and it was getting late. Or whatever “late” meant to third-grade me. My mother’s no-nonsense attitude allowed no time for dilly-dallying. We got right down to business and opened up my red dresser using the few white knobs that were still attached. As Mom and I were sorting the pants in the bottom drawer on the right side, we came upon a new pair of jeans that hadn’t been worn once. The price tags still hung limply from the waistband. She snatched the pants from the drawer, and with captive in hand, retreated back to the mound of unfolded clothes that sat on the cracked blue floorboards. Sitting cross-legged, she inquired what was wrong with the pants. “I don’t know,” I bashfully replied, almost ashamed. I probably hadn’t liked the pants and had just left them tucked away in the farthest corner of my drawer. In those days, the majority of my pants were hand-me-down. So wasting a new pair of pants by growing out of them without once wearing them was a shame.

“Well, we’re not made of money!” she exclaimed as she dropped her hands from the, “I don’t know” position into her lap. She seemed to sink into herself, defeated by this act of waste. Words were then exchanged about how Mom forfeited new clothes for herself in order to buy new clothes for her kids. I felt guilty beyond measure and on the verge of tears. Of the times my mother has made me feel guilty, this took the cake.
After the clothes were assembled in the dresser, but before the smell of hand-me-down clothes had vanished, third-grade me had come to a conclusion. I had come to the noble and rather vague realization that money was real and very important. Not the twenty-five cents for the gumball machine on Sunday mornings, but large amounts of money that dictate life. Being in a farming family, I so often hear how “The crops aren’t good this year.” This, in turn, goes on to affect nearly every aspect of my family’s lives. It dictates Christmas presents, family vacations, and whether or not big purchases will again be pushed back another year. I would say I wouldn't want it any other way, but that would be a lie. I see the stress that comes from my father’s livelihood depending on inches of rain and days of sunlight. I don’t remember the last time I heard an, “Ooh, the crops are looking good this year.” Rather, I hear the day-to-day grievances how the current weather will not yield a good harvest and how the next storm can ruin it all. The uncertainty is a big wild card that can wipe out everything.

I have come to terms with the big blue boxes and the ugly pants in the red dresser. Those brand new pants with the price tags hanging limply from the waistband led me out of an ignorant mindset and into a new one of awareness. After that night, I have slowly learned about the pushing and pulling that money performs on my life. But it does not control me. William Ernest Henley says it best in his poem, Invictus. “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”