Post of the Day
March 4, 1999
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Subject: Stingier than thou but what a Fool
My great-aunt the Fool
I've been thinking of my great-aunt lately, now 10 years passed on, and how different we were and how much I have only begun to learn from her. She was born before the dawn of the 20th century, got herself into a college education and out of a small midwestern town, was a flapper, ran an ad agency as a single woman in Chicago in the 30's, married into a little money and made a lot more for herself by investing in the great blue-chips of our collective history - GM, AT&T, Standard Oil... Even after becoming a widow and having enough income from her investments to live on, she temped as a secretary at Conde Nast just to have something more interesting to do than clip coupons.
She was a crotchety old Fool, that's for sure. So stingy that she'd give us a buck for every A we brought home on our report cards - and take away a buck for every B. So stingy she counted the eggs I'd left after house-sitting her apartment while she was off on a cruise. So stingy that - I kid you not - she deducted the cost of her shoes from her income taxes as a business expense, because she walked from bank to bank to brokerage in midtown Manhattan to see after her investments.
We had our deep political differences (whoa, Nellie!) but she always said she admired me for the same self-reliant spirit. Even when I got in trouble, at least it was for what I believed in. And of course, being a natural-born "contrarian", I certainly didn't believe in the good old capitalist way, despite her best efforts and interminable games of "Pit" on the living room floor, during which her fingers would bleed from the flashing cards as she bid and bid and won. She taught me about our ancestor, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and showed me the world through the relics from her travels. She egged me on as a teenager to drink daiquiris with her at occasional lunches at the Top of the Sixes. She rode off at the age of 67 on my brand-new bicycle into traffic, screaming "where's the braaaaaaakes...." as I trotted nervously behind with her fusty old mink coat over my arm (which she had me wearing in college until I decided it was a no-no back in the 70's).
I just never did get the money part. Well, after years of being on my own, and working for pittance wages on issues I truly care about, and seeing her heir (my aunt) still making those blue-chips and their luscious spinoffs (Baby Bells, Lucent...) go forth and multiply, and supposedly not caring, I finally did come into a modest inheritance of my own, with literally no idea what to do with it but hand it over the family broker. Who promptly let it rot, as far as I could see when I finally took a look last November in a fit of boredom.
To cut to the chase: with endless resources and solidarity here at the Fool, and some guidance from my still-living, non-computerized Foolish aunt, I have put together a satisfactory portfolio and, particularly, discovered a whole new area of learning that is fascinating. Sure, sometimes my role as a consumer, an activist, an advocate for developing countries (my great-aunt wanted the Panama Canal back...) gets in the way of my role as investor, but it's nice to realize there are indeed choices that don't necessarily conflict. And my daughter, I hope, will thank me someday too. She's about to start her DRIP, once we've finished analyzing some stocks together.
PS: Particular thanks to the KPs, you know who you are.
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