Tuesday, July 27, 1999

A Mother's Portfolio

by Mary E. Lyons (

In frail condition, both physically and mentally, my elderly mother resides in a nursing home in Chicago. She can remember little of her present day activities or recent events. While hazy about time, place, and the identity of all but her closest relatives, she is able to recite from memory her stock portfolio.

When I visit, she typically reminisces about her Nebraska childhood and our family growing up in Wisconsin. She asks about the grandchildren, then worries aloud about the cost of her care. I remind her that her investments are paying for her fine nurses, excellent cuisine, and comfortable accommodations. Once I mention "investments," she perks up and tells me that in 1959 her mother left her some stock. She proudly remembers how she purchased more shares over the years, always reinvesting the dividends until she needed them to supplement to her social security income.

She then launches into her litany, naming in alphabetical order her holdings: Airtouch, Ameritech, AT&T, BankOne, continuing through SBC and WPS Resources. Many acquisitions and mergers have changed the names and order, but I dare not interrupt the flow to tell her the news about Ameritech and SBC. It would throw off the rhythm of the recitation she has mastered.

Sometimes she frets that there will not be money left in her estate for the family. I reply that her investing was a gift in itself. It is providing amply for her care, and has taught her children and grandchildren a valuable lesson in buying and holding stock.

The night nurse says mother often prays her Rosary, then starts whispering her list of holdings before drifting off to sleep, usually before she hits Mattel in the middle of the alphabet.

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