The phone rings, Mom picks it up.
“Rita! It’s Lidia. I need your help.”
Mom’s sister calls out of the blue, somewhere around the fall of 1980. She sounds worried. Scared. Mom talks her down, saying “Take it to a bank and then get a safety deposit box.”
A week later she’s on a train to Toronto. She arrives at her old home out by Keele Avenue and is greeted by Lidia and their mother. Grandmother is beside herself. After some reassurance from Mom, the three head out to the bank.
My mother is wearing her near-black mink coat. Grandmother was probably in her usual garb: understated Italian grandmother floral print. Lidia was probably in the same, but more youthful. The three enter the bank and are taken to the safety box area.
They open the box. Mom groans. It’s a pile of cash. A LARGE pile of cash. As an accountant, free range cash held in captivity is her worst nightmare. Grandfather, long before and during his Alzheimer’s attacks had been squirreling away money under the stairs in their home. For years. As Grandfather spiralled down the well of forgetfulness, Grandmother began to fear the box under the stairs, like an Italian Telltale Heart.
They decide to count it. After reaching some grotesquely large number, Mom stops and goes to find the bank manager. They need to deposit this money.
They’re ushered into a private room with a counting machine. Lidia and grandmother are sitting staring at the whirring machine, their faces probably drawn and long, like a wet cat. Meanwhile mother paces behind the manager, still in her mink. They count it once all the while explaining to the manager how this money came to be.
The manager turns to my grandmother and very pointedly says to her: “This is illegal, you know.”
Mom turns and says, “This is a deposit of our money. Money they saved honestly and are now putting into your bank. You have no right to speak to her that way.”
The manager says nothing more other than business transaction concerns.
My mother, just turned 80, pushes herself back from the table, having finished telling us this story. “She was really scared, that manager. I really scared her!” She says, proud of sticking up for her mother in front of a total stranger.
“Um. You know she was probably scared when she actually saw the money, right?” I say.
“How so?” Mom asks.
“Three ladies come into her bank, two generation of Italians, one wearing an expensive mink coat, and demand a large sum of money that materialized out of nowhere, be deposited into her bank?”
The punchline races along 30 years of time. Mom starts laughing. We all start laughing.