As well as I remember, Aunt Lucy Mae mentioned she was born around the time World War I ended, which would have made her about eighteen or nineteen years old as I was preparing to start to school. I have fond memories of those “good ol’ days” when things were booming. Folks were feeling good about the future, new businesses were sprouting up everywhere, and the First National Bank opened its doors not half a mile down the road from our house.
Little we knew about the future! I recall a Thursday morning:
Granny was readyin’ up the breakfast table when Aunt Lucy Mae flounced downstairs–late, as usual. Granddaddy folded his Daily Mail slowly, laid it beside his plate, and slid his chair back far enough so’s he could cross his legs. I could always tell when Granddaddy was upset because everything about him slowed down. I mean everything! Every gesture, every word, every move. I’ll always venture Lucy Made knew what was comin’, too.
“G-o-o-d mornin’,” she said to no one in particular, sliding into her place between the table and the back wall. “L-o-v-e-l-y day!” Lucy Mae couldn’t say an adjective without drawing it out to kingdom come.
“Damn nigh evenin’,” Granddaddy muttered. He folded his arms across his chest. “Lucy Mae, can’t you manage to get down here on time for breakfast one of these days?”
“Oh, Poppa, don’t get all revved up. It’s too n-i-c-e a day to get off on the wrong foot. Besides, the bank doesn’t open until nine.”
“You want bacon?” Granny said.
“If you don’t mind, Momma.”
Aunt Lucy Mae arranged her plate and utensils like she liked them while Granddaddy stared at her. I was finished, but I sat with my hands folded in my lap–waiting. Something as brewing.
After a while, Granddaddy scooted his chair back and leaned forward, elbows on the table, his hands wrenching together, his bushy, gray eyebrows quivering. He never took his eyes off Lucy Mae, and it was clear he was working up to something good.
“Sarah,” he said to Granny, “Fetch me that letter!”
I saw Lucy Mae flinch, but she didn’t look at Granddaddy. She picked at her fingernails, careful not to chip off the polish.
“Why…what letter’s that, Poppa?”
“I’m talkin’ about this here letter from your bank that come yesterday. It says they’re taking out fifteen cents for keeping my money! That’s what letter!”
“Oh, P-o-p-p-a, that’s what we call a service charge. Everyone who has an account pays a service charge,” Aunt Lucy Mae said, “Is that all’s troubling you?”
“Troubling me? Troubling me?” Granddaddy said, his voice rising a pitch each time he said it. “Lucy Mae, when you got that job down at the bank I thought I’d help them out a bit for hiring you by letting them take care of some of my money. Not all of it, mind you. Just enough so’s you’d look good. I give it to you to take down there for me, and the next thing I know, I’m getting this here letter saying they’re aking my money fifteen cents at a clip.”
“Poppa, you don’t understand–“
“I understand perfectly well that bank of yours taking my money fifteen cents at a clip. It says it right here in black and white!”
“Poppa, you told me you’d agree to put your money in the bank if you could get it out any time you wanted it. Don’t you remember? So I put it in a checking account so you can draw it out any time you want to. Now, that’s the way it’s done.”
“Well, now,” Granddaddy grunted. “That’s a fine howdy-do! I put fifty dollars in that bank an’ I figure I ought to get fifty dollars out any time I want it, like you said, but according to this here letter, I only get forty-nine dollars and eighty-five cents down there now ‘stead of fifty. The way I see it, when you put your money in one of them banks, you’re just givin’ them people your money. No wonder them bankers can lay up in bed til noon while us working people’ve got to get up with the sun.”
I was beginning to understand something bout the banking business.
“Eat your bacon, Lucy Mae,” Granny said. “You’ll be late.”
“Late…hell!” Granddaddy thundered. “Maybe Lucy Mae shouldn’t bother to go in at all. She’s making money for them jest bein’ my daughter. Take my money down there like that! Get up at noon and come down here and eat my food. If that ain’t the life I don’t know what is!”
“Poppa, it’s h-a-r-d-l-y noon.”
“That’s not the point, Lucy Mae,” Granddaddy said, “The point is I want my fifteen cents back. Now you either get me back my fifteen cents…or I can go down to your high-and-mighty bank and get my fifteen cents back myself! Everybody in this whole county can get took in by that new bank, but they’re not taking your daddy in!”
“Poppa, you s-i-m-p-l-y don’t understand. You’re supposed to keep putting your money in the account, and the bank makes its money off everyone’s account. All the accounts pay a service charge. That’s where my paycheck comes from. The bank looks after your money. It’s in a vault. It’s protected, don’t you see?”
“My money comes from workin’ this here farm! I ain’t leechin’ none of my money off another man’s hard labor! And, as far as protecting my money, I can damn well protect it for myself like I always did. What I want to know is are you gonna get me back my fifteen cents, or am I going to have to go down there and get it myself.”
“P-o-p-p-a, a service charge has to be deducted–“
“Well,” Granddaddy snorted, “I reckon that answers that question!” He shoved back his chair further and stood up. “Eat your bacon and go down to your bank, Lucy Mae. Go on to work and d-e-d-u-c-t some more money from some of them other people’s accounts.”
It looked like the matter was settled, so I went on about my business, but I noticed Aunt Lucy Mae didn’t look none to happy when she left for work.
Later than same afternoon, Granddaddy headed down the road. He was wearing his best Sunday-go-to-meetin’ suit, tie and all. When I asked him if I could come along, he said he had some important business to tend to and I’d best stay home with Granny.
“You goin’ down to get your fifteen cents, Granddaddy?” I inquired innocently.
With a trace of a grin, he said, “Never you mind about that, boy.”
I don’t know what happened down at the bank that Thursday afternoon, but I do know the following Monday morning Granddaddy was sitting at the kitchen table with a satisfied look on his face as he tallied up his money, the doors of the bank were closed tighter’n a drum, and Aunt Lucy Mae stayed in bed all day long!