Money Tree

Trimming the Money Tree

My pop-pop always used to say, “Money doesn’t grow on trees.” My first job as a 13-year-old was doing yard maintenance with him. Long days in the hot sun and your shirt covered in sweat really builds a work ethic and at 13-years-old, that ten dollar paycheck at the end of the week made me feel rich.

In February of 2006, Pop-pop passed away. He left me an abundance of lessons from how important your family will be in your life to how to flip a sunny side egg without breaking the yolk.

As I look at the price of tuition and the mounting college loans, I cannot help but chuckle about how Pop-pop said, “Money doesn’t grow on trees.” But he also taught me that nothing was impossible.

The summer following my pop-pop’s death, my dad, younger brother Nick and I took over his yard maintenance business. The area we worked in was full of wealthy Italian and Irish families that my pop-pop had built bonds with being a native of Italy himself.

One day Nick and I were working on a family’s house. Their yard was massive! The yard had extravagant landscaping, a breath taking view of Barnegat Bay and of course, tons of weeds to be pulled. Now at 13 and 10-years-old, this just meant less time in front of the video game system, but we both hoped to make some money doing this until we were old enough to work legally (shhh).

One of the jobs we were responsible for was to trim the pine needle bushes and clean up the scraps. It seemed simple enough. As I continued to use the trimmer, Nick would pick up the scraps and put them into the bag. Nick, being smaller than I was, had the lovely responsibility of reaching underneath and in between the bushes (price of being the younger brother right?)

However, the price he was actually paid was nothing I would have expected. As he knelt down to pick up the pine needles, he thought he saw a piece of paper. I told him to pick it up, but as he got closer, he thought he saw money! His first thought was that it was a single, but as he reached into the bush and fidgeted around with the money, it showed a zero. “Oh boy ten bucks, that pays for the ice cream man,” he exclaimed.

As he reached for the bill, he realized it was ripped in half and folded over but that didn’t stop this determined 10-year-old boy who could taste his Choco-taco from the ice cream man.

He finally got a clamp on the two halves of the bill and yanked it towards him to bring it to the front of the bush, out of the pine needle infested flower bed. As he brought the bill up into the light, we both realized that in his dirt graveled hands was a torn in half, roughed up and beaten down $100 bill, split right down the center of Benjamin Franklin’s nose.

Now, at 13 and 10 years old, or any age for that matter, finding a $100 bill like that is exciting and slightly disappointing. We had no idea whether a torn in half bill had any value. And now the question stood: What to do with the money?

As we ran down the street to show our parents the torn in half bill, they told us we have to go to the bank which will decide whether it will be valid. We drove to the bank down the road and nervously sat, waiting to hear what the bank manager had to say. As she slowly came towards us, dressed in a two piece dress suit, she gave us both a lollypop and asked who the bill belonged to and since Nick found it, it was technically his so he proudly stood up and announced it was his discovery. The bank manager explained that this bill would have to be sent to a United States Mint to be verified and if it was found to be legitimate, the bank would give him a newly printed, crisp $100 dollar bill. She said they would have an answer within a few days.

We continued to work on that yard as we pondered what would become of the ransacked bill. Being that we were partners and being the oldest, I felt I would work my charm to receive a portion of the money. Nick would have nothing of it but instead offered to buy me Swedish fish for my troubles, which I accepted.

As we came home, fatigued and enervated, our mom greeted us at the door with the bank manager on the phone, she told us to come to the bank because the bill was authentic. Electrified by the news, Nick and I got cleaned up and headed down to the bank.

Nick approached the bank manager’s desk and looked upon her with an innocent set of eyes and asked to see his new $100 bill. She gently smiled at him and proceeded to the vault. She came out holding the $100 bill, flat as a pancake, smelling of new money and even glistened in the sunlight. Nick cheerfully accepted the bill and locked it up in his little safe up in his room, figuring to save it for a big day.

Nick is now 17 years old and he has yet to spend that bill despite complaining how incredibility expensive gas is every time he fuels up his car. As he begins to look at colleges, he is truly learning that every penny counts and that finding money to pay for a college education is not as simple as digging into a pine needle bush.

To this day, we still laugh at how someone can lose a $100 bill and not dig around absolutely everywhere looking for it. Now Pop-pop may not have believed that money grew on trees, but he also taught us that nothing is impossible.