I never had a piggy bank. What I had was a barrel bank. A small, perhaps four inches high and as many around brown and yellow thin-metal barrel with a slot for coins in the un-openable lid and a locked little bottom hatch (key hidden somewhere by parents), which you could probably pry open with a hair-pin if you had the mind to, or a match. I never had the mind to.
Until that fateful day (I think I was five at the time, perhaps six) when I was given my weekly allowance of one Swedish krona and immediately ran out the door to spend it all. In today’s U.S. money a Swedish krona would be the equivalent of, say, two or three dollars. Then, a krona was one hundred öre (a cent-equivalent).
All right, so with one hundred öre in my pocket, burning as many wholes to be sure, I first stopped by the little neighborhood tobacco and candy store to squander fifteen of those one hundred öre on, yes, candy; leaving eighty-five to go.
Happily chewing away, I strolled down to the town square, which among other things had a cinema which now displayed, for the upcoming Sunday matinée, One Hundred Leagues Under the Sea—the poster showed this amazing, many-tentacled and huge creature basically devouring the little submarine. Fascinating. This was a movie I had to, had to, see. I checked to see if I’d be allowed, though, making sure that it wasn’t R-rated or anything. Come to find out that this (probably watered down) version was suitable for children. Oh, man, now I triple-had-to see it. Only one problem though. The Sunday matinée was one krona, and I had just busted mine. I was fifteen öre short. Oh, well, surely, surely Mom or Dad would see things my way and pitch in the missing fifteen, surely. They loved me, didn’t they?
So, I more or less ran home to ask them. They were both at home (must have been a Saturday, then, Dad not at work) as I stormed in to our third-floor apartment. Guess what, guess what!
“What?” Lisbet, Mom, not exactly curious. Dad said nothing. Reading the paper or something. I don’t even think he looked up.
At about two hundred miles an hour I told her about this really amazing, amazing movie that’s showing at Saga (the name of the cinema) as the Sunday matinée.
“Sounds like a grown-up movie,” she said.
“No, no. It’s not. I can watch it. I checked. Children allowed.”
“Well, good for you.”
“Only, I’ve already spent fifteen öre,” I said. “So I’m a bit short.”
“On what?” said Mom, though she knew me, so she knew.
“Some candy,” I said.
“Fifteen öre short,” said my Dad, now looking up from his paper.
“Yes,” I said. “Fifteen. So, please, please, could I, could you, would you?”
Well, I’m sure they exchanged glances and tacitly agreed that this very moment was one where I was to be taught a financial lesson along the lines of not squandering what you have in case you need it for something that you really want.
So the answer, “No.” My dad.
“You heard him,” she informed me.
“Don’t Mom me. That’s final.”
“That’s not fair.”
“What’s not fair?” Dad wondering.
“I didn’t know this movie was going to show when I spent the fifteen öre.”
“Well, that’s tough,” he said.
“Mom?” Making very big, begging eyes at her now.
“You heard him,” she again informed me.
“But, but…” The writing, however, was writ very clearly on the proverbial wall. This was going nowhere. “It’s only fifteen öre,” I informed back.
“It’s fifteen öre you don’t have,” more information for my benefit. This time from male parent.
“You can deduct it form next week’s allowance,” I brillianted and voiced simultaneously.
“No,” said Dad.
“But, but…” Out of ideas now. But this just wasn’t fair, not at all fair. They were such monsters. It’s not as if they didn’t have the money. Fifteen öre was nothing to them. Totally unfair. I even think I managed to squeeze out a tear or two, just to show them how tortured I was by their cruelty. If they noticed, they were not impressed (I had used the tear-tactic before, and quite often).
Oh, man. There was nothing for it. And Sunday matinées were always one of a kind, one showing only. That really amazingly great great movie that I just had to, had to, had to see would be gone by the following Sunday. So these people, who called themselves my parents, had basically torn my heart out and slapped it on the ground and kicked it back and forth like a football between them just for fun. Monsters.
Then a very dark, recent memory surfaced. Olle was my age, and he lived with his family across the landing from us. Olle was a lot more daring than I and not a little unruly, to be honest. Up to things most of the time, if not all of the time. Daring things. And one of the things he had been up to recently was figuring out how, by the use of a regular table knife, you could actually tease coins out of a piggy bank (he had one of those, not a barrel). And he did it, figured it out, and showed me how he did it. The nerve. But it looked simple enough. Perhaps, perhaps.
Well, I knew where they kept my barrel bank. And, wasn’t whatever was in it mine after all? Yes, sir. My money imprisoned and unspendable. And all I needed was fifteen measly öre. I could ask Olle to help me, but second thoughts suspected that he might want a cut of the spoils, spoils that I wasn’t about to share, so this would have to be a solo job, me and a kitchen knife and some clever fiddling.
But how would I go about this without them hearing me? And, truth be told, I wasn’t even sure I could do it. Olle was always, and I mean always, a little bit better than I was, at everything—football, running, jumping, throwing, easing coins out of piggy (barrel) banks, you name it.
Still, that movie. I just had to see it.
So, this mission, should I choose to accept it (yes, yes), would involve the following (I looked around, trying to picture the sequence of events): quietly moving one chair—that meant lifting it—from the kitchen table to the counter with the cupboards (my barrel bank was on the top shelf of the cupboard farthest to the right, pretty sure).
Then, silently grab the little barrel and place it on the counter. Open the cutlery drawer and select an appropriate kitchen knife. Ease the blade into the slot and then tilt the barrel so that some coins settle on the blade. Then slowly ease the blade back out, a coin or two riding on it. That’s how Olle had done it and it seemed straight-forward enough.
Make sure I get at least fifteen öre out, then replace the knife, and the barrel bank, and the chair, and, and, and then storm into the living room to share the fantastic news that I’d just found fifteen öre somewhere so now I could see the movie after all. Isn’t that great?
I could hear them talking in the living room, but there was no guarantee that they would stay put. They could come into the kitchen at any moment for any reason, and I must not, not be seen performing my barrel bank surgery for then all would be lost.
Case in point, Dad just came into the kitchen. Made himself a sandwich, or began to, rather. Discovered that we were out of the sliced sandwich sausage that he liked. He asked Mom if we had any somewhere, but I heard her say that we were fresh out.
“I’ll just run down to the store, then,” said Dad. Which made Mom appear in the kitchen as well.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I meant to get some yesterday, but never made it to the store.”
“It’s okay,” he said.
“I’ll come with you,” she said. “Need some air, anyway. Stretch my legs.”
I could not believe my luck.
“You want to come, too?” she asked me.
“Me, oh, no, no, not really,” I said.
“Suit yourself,” she said.
A few minutes later I found myself alone—a-lone—in the kitchen. Our local grocery store was about a five-minute walk away. Add five minutes for shopping and then five minutes back; as many minutes as I needed öre, in other words.
And, and I was good at it.
The first liberated coin was a ten-öre piece. The second was another ten-öre piece as well. Made sense, actually. They were small and thin. This made twenty. Mission accomplished.
But then greed set in. The barrel was almost half-full of my, yes, my riches. A few more coins couldn’t hurt, could it. So I set out to liberate a few more, and then a few more, and then a few more after that. I had stopped counting, but I had quite the little pile now, and, yes, they would be back soon, so that would have to do it. Knife back in the drawer, barrel back on the shelf, coins into my pocket, I’d count them later.
Mission accomplished, indeed.
Here’s the real mystery: how did she know? Does she check my pockets while I’m sleeping? Or does she check the weight of the barrel bank on a regular basis and now found it too light? I’ll never know. I never asked her, and she’s gone now. But this is what happened next.
Sunday morning, I’m walking around the apartment with a small fortune in my pocket, waiting for one in the afternoon to arrive so I can, yes, first inform them of the good news—that I had found fifteen öre, and would go to the movies after all—and then head down for the two o’clock showing. Life could not be more grand.
Until, in the kitchen, female parent looks at me strangely and asks what that noise is, what that clatter of what sounds like coins in my pocket might be?
“I don’t hear anything.”
“But I do,” says Mom.
I shrugged my shoulders in complete ignorance, “No idea.”
“What do you have in your pocket?”
“That one,” she says pointing to my right-hand pocket, actually bulging a little from the rescued trove (which did cling and clatter a little as I moved around, she was certainly right about that and I was totally stupid not to have noticed).
“This one?” I say, pointing.
“Precisely,” she says. “That one.”
“What have I in it? Is that what you’re asking?”
“Yes, that’s what I’m asking,” she confirms.
“Nothing,” I try.
“Let me see,” she says, and moves toward me.
Oh, man, I would have to show her. “Just some money I found,” I say.
“Well, lucky you,” she says. “How much?”
“I don’t know.” I didn’t know. I had not had a good opportunity to count the stash. But it was a lot, I knew that.
“Let’s see,” she says. “Let’s count it.”
There’s nothing for it, I am doomed. No choice but to empty the pocket and build a little coin-pile on the kitchen table (which pile, by the way, also included my eighty-five öre left over from my one-krona allowance).
“Oh, my,” she says.
I don’t say anything.
“Let’s count it,” she says and begins.
The pile adds up to four kronor and sixty-three öre. A small fortune—eighty-five of which, I stress, was my honestly gotten allowance remainder.
“Where,” she asks me, with a dangerously straight face. “Where did you find this?”
“Well,” I begin, furiously dreaming up scenarios, “you know that crossing down by the square?”
“You mean the new pedestrian crossing?”
“Yes, that’s the one.” Still thinking at a hundred miles an hour. “You know that island halfway across Highway One?”
“Yes, I know it.”
“That’s where I found it.”
Give the woman credit, she still kept a straight face. “That’s where you found four kronor and sixty-three öre?”
“No, no. Eighty-five öre in that pile there—I pointed—is what’s left over from my allowance you gave me yesterday.”
“Ah,” she said, still straight-facing it. “So then,” and she does the math in her head, she’s good at that, “you found a pile of coins adding up to three kronor and seventy-eight öre?”
“If you say so.”
“In a pile?”
“On that new pedestrian crossing island down by the square?”
“Yes.” Making my eyes as large and innocent as I could possibly make then, nodding all the while. “Yes, exactly.”
Never once does she even smile, although internally she must have been rolling on the floor, clutching her stomach, by this time.
Then she dons a very menacing face, and stoops down—like some hovering troll—to look me straight in the eyes: “Where. Did. You. Get. This. Money.” A very serious question now, and I saw that the game was up.
“Barrel bank,” I mumbled.
She had straightened by now. “Speak up,” she said. “I can’t hear you.”
“You found the key?”
“No, I used a kitchen knife.”
“Ah.” Apparently, she was familiar with the technology involved.
“Well,” she said. “This all goes back.”
“All of it? My eighty-five öre as well?”
“Yes, all of it.”
“That’s not fair.”
“Stealing is not fair.”
“It’s my money, from my barrel bank,” stressing “my” twice. “That’s not stealing.”
That kind of reined her in a little. She gave this some thought. Then, “It’s stealing from yourself,” she said.
“That’s not stealing,” I realized and said.
“End of discussion,” she said and began scooping up the coin-pile.
I did have it in me to cry at this point. I was an excellent actor and could turn it on at a moment’s notice. But I didn’t, even though I was furious to the point of tears. Not only could I kiss the movie good-bye, I had also lost the remainder of my allowance. What I said was, “But…”
“No buts. Let this be you a lesson.”
“No buts, I said.”
At this point I might have actually pressed through a tear or two, I don’t remember. But the game was definitely up and I had just been robbed. Mom had finished scooping the coins into her left hand, and now opened the cupboard door and brought down my barrel bank. “You want to put the coins back in?” she asked me.
Talk about adding insult to injury. “No,” I said, and left. Stomped out of the kitchen and left the apartment (slamming the entry door) to sulk and lick wounds.
Now, here is an interesting thing: prior to this stealing from myself I had never stolen anything, from anyone. Never. But, looking back, this little episode seems to have ignited my career as a kleptomaniac, since for the next almost ten years I would pilfer just about any money that wasn’t nailed down and then glued, to boot. From change-dishes, from tables and cupboard, and before long, from pockets (others’) and wallets. Not sure what the connection is, but I think the logic runs along the lines of getting back at them for stealing my eighty-five residual öre; yes, something along those lines.
While I became an accomplished thief, I was terrible at not getting caught, and I think that every coin-deed eventually ended up with me confessing and having to beg the victim’s forgiveness (Dad, Mom, grandmas, friends, neighbors, et al.), sometimes a Dad-spanking would follow for good measure. Correction: there were a few times where I pilfered money out of wallets in public changing rooms that did not slide down the confession-forgiveness-spanking slope; but as a rule, yes, embarrassing beyond belief.
At fifteen, I had grown out of it, but that’s another story.