Help from family can be a life-changer

Financial assistance at the right time deepens family ties

A lively topic at a recent family gathering centred on how much financial help parents with the ability to do so should provide to their children regardless of their age. Based on my own history, I lean toward lending them a modest amount if it means they will be able to pursue their dreams and work toward a productive life.

My viewpoint grew out of the help I received when I sought it, and the difference it made to my future.

As a teen in grade nine I hankered to learn typing. My 16-year-old brother gave me a portable Royal manual typewriter that cost him $50, a week of his first wages at the time, maybe even more.

A $3 correspondence course was my other essential. In light of my failure to follow through on other bright ideas, like selling Regal greeting cards to neighbouring farmers in November, Mom was averse to handing over half of a week’s profit from milking eight cows and selling their cream to the local dairy. But she did.

With the typewriter from my brother and the course Mom reluctantly paid for , by the end of grade 12 I could type 86 accurate words per minute , an employable speed. The summer I graduated high school I worked as a transcription typist at the mental hospital in North Battleford. All told, I was a medical secretary for 14 years.

In 1973 our fraying hideabed and income prospects pushed me to consider an upholstery correspondence course from New Jersey. Dad lent me the $300 tuition fee. For the next 32 years upholstering brought in my share of our family’s living expenses.

Beginning in 1961 nearly every American magazine advertised correspondence courses available from Famous Writers’ School in Westport, Connecticut purportedly taught by published writers such as Faith Baldwin. (In fact, like Trump’s school of real estate, it was a sham, as disclosed by Jessica Mitford in a 1970 article in The Atlantic.) For years I longed to register and be a famous writer. Fortunately, I lacked the $900 tuition.

Recently, I met a second cousin whose mother Opal did become a published writer after taking the course, perhaps due more to her determination than to the quality of the school’s teaching. A Manitoba farm wife with four kids, Opal yearned to write more than diary entries. Her husband pooh-poohed her literary ambition.

She was encouraged by an aunt, a nurse, who gave her $200, enough for the down payment on the non-fiction course. With that Opal enrolled and in due time completed the course, a rare success for the school, as reported by Mitford. She began submitting short items to her local Stonewall newspaper. That developed into feature writing with a steady though modest salary.

Opal wanted to install indoor plumbing in their home; her husband objected declaring their home fine as it was. Undeterred, Opal wrote, sold, and saved until she had the funds to raise the house and put in running water.

She continued to write for the newspaper even after a serious car accident years later. She bought a computer and pecked the keys with her one good hand. In her retirement years she wrote a fascinating family history titled “The House that Joe Built” and gave each family member a copy.

In the discussion about financially helping kids, I advocated being generous when I could and perceived a true need. A total of $353 at the right time had made a world of difference in my life. Who can guess what I might have done without it.