The National Catholic Review
Alma Roberts Giordan

He saves, he hoards, he gloats over his cache of candy: my grandson, Tyler the Tightwad. He’s never heard of Silas Marner or Shylock or any of those other renowned literary misers, being barely four years old. Nor is he ungenerous in any other direction. In this case, however, he truly is a skinflint. He uncovers his treasure, counts the pieces (coin of his realm) and knows instantly if they’ve been disturbed. I, with total recall summoning memories of my own childhood bent, can understand. My gold mine was buried under a sanctimonious cloak of Lenten sacrificea false coverup, because when noon of Easter Saturday struck, I went hog-wild over those stale delights.

With Tyler, emotions are mixed. First he gazes speculatively on the foil-wrapped eggs: Choc-lit and a’nilla, with mushmellow insides. One has been partly nibbled, then carefully rewrapped. There are also five small, heart-shaped pieces, of different color and size, but equally tasteless. They reflect various sticky sentiments: Be mine, I care, Thee I love, and so on. Difficult to read, having been much handled and smeared. Additionally, there are half a dozen silver-clad peppermint squaresthin chocolate sandwiches, each with a green layer inside. A single Twix bar, plus one peeling O Henry and several indistinguishable crumbs of fudge complete the lot. To Tyler, it is anything but unappetizing.

He displays his treasure chest, his brother’s outgrown lunchbox, carefully unlatching the lid to let you peep inside. He worries about the contents.

The other day we walked downtown, hand in hand along Main Street, heading for Leo’s Confectionary. Tyler waited patiently while I paused to talk with a friend. Just as we were saying goodbye he tugged at my sleeve, pulled me down to his level and whispered urgently: You forgot to tell her I’m running low on candy. Which fear I seriously conveyed to my friend, explaining why we must hurry on to Leo’s.

One steep step up and Tyler pushed through the door ahead of me, knowing the way. He dawdled along the candy shelfconveniently at a small boy’s heightselected two 50-cent bars (that used to go for a nickel) and held out a free hand for the money. It’s a matter of pride that he pay Leo himself and be volubly thanked. Thus fortified, his day was made.

It’s not that he loves candy per seto eat, that is. Tyler is amply satisfied with a reward-piece now and then, or as a token of appreciation. Candy, to him, is a means to an end. It signifies wealth of a tangible sort. Power, too, in that he can award or withhold his favor as the occasion requires. It has become symbolic of his self-control over the appetites of the fleshthe visible sweet possessions in that box being more significant than their invisibly digesting within. (He has it and knows how to live with it, staying on top.) Besides, there are more delicious treats he prefers: watermelon ice cream, butter spaghetti (sans sauce), plain brownies and crisp pie shells.

Inordinately pleased with his indulgent grandmother one long day while she babysat, he proved it by taking me to his hidden sanctuary. There, amid all the paraphernalia of a four-year-old boy’s treasures, reposed his horde. It was snugly packed within the lunchbox that, in turn, lay within a toy chest. Shut your eyes, Gocky, he commanded. After some fussing, banging and unclasping of lids, he again took my hand. Now open your eyes!

His own glistened with pride of possession. How’s this for a s’prize? he challenged. While I gazed in awe, which was not lost on him, my own memory spread forth a similar cache half a century back. The vision of marvelously assorted penny candies, bought throughout the long 40 days of parochial Lent, was again tantalizing. (On Mondays I claimed the Big Haul, making up for the two days of no school in between, when Sister Zeno wasn’t available to open her store on the back porch of the convent to collect students’ pennies. She donated the entire profits to the Chinese orphans, so it would be heartless of us to buy elsewhere.)

Help youself, Tyler said, quickly adding, but not the big blue egg. Blue was my least favorite color in foodstuffs, so I reached gratefully for a yellow one. His hand shot out to deter me: I’m keeping that one for PapaBob. Sparing that one for my good husband, I picked up a chocolate mint. Whyn’t you take this one, Gocky? He handed me a blurred Valentine heart. Squinting, I deciphered its message. Love you, it says. He liked that. I love you, too, he said softly, watching closely as I chewed and swallowed the extremely dry morsel.

What are you going to do with this horde? Surely you can’twon’teat it?

Course not, he said with proud disdain. It’s for rewards. Like now. Yesterday I gave Mama a choc-lit after she put a Band-Aid on my knee. And when Todd kissed it, I gave him a heartjust like yours.

But how about the good pieces? Excuse me, these nice foil-wrapped ones. Who gets those?

He squirmed. Well, I’m saving them, he said patiently, for all the birthday parties I’m invited to. Then he shut the lid down fast.

Still I persisted. I’m curious. Don’t you ever eat some yourself? I think you don’t really like candy very much.

Oh, I like candysome. But I like other things better. Like hard-cooked real eggs...and scraped carrots...and strawberries in the backyard.

Then Mama needn’t worry about your stuffing yourself with junk food.

He prickled. Candy’s not junk food. Besides, I don’t really want to eat it. Don’t you unnerstand, Gocky?

To have and to hold, you precious miser. Certainly I do. You’re not ever the tightwad Todd says you are. You simply like to have it around. To count. As long as it’s just there, and you know it’s there, you feel rich.

Right, he sighed in relief, leading me back down the stairs and into the undemanding play area. No need for me to preach on the worrisome joy of possession, which he wouldn’t grasp. Money in the bank (Don’t touch the principal). He was so innocent, why mar his dream? Tomorrow, he pledged, you can have another heartthe one that says be mine.’ Tomorrow, yes, Gocky, I’ve ’cided to let you have the yellow egg. And tomorrow, maybe, I’ll share the fudge with Todd.

His pleasure, indeed, would be the interest on his investment. When tomorrow came I ate the cotton-dry yellow egg and another I-love-you pink heart. And I did so with gusto while he observed, because my Tyler the Tightwad doesn’t make such generous gestures every day.

Alma Roberts Giordan, a regular contributor to America, writes from Watertown, Conn.

Comments

Antoinette Bosco | 2/5/2007 - 2:06pm
It’s never easy to lose a friend, and when I heard on April 29 that Alma Roberts Giordan had died, I felt a deep loss, tempered only by the fact that we had brought affirmation and joy into each other’s lives. She certainly had done the same for readers of America, as your respected and wise “octogenarian” writer (Am., 4/21)

I first came upon the name Alma Giordan some 40 years ago, when I would be reading a Catholic magazine carrying one of the articles I had written. There, in that same issue, would often be an enjoyable article by Alma. Then, 21 years ago, when I accepted a position as executive editor of The Litchfield County Times in Connecticut, then a brand new paper, waiting for me that first week was a stack of articles submitted by freelance writers. I was surprised to see a familiar name, Alma Giordan. It didn’t take long for me to call her.

Wonderful friendships often begin in coincidental ways. It turned out that Alma had been happily married to Bob Giordan, an artist, since 1939 and had never stopped writing for magazines, secular ones like Good Housekeeping, the Saturday Evening Post and McCall’s, and religious ones like America, Liguorian and Catholic Digest.

I happily accepted much of her work, often illustrated by her husband until his death, finding that Alma had a special gift. She could take the ordinary, small things we encounter every day and make these vibrate with life with her observations and words. She painted the mundane elements of this world that we all encounter in a way that highlighted how truly profound these are—be they a chipmunk, a crocus, a shoe, a mourning dove, a dogwood tree stump. She had the gift of seeing, as a poet expressed it, “the God of things,” and she could express this wonder beautifully, yet asking, “Are words really necessary at the instant of a scarlet poppy’s miraculous unfolding? Is not my involuntary gasp of delight perhaps a more genuine prayer?”

Last year she collected some of her good published work (several items were columns I had placed in The Litchfield County Times) and produced a book. I read it all in one sitting, enjoying her gift of seeing wonder and beauty that most of us need to be prodded to see. She called the book What This Old Hand Knows, the title of a truly notable piece she had written for America, an ode to the remarkable gift that is the human hand, “our telltale lifeline” (10/3/98). The book was humorously illustrated with her husband’s legacy of sketches, many of which I remember well.

Alma and I remained devoted friends. We were supposed to have lunch together this week. While I think she is having a more sumptuous banquet in a new and glorious place, we’ll nevertheless all be missing her.

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