During supper I waved a small metal box, declaring to my family that it contained a rare cash reserve and emphasizing it was for emergencies only. After supper my family quickly dispersed to ponder the significance of my announcement and just how they might personally benefit. I remained apart in my den awaiting the expected overtures.
The first loan applicant to enter was my son. He plunked his abused school knapsack at my feet - its straps and pouches repaired with staples, safety pins, and tape. A nice touch, I thought.
''What can I do for you, young man?'' I asked the fourteen-year-old, locking my cash box for intimidating effect.
''I have to do a school paper on 'Austerity Programs' and thought you might have some ideas on the subject,'' my son explained, gazing downward at his battered, laceless sneakers.
I leaned back in my upholstered desk chair. ''The application of austerity programs forces a country, or family, to dispense with the frills, the unnecessary.''
''Like living within one's meager allowance?''
''Exactly,'' I replied. ''Such fiscal discipline helps to build character.''
''Thanks, Dad. I appreciate your renowned expertise on the matter.'' He transferred all his school books into a paper sack and disposed of his knapsack in my wastebasket. ''Say, if you haven't any use for that piece of string on your desk I could sure use it for these sneakers.''
It was a virtuoso performance that generated a barely perceptible reaction from my tear ducts. I awaited the next hardship pitch.
My daughter slouched into the den in her quilted vest. She sat on the stool at my feet, folding and unfolding her just-received auto insurance premium. ''This rate increase will probably force me to sell my car, Dad.''
''How will you commute from your apartment to your job?'' I asked, drumming my fingers on the cash box.
''There's no public transportation available so I'll have to walk the three miles. I hope this jacket will be warm enough to cope with the wind-chill factor ,'' she sighed, rising.
I resisted the urge to use my handkerchief. ''Well, it's important for you . . . to learn to deal with . . . with adversity,'' I choked.
''You're right, Dad,'' she admitted, backing out of the den, ''but I need a small favor from you.''
With trembling fingers I placed the cash reserve in a desk drawer. ''Anything for you, honey.''
''Could you compose my car-for-sale ad . . . and include the phrase, 'Owner must part with reliable friend who asked little but gave much in return.' ''
I reached for the strongbox key, emotionally shaken, as my wife entered the room.
''Guess what!'' saluted my spouse, getting down on all fours to remove bits of food and lint from the carpeting.
''You've just uncovered an emergency that begs assistance from the cash reserve fund,'' I guessed, playfully flipping the silver key.
''No,'' my wife corrected, motioning to me to hand her the wastebasket. ''You already know about the vacuum cleaner's burned-out motor and the slow leak in the left front tire of the Omni.''
''Yes, I've been debating whether they qualify for a grant from the fund.''
''Well, in case they don't, I've called about a job that's just become available right here in our neighborhood,'' she said, getting up, ''that will help finance those unqualified emergencies.''
''No wife of mine is going to shovel out driveways. . . .''
''Of course not, dear,'' she replied, picking up the key I had fumbled, ''but you won't have to tip me for delivering the morning paper, which will be a saving in itself.''
''You're the new paper boy . . . girl!''
''Not to worry,'' my wife calmed me, placing the key in my hand and closing my fingers over it. ''Your job is to protect the contents of that box so that they don't fall into unscrupulous hands,'' she added, departing the den.
''Wait . . . let me review the budget . . . priorities . . . your circumstances . . . ,'' I stammered, inserting the key into the strongbox lock.
''Well, Mom, we did it!'' I overheard my son and daughter applaud in the kitchen. ''I can hear the vault door opening.''
''Yes,'' smiled their mother, ''it took a joint effort to crack the combination.''