Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Quill #102 - Gamblers Lie.

Oh, they'll tell you what they've won, but they don't tell you what they've lost or what it took to get to the occasional win. I suspect it's possible to win enough to break even, if the gambler could stop playing after their big win. How many can?

I had a family member, quite lovable, who was addicted to gambling. She had several personal issues she needed to work out and I think gambling was her method of forgetting about them. Like movies in the Depression, gambling was her way of avoiding the pain within her life. The problem was, though, that she would only talk about the wins. And she had some nice gains, a few over ten thousand dollars, which was big money to the people she told. One of those people was my mom.

Mom had, in all her married years, been the Keeper of the Purse. She managed the family budget with such finesse that, on a teacher's salary, we had travelled most of the US and parts of Canada and, from our midwest location, gone to DisneyWorld twice and DisneyLand six times. She was not a spendthrift. Her facility with money provided my parents with a retirement most people would only dream of having.

However, in the last five to ten years of her life, her health went dramatically downhill. The medical bills piled up, pharmacy fees were outlandish and, in spite of her best efforts, she slowly lost the ability to keep everything afloat.

To her, winning ten to twenty thousand dollars in a gamble seemed like the answer to her prayers. Encouraged by the family member whose losses were unknown, she began playing with small amounts and, when those were lost, was told she "gave up too soon."

It came to the point where she was losing more than she could afford in a desperate attempt to win like her relative was supposedly winning. She got herself into such dire straits that she felt she had nothing to lose by continuing to gamble with the little she did have. She borrowed from family, including me, to cover losses she couldn't explain - or didn't want to explain - to Dad, all the while encouraged to try again.

Some of this I put together later. Even when she borrowed hundreds from me (and I didn't expect to be paid back because, in truth, she helped me FAR more, over the years, than I could ever repay to her), I didn't realize how bad things were. I didn't know that she was falling behind on bills, or that their credit was maxed, or that the losses I thought were temporary would hurt them the following month, too. And her gambling increased as her situation worsened, all spurred on by the promise of one big win.

Mom had never been able to discuss finances with me. It must have been a matter of pride for her because I honestly didn't know they were hurting for funds. Nobody told me. Maybe my brothers thought she had, or that I should have figured it out for myself. I don't know if they knew how bad things were, either. Regardless, I found out the hard way.

I'm sure it was the stress. If she could have told me she needed money, I'd have found a way to get it to her, but she couldn't tell me, couldn't ask, and I couldn't read her mind. When she died, her checkbook was overdrawn by eighteen dollars - the exact amount of a check she sent to me for something I had asked her to keep as a gift. I told her NOT to send me money and she did, anyway. Maybe that was her cry for help - a check she knew would bounce. But, since the check arrived at my house while I was attending her funeral, the information came too late. If I had known, she might still be alive.

(photos from family archives)


  1. Robin,
    I had no idea. Please don't blame yourself. She was a sweet lady and her health was poor. Some things just happen and we don't know why. You were a fabulous daughter!

  2. p.s. I LOVE the pictures!

  3. I am so sorry for your loss. I knew she had died, but did not realize the circumstances.

    Working for Hospice, I have seen the lengths that people can go for such a small promise. I had a young patient in his 30's that was dying. His mother maintained that the wife did not do enough to treat his cancer despite heavily mortgaging the house to pay for "Cancer Treatment Centers of America". He died despite all the heroic treatments and the young wife with two small children lost their home.

    I hope you retain more of the good memories regarding your mother. I have always thought she was a gracious and wonderful woman.

  4. Thanks for the encouragement, both of you. I do, of course, have good memories of Mom or I wouldn't want her back.