Lending on Character


I just received my beautiful, new, Winter 2022 issue of YES! Magazine.  Each issue comes with original cover art emphasizing the theme.  Trust me, folks who love story medicine, Mother Earth, all things organic and healing would love reading YES!

I had been thinking about writing about my grandmother and her many unforgettable ways and habits.  Growing up on Chicago’s South Side, I would walk with her sometimes down to 79th and Halsted and watch her work.  One time in particular comes to mind.  But, before I could begin recalling it in detail, I started flipping through this new YES! and voila!  In an article titled, “Lending on Character, Not Credit Scores,” by Chris Winters, seems like they’d beat me to it! 

Only, in his Chris Winters’ article, he applies this commonsense principle to small business ventures and community groups needing new ways to access, share and recycle resources for the good of the whole.  It’s a more humane, more relationship-based way to start new businesses.  Sounds like something from which entire communities can learn new ways of working with money and where everyone gains new ground. 

But my more microcosmic example of lending on character has to do with the purchase of a sofa.  My grandmother had decided to buy one for her living room.  She wanted to do business with Frank’s Department Store, where we sometimes went to shop.  We set out on foot, walking the three blocks from home to the store. 

We went to the mezzanine where they kept their assorted furniture.  We looked around and found a perfect sofa.  It was wide enough to comfortably seat three people.  It was sturdy, a deep, dark blue color, covered in a kind of woolen tweed.  It cost $69.00.  I knew that my grandmother didn’t have that much money.  It was 1968 or thereabout.  I was a junior in high school.

When the salesman approached us, I stepped aside and watched.  My grandmother stood up and put her back extra straight and shone her bright smile as she greeted the man.  She firmly shook his hand and introduced herself, taking a step closer to him as she spoke.  She told him she was interested in purchasing this particular sofa.

He said that was great.  He proceeded to write up a sales receipt.  She stopped him.  She said that she needed to purchase it “on time.”  He said that would be no problem.  He then asked her for a job reference or about her income.  At that moment, she pulled out a copy of her book of poetry, “To Light a Candle,” from her purse.  She told him she wrote inspirational poetry to keep people encouraged in their lives.  He listened intently.  She told him that this ministry of writing poetry was her job.  Helping people, and that she offered her poetry for $2.00 per book or on a love offering basis to people she approached and spoke with at the bus stop. 

The salesman never stopped listening, really listening.  When she finished telling him about her work, he took her by the hand, walked with her to the cashier’s window and told the woman seated there to write up the sofa sale, on time.  The cashier proceeded to prepare a payment book for the purchase, and we left the store thinking about what had just happened. 

And each month when she received her Social Security check in the mail, Grandmother made it a point to favor this friendly salesman with a visit and a regular payment of a few dollars until the sofa was paid in full.

Although this is a story about a single business transaction, it’s also about humanity, trust and living at a reasonable speed within sustainable means and with purpose.  We didn’t have much in those days.  But, one thing was sure.  We had each other.  We had a community, such as it was.  And, because of “Womaning,” my memoir, I’ve been remembering those times a lot this year.  I’ll be writing about some of them here.  Why?  Because I know that many elders out there are also feeling in some ways nostalgic.  Because all of us have meaningful memories and stories needing to be dusted off, polished up and shared.

Ase’