He's Not Weird, He's My Brother

The KHS band. I'm the one behind the knee of the guy in the front, on the left.
We peddled chocolate to fund the trip.

With a cross-border visit to Toronto awaiting the KHS Band, I discovered the candy bars practically sold themselves. I'd tote them around school, setting an open box on my desk upon arrival in class. In the few minutes before lecture began, kids swarmed, eager to drop their change into my hands in favor of a Caramello or 100 Grand. For each 50-cent candy bar I sold, 25 cents went toward the excursion.

My senior picture.
My brother, Art, worked the produce department of Daane's Supermarket. Together, we bought and resold musical instruments found through "Band Instruments Wanted" signs we plastered on store bulletin boards throughout Grand Rapids. And I took on music students eager to learn flute or bassoon. While those who clamored for candy bars seemed to have holes in their pockets, ours might've been stitched shut. We understood the value of a dollar, not only from earning our own money, but from a thrifty mother.

Perhaps my mom suspected she taught us too well. She thought if she gave us spending money, we'd use it on our trip. But, in a spectacle highly uncharacteristic of teenagers, we protested, not wanting the burden of cash we knew we'd barely touch. Preserving our bank account balances was no motivation; we just didn't buy if we didn't have to, and exercised ample creativity to avoid it. Nothing could change our modus operandi--not even money from a parent.

Ask me for a game piece? Certainly!
So, while other kids bought souvenirs and oversized meals from the Golden Arches, Art and I enjoyed continental breakfasts, food from home, and freebies from McDonald's Monopoly game coupons others had neglected to pull off their soda cups. We couldn't appreciate the rush our colleagues got from exchanging greenbacks for doohickeys or fast food, but my brother and I understood each other's penchant for money saving, treating it as a competitive sport, as sprinters strive to shave milliseconds off their times. (In thrift we worked together--not so in our frequent Scrabble matches, where besting the other gave a thrill. Since he moved to New York, I miss our contests--rarely do two players so evenly match in both ability and zeal.)

My brother, in his musical instrument repair workshop.
In Toronto, on a free afternoon, Art and I explored together, taking in the Royal Ontario Museum and its impressive collection of antique musical instruments. I was to become a professional musician, my brother a musical instrument repairman. The chaperones on the trip worried about us. Concluding we must not be having any fun, they badgered us to spend. Somehow, they confused buying tchotchkes and junk food with delight, frugality with poverty. With no reason to feel sorry for ourselves, though, we had a good time enjoying each other's company, appreciating a wonderful musical instrument collection (which, sadly, has languished in archives since 1991, shortly after we visited), and playing games late into the night at the Howard Johnson Hotel.

Some shy away from labels. But when I say, "I'm vegetarian," people easily comprehend, so I suffer few strange looks. I've known for years I'm frugal, but when I participated in a Voluntary Simplicity discussion group several years ago, I discovered my philosophy owned a name. And when I heard the term, "non-consumer" recently, I knew the moniker fit. How I wish I had had an easy label to inform the chaperones and my fellow students.

In lieu of a better one-word explanation, 'weird' stuck.

Art and I enjoying more frugal fun, back in 1994.
Art and I came home from Toronto with more money than we left with. Not only did we not spend anything, but we picked up change on the ground along the way. Art even found a wadded bill on the CN Tower elevator. We turned our cooler into a makeshift vending machine, selling refreshments on the bus to our fellow travelers. (And we're still selling--I on Etsy, my brother on eBay.)

In high school, we grew close, divesting ourselves of the bickering and sibling rivalry of youth, sharing our love of musical instruments, Scrabble, and, of course, frugality. While the other students brought back kitschy mementos, my brother and I returned with full pockets, and a fuller appreciation of each other--and the 'weird' label (which would score eight points in Scrabble, and follow us throughout high school).

But that didn't bother us much--not when my brother and I had our own new label for each other, one with a higher value:


Do you have a special friendship with a sibling? A memory of a fun school trip? Please comment below! 


  1. Hi Laura,

    As always, I enjoyed reading your latest blog.

    Uncle Glenn

  2. Great story! I enjoy your posts! Unfortunately, thanks to corporate America, many people still confuse buying tchotchkes and junk food with fun, frugality with poverty. My teenagers often say we're poor (even though we're not) just because we don't buy them what their friends have and don't eat out every day.

    Cousin Mark

  3. I loved reading this latest post; very touching. I would dare to guess that you and your brother likely had more fun than most of the other students!

  4. What wonderful stories! Stopping by from Vestiesteam blog thread- please come by and say hi at http://lesleysgirls.blogspot.com


  5. Thx for the link Laura! What a great story! You 2 were on a mission, pre, during and after the trip! What fun to share things with a sibling.

    Your thrifty Mom with her good example...must be very proud her kids took up her thrifty ideas.


I'd love to have your comments and reflections!