In America, I had to learn the concept of banking. The small bank next door to my church was operated by Gene Sixta – a wonderful Croatian man. One day, Gene called me and asked, “Lydia, what are you doing?” I looked around, “I am at work at the moment.” Gene Sixta, the President of the bank, spoke really fast, “I know you are at work, where do you think I am calling? Are you OK?” What a sweet man, I thought. American people are so nice – they always ask how I am.
“I am really good. How about you, Gene?”
“Lydia, you have a problem.”
“Problem?” I couldn’t get it how Mr. Sixta could know about my problems.
“Your balance is negative. I just checked it.” Little did I know what balance was, not to mention “negative balance.” How could a balance be negative if “balance” means BALANCE – something like equilibrium or so I thought?
“Do I have a balance?” I couldn’t show that I had no clue what Mr. Sixta was talking about.
“What do you mean, ‘do you have a balance’? This is exactly what I am talking about – your balance is negative.” If Mr. Sixta says I have a problem, then ‘negative balance’ means something bad then why ‘negative’ at the doctor’s office means good? Is something wrong with my equilibrium? Does Mr. Sixta know my doctor? Does he know something about my health that I do not know yet? It might be that in America, just like in Russia, everybody knows everything.
Mr. Sixta obviously started to lose his patience, “Lydia, you spend more money than you have. Your balance is negative.”
I didn’t know what my money had to do with the balance quite yet, but my thoughts obediently switched to a new subject – money. I just recently deposited my first check, and it was SO MUCH MONEY. In Russia, my salary before I left was one hundred dollars a month. I felt like a millionaire.
“What do you mean, I spent too much money? I will never be able to spend the money I put in my account.”
When Gene explained to me what “negative balance” was I giggled, with relief.
“Ah, you joked, right? I still have four more boxes with new checkbooks. I have plenty of checks to write!”
“Oh, Lydia! Just promise that you won’t write a single check until you get your next paycheck. Promise me!”
“I can’t promise that, with my respect. I can’t wait to go to K-Mart after work today to buy the things for the apartment, my children are coming in a few days. This is our first home in America. I have to do my best after we were separated for almost a year.”
“How come?” I refused to believe my own ears – that was not how I grew up. Our “family bank” that we called “Under the Black Glass” – my parents kept their cash salaries under the decorative Black Glass on the top of the shelf – was never empty or in the negative. Somehow the American Bank didn’t have that mysterious power of my parent’s “Under the Black Glass.” My parents worked two-three jobs to make money reappear in our “emergency bank” when we needed it. Even we girls had to put our money under the Black Glass to replenish the family budget. That was how I learned that America is no different than Russia. All you need is to work hard, as my parents did in Russia, to provide for the family. The only difference is that in America, people have a better trust in banks and do not have to keep cash under the “Black Glass.”