Everybody likes to get something for free, but can saving money ever become an obsession? I sometimes pondered that question when it came to the frugality of my Aunt Dorothy. Her degree of penny-pinching may have set a new standard for thriftiness. Yet while she was tight with her cash, she was generous in her willingness to spend time, creativity, and persistence in the pursuit of something she highly valued. And what she valued most was good music.
Aunt Dorothy had been a schoolteacher. Retired and in her eighties, her passion for music education had not diminished, particularly when it came to classical composers and the artists who performed their works. I was always impressed with her astounding ability to attend dozens of classical concerts a year on a fixed income, and even fund her friends’ experiences. I mean let’s face it, culture ain’t cheap. I once asked her how she did it. “To attend the really good concerts,” she answered professorially, “you have to use your imagination.”
Aunt Dorothy was imaginative, no doubt about it. As I discovered, her level of invention raised the pursuit of the musical freebie to an art form in itself. Her methods ranged from the intuitive to the outlandish. She joined the arts organizations in her city, at least the ones whose benefits included cut-rate concerts with big-name conductors and soloists. Moreover, she diligently watched her mailbox. Having her name on the subscription lists of countless musical newsletters reaped almost limitless rewards when it came to finding classical shows for a song. She got in on members-only performances, dress rehearsals, even presentations for school groups. “Why not?” she reasoned, “I was a teacher for more than forty years.”
But Aunt Dorothy had even more innovative methods. “Stalking” is probably too harsh a word for it, but she did volunteer at the nursing home where the mother of the local symphony’s first violinist lived. Extreme perhaps, but it was good for a couple of complimentary center-section passes now and then.
I once confronted her, “The idea of free music is really a compulsion with you, isn’t it, Aunt Dorothy?”
She was indignant. “I merely take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves,” she retorted.
Some opportunities posed more of a challenge than others however, even for such a maestro of marked-down music. For example, one day in the mail from one of her arts organizations came an advertisement from a local car dealership. It contained a coupon for two free tickets to an upcoming symphony concert for anyone coming in to test-drive a new Mercedes-Benz.
Anyone, it read.
Aunt Dorothy drove a car, a big Oldsmobile. But she never drove it far, and rarely at night. Somehow she managed to get a friend to drive when they attended the evening concerts. As a result, her automobile stayed in immaculate condition. The original tires showed little tread wear. The speedometer’s needle was a stranger to any number above fifty. She had her oil changed every six months or every two hundred miles, whichever came first.
Aunt Dorothy admitted that the thought of test-driving a new Mercedes was a little scary for an octogenarian, even one as independent as she. “But I just can’t take my mind off those symphony tickets,” she confessed.
The thought of that no-cost concert continued to intensify, until finally a crescendo of mounting bravery reached fever pitch. It happened while the two of us were running errands at the shopping center a few blocks from her home. Aunt Dorothy had just been to the hairdresser and was feeling a little reckless. She checked her purse. Yes, the coupon was still there. The Mercedes dealership was not far. “One more stop to make,” she said decisively, as she pushed the accelerator halfway down.
Inside the dealership, a grinning salesman greeted us. “What can I do for you today?” he chimed. Before I could speak, Aunt Dorothy blurted out breathlessly, “I’d like to test-drive a Mercedes. I’m here for the symphony tickets.” She thrust the document at the salesman.
“Oh,” he said, taken aback. Glancing suspiciously at the coupon, then at the like-new Olds she had parked outside, then down at its gray-haired driver, he finally turned to me and asked, “Do you plan on buying a new car in the near future?”
“Actually, she’s the one in for the test drive,” I explained feebly, pointing to Aunt Dorothy.
“I see,” the salesman said, even more feebly. He looked at the flyer. “Is this promotion still going on? I thought that ended already.”
“No, not for a few days,” Aunt Dorothy insisted, purposefully pointing to the expiration date.
The salesman looked worried. “Could you wait just a moment please? I need to show this to my manager. Can I get you anything? Coffee? Tea?”
“No, thank you,” Aunt Dorothy replied, her thin frame sinking into a cushioned leather chair.
While we waited, I could sense Aunt Dorothy’s boldness begin to wane. “How far do you think I’ll have to drive the car?” she asked me. “Do you think I’ll have to drive it on a busy street?” Suddenly she looked horrified. “What if it has a clutch?”
I assured her that the car probably didn’t have a clutch.
“Are there any age limits for test-driving a luxury car?” she asked to no one in particular. “Oh, I wish I had checked with Triple-A.”
“It’s going to be okay,” I said, trying to calm her, while at the same time trying to convince myself.
Suddenly Aunt Dorothy steeled herself, and with renewed courage, declared, “You’re right. I’ve come this far; I’m going to see this through.”
Just then the salesman returned. He looked relieved. “Mam,” he said to Aunt Dorothy almost apologetically, “it won’t be necessary for you to test-drive a car unless you really want to. You’ll receive the tickets in the mail in about a week. Is that all right?”
Aunt Dorothy stood and beamed with an air of confident satisfaction. “That would be fine, young man.”
On the slow drive home, I asked Aunt Dorothy, “Would you really have driven that car to get those tickets?”
Aunt Dorothy chuckled. “You know the answer to that,” she said.
“You simply take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves, right?” I laughed.
Aunt Dorothy just smiled, never taking her eyes off the road.
© Barbara Walker 2018