Money causes people to do strange and baffling things.

My first experience with having real money in my hands goes back to seventh grade. My job was picking up golf balls five early mornings a week at a driving range. Every Saturday, after I had gathered up all the striped balls in five gallon pails and sent them through the automatic washing machine, a red-headed man named Marvin would give me my weekly pay. I felt rich. Nine dollars was a stack of cash back then.

So what did I do with all that wealth? Buy chocolate malts or baseball cards? No, I’d rush home and give every dollar to my mother. Her praise was sweeter than any candy bar, and I relished the act of slowly counting out the one-dollar bills and placing them in her hand. She would give me a hug, tell me how proud she was of me and say my savings account was growing faster than Jack’s beanstalk. Back then, money was a means of gaining affection. Pretty strange, huh?

It got stranger. Shortly out of college, I began convincing other people to part with their money. I was looking for funding to publish a sports magazine, a dream that popped into my head while drinking too many root-beer floats. In mere months, I was deep in debt and a whole bunch of lenders wanted their money back. I was ashamed to find myself in such a financial hole. I made stupid and cowardly decisions. The lack of money brought out a desperation that penetrated my thinking, my feelings and my behavior.

Today, many years later, money is playing yet another strange role in my life. For decades, I’ve had more dollars than I need. No one is chasing me. I lead a comfortable life. Now money becomes a vehicle for doing good things, making other people’s lives easier and happier, and I recognize that a whit of wealth comes with a burden of responsibility. I feel the need to return the many favors and assistance others provided me along the way.

And it would really be nice if I could run home and place a stack of one-dollar bills into my mother’s warm hands.