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Lola’s Day

I can’t quite remember when exactly my mother began to do the stock market, but I’m sure she was already a senior citizen then, certainly at least in her 70s.

I would hear her on the phone with my Aunty Juannie, another senior citizen, talking about how their stocks were doing, and once, even about an IPO (initial public offering), when a company first offers shares to the public.

I was initially amused at how senior citizens would dabble in a venture that is not exactly for the faint-hearted, but my mother is a kulasa (St. Scholastica’s graduate), ready to tackle the toughest of challenges.

Horse-racing

They traded through a male stockbroker, Ricky Ricafrente of Abacus, who I later met and realized was just ideal for senior citizens, careful about not getting them too exposed to high-risk stocks. The final decisions were of course the two Lolas’ and they seemed to have a small grapevine from which they would get “tips,” including new IPOs. I know it sounds like horse-racing, but the similarities are indeed there.

At some point in my mother’s adventures with the stock market, she asked if she could buy some stocks in my name. Being the clan’s resident leftist, I was reluctant but she said she was old and it was good to have some stocks in my name. I said sure, as long as it’s not in mining, or tobacco or half in jest, production of firearms. She agreed, then began to ask about IPOs, once asking if beer was OK. I shrugged my shoulders, wanting to plead that I was teaching bioethics and not business ethics but sure, why not. Soon I found myself checking how the stock exchange was doing, elated when it did well, and worried when it didn’t, imagining my mother’s savings going down the drain.

My father would joke about “your mother, the stock tycoon” and she would make a face. She believed in financial independence, holding jobs of her own and, later, dabbling (again) in real estate.

In her time, women faced many hurdles that prevented that financial independence. They could not borrow money from banks or purchase real estate, without the permission of the husband. I think those limitations are gone now, legally at least, but many wives would not dare make any major financial decision without asking the consent of the “mister” (said with reverence).

When my sister started getting serious with boyfriends, my mother would advise her never, never open a joint bank account … until you get married. After my sister married, the advice changed: You can have a joint account, but keep your own individual accounts (plural) as well. You never know, she said, when you need to decide for yourself, or for your children.

It was never about having money to spend for herself, but about the children and, much later, the grandchildren.

Then the tell-tale signs came. In stores I could see she was having difficulty counting the change. Or she would try to bargain down a P100 price tag by suggesting P900. One day she asked me to help balance her checkbook and I was aghast: she had clearly been struggling with the numbers.

She suggested putting my name on her accounts. I refused, suddenly turning superstitious—no, nothing’s happening, I told her, and you’ll be around a long time. But within a few months I agreed to joint accounts as other problems cropped up—the driver telling me about how she would forget where they were going, or making three or four trips to the supermarket and buying the same things. We worked on the bank accounts, and later, the stocks. There’s a process where you turn in the stock certificates to a trading firm and lodge them in one account. That was a nightmare because it turned out my mother had been keeping the certificates in different places, some of which she couldn’t remember. As the certificates turned up, I teased her: Dad was right, you are a stock tycoon.

Fast forward to the present. With stocks lodged in an account, the stockbroker takes care of accumulating smaller dividends and issuing one check to cover them. But I noticed dividend checks were still coming in directly from some companies, which meant there were more stocks, for which the certificates were still somewhere in her house, heaven knows where.

There’s no rhyme or reason to these checks’ arrival, or their amounts. They come as small as a few pesos and go up, but rarely beyond a thousand. No matter what the amount is though, I dutifully deposit them in a joint account, now specifically for her dividends.

Luncheon meeting

The other week several of these checks arrived together, which gave me an idea. I get to see my daughters only one day midweek, weekends and holidays and at one point, my eldest had dubbed our get-togethers “Dada Day,” always marked by eating out. With a “Dada Day” coming up, I thought up something with the checks.

Over lunch, I took out four of the dividend checks and gave one to each of my daughters, asking them to read out the amount, which were fairly small, a few hundreds each but for young children, that’s a lot of money. I asked them to identify the payee. “Lola!” they answered almost in unison.

Then I explained what stocks were, and dividends, and how Lola saved money to buy stocks, and that she did this so there would be money someday for her children and grandchildren. I shared her advice for how women need to have control over their own money. I told them too about how in not too ancient times, women were not allowed to make major decisions about money. I don’t think it made too much sense to the youngest one, who’s all of four, but the older ones listened intently, wide-eyed.

When one of them, aged 8, asked if she could have the check she was holding so she can use the money, I explained that checks have to be deposited first … and, besides, the check probably wouldn’t cover what she had spent that day. There, we had a quick math exercise adding up her expenses and she was shocked at how much she had spent. “Lola,” I chided her, would have thought twice about that bag you bought.

After our session on money, stocks and women’s rights, I solemnly suggested, as if we were in some corporate meeting, that every first Sunday of the month, we would have Lola Day, to be celebrated with a hearty, healthy meal. No, we would not withdraw money from her dividends account. That we would allow to continue to grow for as long as Lola is alive, and maybe beyond.

The motion passed with no objections and later when we passed by my mother’s home, I heard one of them going to her room and saying, “Thank you, Lola, for the stocks.” She doesn’t talk anymore but I could imagine her hearing, and wondering what stocks were, but happy just hearing her granddaughters.

mtan@inquirer.com.ph

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