Those who lived through the Great Depression have a different way of looking at things when it comes to the economy.

First, they never, ever, throw anything out. One never knows when one might need that plastic yogurt container, or those odd nuts and bolts, or that old sweater. They’ve lived through a period where people learned to do without and don’t want to experience it again.

Second, they often don’t trust banks. They’ve seen a “run on a bank” and even though the federal government guarantees deposits to a certain amount… well, who trusts the government?

My parents and grandparents lived through those years of the Great Depression, from 1929 to 1933. And so they often had places and methods of “stashing” money. One of which led to the great medical mystery of 1982.

When my father passed away, I found more than $900 hidden in various places. Cash in an envelope taped under a dresser drawer, money in rolled-up socks, currency in his golf bag. A hundred-dollar bill between the pages of a book titled Think and Grow Rich. (Pretty appropriate hiding place.) My Aunt Lena routinely hid money in the TV Guide. When my grandmother died, I was sitting on her bed, folding her clothes for Goodwill, and felt a big lump in the middle of the mattress. I reached under it and found a large cookie tin filled with quarters. I guess if you go to bed and feel a lump in the mattress, you can rest easy knowing you don’t have to depend on the FDIC.

But the absolute master of hiding cash was my Aunt Mary. Technically she was my great aunt since she was my grandmother’s sister, but we all just called her Aunt Mary. We all knew where her stash of cash was, and she didn’t care that we knew, because it might have been the most theft proof location possible.

Aunt Mary was a major character who lived in a tiny town I refer to as Middle of Nowhere, Pennsylvania. Every summer we’d make the drive to visit her. I always brought books because they had one television station and a weekly newspaper called “Grit” which chronicled small-town life. To me, if it didn’t have baseball scores, it wasn’t a real newspaper. To illustrate how isolated this town was, we once visited for seven days in 1967, and when we got home, the Six-Day War in the Middle East had started and ended while we were gone… we’d never heard about it.

My aunt was always trying to make me laugh when I was little. We’d be sitting at the dinner table and all of a sudden, she’d pop out her false teeth at me. She was a fabulous cook but didn’t bake because she was a diabetic, and back then there wasn’t much in the way of sugar-free recipes. Still, she’d “cheat” by stealing a bite of my apple pie or eating one piece of chocolate.

Cheating led to the big reveal of her cash stash.

When my grandmother passed away, we all got together at my uncle’s home after the funeral. People were eating and telling stories when suddenly my father pointed across the room and said, “Aunt Mary’s got a huge piece of cake. You’d better go take that away from her.” I looked and sure enough, she was wolfing down the dessert, apparently drowning her sorrows in sugar over the loss of her sister.

But I was too late. I got within a few feet of her when she took a big bite of the cake and then keeled over like a tree, complete with face plant. Everyone rushed to her, but she was unconscious. My uncle called for an ambulance while I hoped my aunt would come around. I couldn’t lose two great relatives in such a short time. The ambulance arrived, and my dad told me to ride with my aunt to the hospital. I explained to the paramedics that she was diabetic and had eaten a lot of sugar. They assured me she’d probably be okay. She was wheeled into the emergency room, and I took a seat in the waiting room.

A short time later a doctor came out. “She’s stabilized and is going to be fine. She’s asleep right now. But… I have a question. Does your aunt have some sort of experimental device near her heart? A new pacemaker perhaps? Or a special valve?”

I furrowed my brow. “No. She’s never had any heart problems. Why?”

“Well, we took an x-ray and there’s something in her chest we can’t explain. Are you sure she hasn’t had any major surgeries?”

“Positive. Can I take a look at the x-ray?”

“Sure.” The doctor led me out of the waiting area to an exam room, where I found a bunch of doctors looking puzzled as they stared at my aunt’s x-ray. When I took a look and saw the mysterious “medical device," I started to laugh.

“What’s so funny?” asked the doctor.

“You obviously x-rayed her with her bra on, and she has a tiny change purse sewed into every one of them. That’s where she hides her cash. What you’re looking at is the metal clasp of the purse.”

The doctors all had a good laugh, and a few hours later we took Aunt Mary home. I told her about the confusion over the x-ray.

Of course, she immediately checked the hidden purse and smiled, satisfied that no one in the hospital had stolen her savings. She patted her chest, knowing her money was as safe as if it were in Fort Knox.

Randy Tatano lives in Brewton and is the author of more than 20 novels, writing political thrillers under the pen name Nick Harlow and romantic comedies as Nic Tatano. He spent 30 years working in television news as a local affiliate reporter and network field producer. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to

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