Conversations about Credit Cards

From a young age, in our mid teens, my father ensured we had a credit card when travelling aboard. Just for emergencies. When I started university this continued, to be used to purchase text books. And when I was studying engineering, an HP 40C calculator. So I suppose if I was studying now I would have asked him if I could buy an iPad. He was very impressed when I received my first salary cheque as a student intern in 6th year medicine in 1988. All of R 200 a month. I had a bank account with an overdraft facility of R 5 000, Just for emergencies.

He, on the other hand, was a pioneer with credit cards. As the American Express and Diner’s cards were launched he ensured copies of the shiny cards for himself. With the many banks he banked with, he ensured he had the maximum credit on his cards. By the time I started working as a medical officer I also had three credit cards, fewer than his, with less credit, but on my salary of R 1 500 a month my father was my credit company, not the cards.

Interestingly, one of the friends he made in Greece, Mr Gonos, who moved to Chicago for work, invented the old credit card machine that is still used by car hire companies, the king that reads the raised letters by sweeping the handle over the triplicate carbon paper. My father was very proud that he knew someone who had invented a device that was used worldwide.

During the world financial crises over the decades he would lock all his credit cards up and keep only one in his wallet, for emergencies. Then as the crises waned, the cards would reappear. Not that he would use them to buy things for himself. Perhaps the only luxury he afforded himself besides the flights to Greece was his visits to the casino, where I think he would use the credit card to draw money to gamble on the tables. He was not a machine man, but loved roulette.

Many years later after I had whittled my credit cards down to one charge card so I had no credit and was spending real money I spoke to him about his fetish for credit cards.

“You don’t understand, my boy” he said. “There were times when the banks had called in our facility for the company and we had no credit facilities. Those were tough times, and the best time to buy property. So between your uncle and I, and all the credit cards we could raise a significant amount of money to purchase property and then try get finance later once we had a formal plan for the banks.”

That was not retail therapy with credit cards that you see very weekend in the malls today. That was serious risk taking to build a portfolio that could grow and feed the family.

My Grandmother, Marigo Stathoulis, nee Manelis, with her grandsons at Warmbaths, circa 1967

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