When I was about three years old, I was in church with my family. It was a Catholic church, so it had those hard, wooden pews that would put your butt to sleep and would make a creaking noise if you got up too fast.
So the priest is doing his thing up on the altar, talking about God and the body of Christ and all that (which always sounded kind of cannibalistic to me, but to each their own), and we’re all sitting and watching the pomp and circumstance.
Then it was time for the collections. For the uninitiated, that just means they basically pass the hat, but in a Catholic church, it’s a basket on the end of a long stick (so it can go deep into the pews to get the people who sit in the middle). Sometimes it’s lined with fabric so the bills and envelopes don’t get stuck in the weave of the wicker. It kind of looks like a banjo with a REALLY long fingerboard, but made of wicker…Or the country of Norway, whichever you want to associate it with.
Anyway, so I was on the end of our family cluster, probably because no one wanted to sit with me because I was an annoying toddler, but I digress, and it was time to start with the collection. Mom handed me a dollar bill to drop in the basket as our pledge of good faith to the Almighty, which leads me to ask…does God have an accountant, or does s/he do all the math her/himself?
We were somewhere in the middle of the row of pews, so I had plenty of time before the basket brigade came my way. That gave me time to pour over this dollar bill I had in my hands. I’m not going to lie…the temptation to sneak it into my pocket was there. This was 1980, and a dollar was real currency to a toddler!
So I’m staring at this dollar bill, feeling it in my hands, still thinking it was paper, not knowing, at that time, that it’s actually cloth. I’m trying to read the words on it, and I’m looking at George Washington’s weird shaped head. I hadn’t learned the trick yet where you use fold the bill to make it look like a mushroom, using his ascot and the top of his head. I was uninitiated in the ways of bill origami at the time. No, I was just looking at the words, the signature of the treasury secretary of the time, and I noticed something peculiar. I pressed the bill close to my face to double check I was reading it correctly. The United States of HOLY CHRISTMAS! IT SAID MY NAME! I read it again and again, ignoring the preceding “am.” I folded the bill over and it read. THE UNITED STATES OF ERICA. Was this a hoax? One of those fake bills you’d get at the joke and magic shop? No…Why would my mom have me put that in the basket. No…This was the genuine article. THIS WAS IT!
I tugged at my mom, but she was doing whatever a good Catholic would do during the presentation of Catholicism. I bounced in my seat, my bony ass hitting the hard, wooden pew. I had to tell someone, this was too important not to be shared. So I yelled at the top of my lungs, hoping someone, anyone, God her/himself would hear me. I yelled, “MY NAME IS ON THE DOLLAR BILL!”
Like the record scratch in movies, everyone stopped. They all turned to see the toddler standing on the hard pew, balanced perfectly, holding aloft her magic dollar bill, not unlike He-Man and his magic sword.
The moment was so awe inspiring to me at the time, I barely remember what happened next. Something about, “Sit down!” from my mom, with a proper slap on my butt, and a few chuckles from the pews around us bounce in my ancient memory and validate themselves to be true. When the basket came to me, I held my bill close. No! They couldn’t have it! This was my proof that, in this vast universe, I existed! My older brother’s name wasn’t there. My older sister’s name wasn’t there. It was me! Erica! On this important document that so much of our lives are used pursuing, trading, and coveting. I. Was. Important! FINALLY! The youngest of three, the one overlooked, the runt of the litter was important, and the government said so!
But then an elbow to the ribs by mom shook me from my self righteousness and told me that, despite my reluctance, the dollar’s new place was going to be in the basket.
I don’t remember shedding a tear for that dollar, but inside, I was crying. My only proof of existence was taken from me by an old man in a bad suit with a giant wicker banjo.
To this day, though, I still get a smile when I see the bills, fold them ever so carefully, to say The United States of Erica.