When I buy lottery scratchers from the local mini-mart, I don't ever expect to win more than a few bucks — but not because I think the odds are against me. Rather, it's because back in the late '80s, my parents won the lottery — $100,000 off a scratcher, to be specific. Given that history, it seems a bit optimistic to think it will happen again. But I'm one of the millions who bought a Powerball ticket before last Saturday's drawing and I'm buying another one in anticipation of the drawing tonight — because if my parents' stroke of luck taught me anything, it's the value of optimism.
When my parents won, they were both under 30 and had two small children. They were shocked and overwhelmed with gratitude, because the money came at the exact moment when they needed it most. My dad, who had worked at an auto shop for years, had recently taken a leap into a new career and started his own mortgage business. But they were struggling. They'd tried to take out money from their home to keep the business afloat, but had been denied.
"We didn't want to give up on the business, but we didn't know how we'd get the money," my mom says now. "We just hoped it would come. That scratcher changed everything." My parents weren't avid players, but when they had a few bucks, they'd test their luck. My grandma, on the other hand, played religiously. She was the one who bought the lucky scratcher for my mom and dad that day — and they gave her a portion of their winnings to thank her.
The rest of the money was used to keep the business going, helping my dad develop a successful career that he still has and securing my family in economic comfort. My parents also indulged a bit and bought a small cabin in Big Bear for quick weekend getaways from our home in L.A. Because of this purchase, I have countless childhood memories of sledding down snowy slopes, collecting pine cones, and breathing in fresh mountain air.
But mountainous memories and economic stability aren't the only things that the lotto win granted my family. I can't help but notice a trend of optimism that runs through most of my parents' stories, all beginning with that scratcher. No matter what challenges came their way — including the stock market crash of 2008, which temporarily left my dad unemployed and depleted his retirement savings — they always held out the hope that things would turn around. And things always did.
"Money comes and goes," my dad likes to say, and I've always believed him, even when it was hard to.
Conventional wisdom holds that lotto winnings end up ruining your life, that lottery winners often squander their money foolishly or wind up depressed and alienated — and for some people, that's undoubtedly true. But my parents handled their windfall wisely (which is hard to imagine myself doing if I'd won in my twenties) and were able to use it to create a better future for our family.
Maybe it's naïve of me to spend a few bucks on the possibility of winning again. But as they say in the New York Lottery ads, "Hey, you never know."
Images: Erica Garza; Giphy