On February 6, 2004 Glenn and I took a giant leap. No, we didn’t walk on the moon, but it was definitely monumental to us. We bought a  business — not just any business —  a funeral business in Bobcaygeon, ON. We were excited and shaking in our boots at the same time.

Glenn had several years’ experience in funeral services, but neither one of us knew a single thing about how to run the financial side of a business. We were in debt to the tune of almost $1,000,000.00. What were we thinking?

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On top of that, we had spent a small fortune on legal and accounting fees. We exuded so much confidence that our accountant mistakenly believed we knew much more running a business than we actually did. It would become apparent within the first week that we were sincere people, but financial dummies.

I didn’t feel confident enough to manage a piggy bank and now I had to learn to use accounting software, learn everything related to banking and to deal with Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). I hadn’t even taken a basic high school bookkeeping course. The learning curve was steep. I worked 18 hour days trying to catch up.

We scheduled a meeting at the bank to open our first operating account into which we deposited $30,000 of money we borrowed from Peter to pay Paul. Every business needs cheques, but our accountant and the bank ASSUMED we knew at least that much. (I guess we fooled them!)

The bank provided counter cheques to use while we waited for ours to arrive. Truth be told, we had not ordered any. Oops. We naively thought that the bank or the accountant had ordered them for us. Counter cheques can be tricky  because one must hand write all the information by hand and most important of all, the account number. Mistakes are sure to happen. I pre-filled as much of the information as possible to save time.

Within a few days, the phone began to ring and the callers reported they had not been able to cash our cheques. Uh-oh. The problem was not Insufficient Funds. In most cases, cheque processing centres could not connect the cheques to any account with that number. Here we were, new to town, passing bad cheques.

My anxiety level was off the charts. I fully expected the police to arrive and carry me away on charges of fraud. Glenn’s reaction was the opposite of mine. He was rip-roaring mad.

 

With smoke coming out of his ears, he roared into the bank and demanded to see the manager immediately. She took him in before he scared off all the customers. The manager listened patiently as Glenn poured out his frustrations. We had $30,000 in our account. Why were they rejecting our cheques?

Glenn can argue as well as a Philadelphia lawyer. I call it “arguing in circles.” He confuses his opponents until they didn’t know which side they are on.  Glenn insisted that the bank deliver letters of explanation to each person who had been affected by this fiasco. The letters had to clear our good name and admit the bank had made an error – just like real life Monopoly.

 

And then the flower shop phoned about a delivery. It was not for a funeral; it was specifically for us. It came from our bank. The package contained a card of apology along with a candle and candle holder. Sounds sweet, doesn’t it? Now all was right in the world? Not exactly.

I am not exaggerating, when I tell you that it was the ugliest, cheapest, plastic candle holder we had ever seen. The candle was no prize either. It was a big ball of wax spray painted gold. Why did they do this?

I have a theory that seems plausible. I believe higher ups in the bank caught wind of what had happened. They forced the local branch to apologize because they were afraid we would take our business elsewhere. I think a bank employee went to the flower shop and asked to buy the cheapest, ugliest candle and candle holder in the “scratch and dent” bin. The bigwigs could force them to apologize, but couldn’t make them mean it.

I am pleased to tell you, that we went on to develop a close relationship with the bank’s employees, some of whom became friends.

After reading about this, have you solved the mystery of the cheques? What or who had caused the confusion?

It was actually my fault. That’s right — MY FAULT. I know it seems impossible. I had transposed two numbers of the account number. Instead of 1045-762 (imaginary number), I had copied 1045-726, an account number that did not exist.

I suppose I should have returned the candle and candle holder for the bank employees to enjoy, but that was impossible. The whole experience had been so stressful, I had already sent the gift to that big candle factory in the sky. I had to because they reminded me of an anxiety-ridden time in my life that I preferred to forget.

And then ten years later, a gentleman came to the funeral and asked to buy our business. In the blink of an eye, it was all over.  The good memories outnumber the bad ones 1000:1.