Wednesday, October 5, 2011

98 Cents and a Lesson in Attitude

I was starving, absolutely starving. 8 months pregnant and finishing up my day of teaching and I was ravenously looking for food. None to be had in my classroom, none to be had in my car, so I decided to stop on the 30 minute ride home and get myself something. The only problem was that I didn't have any money. This was in the days before debit cards or ATMs (yes, I'm showing my age), so when a girl had 97 cents, she had 97 cents. The end.

So, I took my 97 cents and drove to the nearby Roy Rogers and thought, "Surely I can buy a biscuit, or a small fry. Something HAS to be under a dollar." I went inside and looked at the brightly lit menu, but everything on it was more than I had. Waahhh....I was so hungry I could have eaten the cash register! The lady behind it stepped up and asked if she could help me and I said, "What can I get here for 97 cents?" Pregnant, tired, drooping after a long day spent with 6th graders, I must have looked pitiful and wretched and that caused her to do something that surprised me.

Looking around her furtively, she grabbed a small bag, put two pieces of chicken and a biscuit in it and very quietly gave it to me with a wave of her hand. She wanted no money, not even my paltry 97 cents! I couldn't believe it and I also didn't know what to do. I immediately thought she'd be in trouble that I would be the cause of it, but she shooed my out of the door and I took my gifted chicken and hit the road. I believe to this day, that was the best chicken I've even eaten and I have never forgotten the risk that lady took to help someone who was hungry. More about this in a minute.....

Fast forward a few years and I am at a different Roy Rogers in a different town and I have my two oldest boys in the car. They were just little tykes at the time and after picking them up from daycare, I promised them I'd buy each a milkshake. Yay.....Mommy is the best!!! Wonderful times until we pulled up to the window to pay and I found out we were a penny short. The lady in the window was practicing for her role as prison matron, or something equally mean, because there was no mercy. Again, this was before debit cards so what you had was what you had. And I didn't have a penny.

"I'm sorry, but I can't let you have the shakes until I have that penny," she said. So, I let the boys get out of their car seats and they went all over that car looking for any sticky penny that might have fallen or been wedged into a crack. By this time, I was humiliated and the boys were hopeless and those milkshakes were going to have to be left on the counter as we drove away. But, last minute she says, "All right, just take the milkshakes and go!" I left, feeling so guilty over one penny...guilty and embarrassed to the extreme.

I've wondered over the years whether the first lady did right in giving me something that I had not paid for. I was, after all, an accessory to a crime, and chicken stealer was not how I wanted to be known. What I do remember and always will, was the compassion with which that lady helped me. She saw a need, a very obvious one, and did what she thought was right. I'll remember her and her kind face always.

On the other hand, the lady who demanded the penny will be with me always, too, as a reminder of how I can get hung up on the little things. Is my need to control keeping me from seeing others with eyes of compassion or tenderness? I don't want to be the lady who sends others away humiliated.

98 cents is not much money, but in the long run, it has provided me with a priceless education in compassion.

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