I was at the corner grocery, just picking up some potatoes and milk. I noticed a small boy, thin, delicate, and dressed in ragged clothing. He was hungrily staring at a basket of freshly picked green peas.
I paid for my groceries, but was also drawn to the display of peas and the poor-looking child who simply stood and stared. Pondering the situation, I couldn’t help overhearing the conversation between Mr. Miller, the store owner, and the ragged boy next to me.
“Hello Gary,” said Mr. Miller to the poor boy. “How are you today?”
“Hello, Mr. Miller. I’m fine, thanks... Just admiring those peas there. They sure look good…”
“They are good, Gary. How’s your 'Ma?”
“She’s good, getting healthier all the time!”
“Good, good. Anything I can help you with Gary?”
“No, Sir. Like I said, I’m just admirin’ them peas.”
“Well, would you like take some home?” asked Mr. Miller.
“No, sir. I got nuthin’ to pay with.”
“Well, have you got anything to trade? Some kids around here have been trading me their nice marbles in exchange for some food.”
“Oh I got a marble too!” said Gary, digging into his pocket. “I only got one though.”
“Is that right? Let me see it,” said Miller.
The boy stuck out his hand, and a single blue marble sat in his palm. “Here it is,” he said proudly. “She’s a beauty, ain’t she?”
“Sure is,” said Mr. Miller, examining the marble. “Hmmm, the only thing is that this one is blue and I sort of go for red. Do you have a red one like this at home?”
“I might have something like that back home, yeah.”
“Tell you what. Take this sack of peas home with you and the next time you come around this way, let me take a look at that red marble of yours,” Mr. Miller told the boy.
“Really!? I sure will. Thanks Mr. Miller.”
Mrs. Miller, who had been standing nearby, came over to help me. Noticing my interest in the exchange, she smiled and said, “There are two other boys like him in our community, all three of them are poor young things. Such a shame. Joe just loves to bargain with them for peas, apples, tomatoes, or whatever. He trades them for marbles. First he says he doesn’t like the color they have. Then when they come back with their red marbles, and they always do, he decides he doesn’t like red after all and he sends them home with a bag of produce for a green marble or an orange one, and so on.”
I left the store smiling to myself, impressed with this man’s kindness.
A short time later I moved to Montana, but I never forgot the story of this man, the boys, and their bartering for marbles. Several years went by, each seeming more rapid than the previous one. Just recently I had occasion to visit some old friends in that Colorado community and while I was there, learned that Mr. Miller had died.
They were having his visitation that evening and knowing my friends wanted to go, I agreed to accompany them.
Upon arrival at the mortuary we fell into line to meet the relatives of the deceased and to offer whatever words of comfort we could. Ahead of us in line were three young men. One was in an army uniform and the other two wore nice haircuts, dark suits and white shirts, all very professional looking.
They approached Mrs. Miller, standing composed and smiling by her husband’s casket. Each of the young men hugged her, kissed her on the cheek, spoke briefly with her and moved on to the casket. Her misty light blue eyes followed them as, one by one, each young man stopped briefly and placed his own warm hand over the cold pale hand in the casket. Each left the mortuary, wiping their eyes.
Our turn came to meet Mrs. Miller. I told her who I was and reminded her of the story from those many years ago and what she had told me about her husband’s bartering for marbles… With her eyes glistening, she took my hand and led me to the casket.
“Those three young men who just left were the boys I told you about. They just told me how much they appreciated the things Joe ‘traded’ them. Now, at last, when Joe could not change his mind about color or size…they came to pay their debt. We’ve never had a great deal of the wealth of this world,” she confided, “but right now, Joe would consider himself the richest man in Colorado.”
With loving gentleness she lifted the lifeless fingers of her deceased husband. Resting underneath were three exquisitely shined red marbles.
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