A Ten-Cent Lesson

When I was a little girl in the 1960s, each summer my family traveled from the concrete Chicago suburbs to the lush green land of the Great Lakes state, Michigan. We drove through the stench of Argo Corn Starch and what we referred to as the “Indiana Stink” before zooming onto the Indiana Toll Road. Even though it was only a three-hour drive, our destination seemed an eternity away. Occasionally, Dad placated us with a rest-stop, where sometimes we were allowed to buy Archie and Richie Rich comic books for the remainder of the trip. Reading kept us quiet.

I still don’t know how all seven of us managed to fit in our red Dodge 330, and realize that four in the front seat—Dad, Mom, and a set of Irish twins—and three adolescents/teenagers in the back (all without seatbelts)—would certainly not play in today’s world. Our luggage for two weeks at the lake filled both the trunk and the wooden Milocraft boat we towed.

When we finally made it to the town of Three Rivers and turned on County Line Road, we breathlessly waited to see Harwood Lake on the left and our beloved Corey Lake on the right. There on this small isthmus, was a little shop called “Brooks,” which was owned by a lovely gray-haired couple, Mr. and Mrs. Brooks. Too anxious to get to our rented cottage, we usually didn’t stop at Brooks on the way to our vacation, but we visited/shopped there often during our stay and always stopped on the way out of town.

The day we had to return home was never a happy day; however, Dad usually felt rested and generous after two weeks at the lake. And to put a cherry on top of the vacation, when we stopped at Brooks to say goodbye, he gave us each a dime to get a small bag of penny candy for the ride back to our suburban life.

One year while inside Brooks on my penny-candy bonanza, I dropped my dime. Immediately, I collapsed to the dusty dark floor and searched and searched. But I couldn’t find it. It was like the dime never existed. And I don’t remember getting any help from my siblings or sympathy from my parents. It was a tragedy and I became that little girl you sometimes see in stores who is having a teary meltdown because she can’t get the goodies she so desperately wants. It was SO unfaaaaaaaaaaaair!

My dad refused to issue another dime and Mom apparently was not allowed to rescue me from my misery. I believe this was just one of my Depression-era Dad’s many lessons in how the world worked. I’m not sure how long I carried on once inside the car, but by the time we hit the Indiana Toll Road, I’m certain I had my face buried in a comic book and I eventually forgot about the injustice of losing my dime. I’d like to believe that my Irish twin probably gave me a root beer barrel or something sweet. Sometimes, she was actually nice to me.

The following summer, we again loaded up the car for our annual two weeks at Corey Lake. And for some reason, when we got to the isthmus between Corey and Harwood Lakes, Dad decided to stop at Brooks before we arrived at the cottage. All seven of us poured out of the Dodge and stepped inside Brooks to say hello to Mr. and Mrs. Brooks. I had forgotten all about my lost dime until Mrs. Brooks, who looked like every grandma you’ve ever seen in a picture book, came up to me and held out her hand. Inside her palm was a shiny new dime.

“I found it,” she said, and she handed it to me and patted my head.

My eyes popped and my jaw dropped, and I remember looking at my mom for reassurance that this was really happening. My sweet mother’s expression taught me that from her perspective, THIS was how the world worked. At that moment, I learned a solid lesson at a fragile age that life can indeed be highly unfair, but it also has the opportunity to teach the concept of generosity and kindness.

At the time it was impossible for me to believe that Mrs. Brooks even remembered who I was let alone that I lost a dime in her store. But it was one of the nicest things that anyone has ever done for me and obviously, I’ve never forgotten. To this day I still wonder if it actually was the same dime.

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