Posted by: johnhourihan | November 21, 2013

On the doorstep of Thanksgiving

At this time of year, when we start to remember the things and people we are thankful for, I am drawn to this story about my father and how he led us by example. It’s the little decisions in life that make the mirror in the bathroom a more friendly place in the morning.
My 11-year-old feet were tired from waiting in the produce aisle of a Phoenix Safeway supermarket for my father to finish work so we could walk home together.
I had just escaped an error-filled baseball practice and scuffled the half-mile or so up The Boulevard with my pudgy three-finger mitt looped through my belt, my ego bruised, and my self-esteem as a ballplayer shredded.
I took five discarded Dr. Pepper bottles from the aisles and was carrying them through the fruit to the deposit register to get my dime for candy when it happened.
There in the apples was one of those out-of-place things.
It was the right color – red – but it wasn’t an apple.
In 1955, $800 was a lot of money, and as I counted the bills in the wallet that had been camouflaged among the Macs, I realized $856 and a quarter, two dimes and three pennies was even more.
I looked around, but there was no one even close.
The apple area was conveniently vacant.
I wasn’t thinking of what it could buy. I wasn’t thinking that, closing in on my birthday, I could have bought sneakers without holes and could get rid of the double baseball card of Robin  Roberts that was protecting the bottom of my right foot from the hot sidewalk.
Scrapper Jack had been banished to stocking this produce section, an out-of-his-element piece-work bedlaster stacking grapefruit and nectarines for about $50 a week because my brother Dennis got sick and we had to move to this desert.
I took a quick peek inside the swinging doors at the back of the store and saw that he was finishing tossing the empty tangerine crates out onto the back landing – too busy for advice right now.
I looked at the money again and shrugged, then walked back to the apple section, on to the front of the store and the courtesy booth.
When my father got there I was turning it in.
“What you got there,” he asked, hooking the loop on his pricer onto his belt.
“Eight-hundred bucks or so,” I said just as matter of factly as he had asked.
I liked to imitate him.
He stopped fumbling at his belt and leaned in to see the overstuffed wallet being passed to the woman behind the counter.
The girl was looking over the top of my head without moving.
After a few silent minutes she reluctantly reached across and took the wallet.
“Wait a minute,” he said and reached for the wallet.
She smiled and handed it to him.
He fingered through the papers and found one he seemed to be looking for.
“Got a pencil?” he asked her.
He wrote something down on a piece of a register tape and stuck it in his pocket.
“Make sure this gets where it’s supposed to go,” he said as he pushed the wallet back to her.
As we turned to walk off, the woman said, “Jack, are you sure?”
I didn’t know what the heck she meant.
It was dark when we turned onto the silted dirt of Second Street and the line of Quonset huts where we lived.
At the door he gave me a little tap on the back of my head like he always did. It seemed a little stronger than usual.
I guess something was going on there, but he said, “You did the right thing, Jocko.”
That weekend we went to the cotton fields and picked – no stems, sticks or rocks – until the sun got real low and we all went to collection.
Cotton was a buck a hundred pounds, and it was a long day but I was hoping to use the money to cut down on my errors.
Middle of the next week, the store called. I had been left a reward for turning in the money.
The woman hadn’t even known she had lost it, she was that rich.
She left me $11.
I bought the new glove.
It did nothing to keep me from playing ground balls off my face, but at least when I look in the mirror now I don’t see that kid.
Now I see someone who looks more like Scrapper Jack looking back saying, “You did the right thing, Jocko.”
It makes the mirror a much friendlier place than it could have been, and I wonder how my life might have changed if I had kept the money instead.
I guess it’s the little decisions that direct our lives.


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