Five Bucks

It was December. Christmas was around the corner. He found a five-dollar bill on the ground. And during his era, he might as well have won the Florida Powerball.

This is not my story. I am hearing it for the first time, just like you.

He is the one who tells it. He is old. He is in a wheelchair. He is carving a piece of basswood with a pocket knife. He speaks in a drawl so thick it’s poetry.

There are children around his feet. A few third graders, a fifth-grader, a fifteen-year-old, and one red headed writer who still watches Saturday morning cartoons. Occasionally.

The old man is telling stories. That’s what old men do. They are inherently good at this.

The man removes a five-dollar bill from his pocket.

“See this?” he says.

The kids nod.

The redhead nods.

Age has slowed his speech down. But not his mind.

“Why, I remember when five dollars was like a hundred bucks,” he goes on. “Back when times were hard.”

The Depression. A time when America was on the brink. He tells a story about the tail end of these lean years. He was six. A rural towhead. He wore ragged clothes.

His shoes had given up the ghost and went barefoot most of the time—even to preaching.

“That’s what poor folks did,” he explains. “Our feet were always bare.”

It was December. Christmas was around the corner in the humid South. He found a five-dollar bill on the ground. And during his era, he might as well have won the Florida Powerball.

He ran home to give the money to his father.

“LOOK WHAT I FOUND, DADDY!” he shouted.

But his father didn’t want the money.

“Son,” his father told him. “It would be wrong for me to keep that money. Lotta folks need it worse than we do.”

But how could that be? They ate beans for supper. His brother worked labor jobs for chicken feed. His mother took in wash. The kid’s feet were blistered.

“What should I do with it?” the boy asked.

“You’re the one who found it,” said his father. “You gotta figure it out for your own self.”

The boy held onto the money for a week. He had wild-eyed boyish ideas. With five dollars he could’ve been king of the county. He could’ve bought a collection of shoes and still had enough left over for a trip to Maui.

“I went to our minister,” the old man says. “I asked him, ‘What should I do with the money?’”

The reverend said, “Five dollars? My goodness, that’s a lot.”

The minister thought it over. Finally, he told the boy, “I can’t tell you what to do with it. That’s something you gotta figure out for your own self.”

So the kid thought long and hard about it.

The old man pauses his story. He inspects his carving. He is silent for a few seconds.

A girl at his feet says, “HEY, WHAT HAPPENED?”

“YEAH!” shouts another. “DID YOU GET THE SHOES?!”

“TELL US!” shouts the redhead.

The old man starts carving again. “Well, I got to studying about it,” he says. “And I thought of all the kids in my school. They didn’t have shoes neither. What about them?”

So, he came up with an idea, which he posed to his teacher in private. She listened. She liked his idea. She agreed to help him.

They shook on it. He made his teacher spit in her hand before the official handshake because this is what all respectable cowboys do.

A few days later, his classmates arrived at the rural school like any other day, but it was not business as usual. The classroom was decorated with colorful pine garland, and Christmas banners.

There was Virginia ham, casseroles, pies, the works. There were layer cakes, lemonade, candy, chocolate, and cookies.

“Today is a fun day!” the teacher announced.

A fun day.

No school work, no math problems, no more teachers’ dirty looks. It was a day set aside for eating, singing, and laughter. There were three-legged races, hide-and-seek, hopscotch, marbles, baseball, and Christmas carols.

Children without shoes sang. And ate. And played. And forgot about sadness that lingered above their families. The day was supposed to be a five-dollar day, but parents got involved. Mothers, fathers, ministers, and shopkeepers, and church deacons. It became a million-dollar day. And in the memories of many shoeless kids, it was one of the best parties in world history.

He finishes his carving. The children are silent. I am silent, thinking about how much this world has changed. How much I have changed. How much Christmas has changed.

One child finally asks, “But, why didn’t you spend money on new shoes?”

“Yeah,” says one kid.

“Yeah,” says another.

“Ditto,” says the redhead.

The old man smiles.

“Well,” he says. “I can’t tell you that. You gotta figure it out for your own self.”

27 comments

  1. Karen Greatrix - November 24, 2018 6:40 am

    Because the memory of making other people happy will last way longer then any pair of shoes.

    Reply
  2. Sherry Nelson - November 24, 2018 12:08 pm

    That’s a story that should be retold….

    Reply
  3. Nancy Rogers - November 24, 2018 12:08 pm

    Beautiful, just beautiful.

    Reply
  4. Camille - November 24, 2018 12:46 pm

    Thank you Sean for reminding us of a kinder, gentler time. Greed is defined as the desire to acquire or possess more than one needs. The boy in your story learned about benevolence and the man never forgot it.

    Reply
  5. LeAnne Martin - November 24, 2018 12:58 pm

    Oh my goodness, Sean. This is so beautiful. Thank you! (sniffle)

    Reply
  6. Kristine Wehrheim - November 24, 2018 1:30 pm

    What a wonderful decision.

    Reply
  7. Shelton Armour - November 24, 2018 2:16 pm

    God works in mysterious ways but wonderful ones!

    Reply
  8. Kathy Wolfe - November 24, 2018 2:25 pm

    Excellent.

    Reply
  9. Bev deJarnette - November 24, 2018 2:43 pm

    What a precious thought to have in our hearts as we are thinking about Christmas gifts this year —-and every year. Sean, thankful you again for sharing the grace of God!🙏🏻❤️

    Reply
  10. Liz Watkins - November 24, 2018 3:12 pm

    WOW!! Love this! I’m in my bedroom hiding from the 20 other family members!! Lol- I’m the Gammi of a huge family! This story just reminds me of what is truly important in this fast pace, crazy and materialistic world!
    Waiting on tomorrow’s lesson!
    God Bless
    Liz

    Reply
  11. Dan (Danny) Wise - November 24, 2018 4:13 pm

    Couldn’t help recalling my yearly years in LA (Lower Alabama). During the first two weeks of the school year, our shool day ended at noon so we could bus home to gather/harvest the crops. When we returned to school for full days, we would breakin our new school shoes!

    Reply
  12. Jan - November 24, 2018 4:38 pm

    Oh, what a beautiful story! Thank you, Sean!

    Reply
  13. Jack Darnell - November 24, 2018 4:44 pm

    Well young feller, I know you figgered it out already. Imma working on it I’ll have it by January. Thanks, it is a great story! I was after the depression, but mama and daddy , brothers and sisters weren’t! I was raised with the stories of hard work and GOOD people.

    Reply
  14. Dolores S. Fort - November 24, 2018 4:58 pm

    Thank you, Sean, for a much needed reminder as to what is really important. I will be sharing this not only on my Facebook page, but with two groups who will be gathering to celebrate Christmas. I was not affected by the Great Depression because I was the baby in the family, I never knew want, everything I ever needed was provided for me. But I remember stories from my mother about how they lost everything they had and how difficult it was for a family with 5 boys, and yet they made it. Plus they always helped others who were in need. Thank you for bringing to life some of those memories and the real reasons for why we celebrate the birth of our Savior!

    Reply
  15. Carolyn Allen - November 24, 2018 7:03 pm

    A wise father and a wise pastor. A wonderful story.

    Reply
  16. Debra - November 24, 2018 7:13 pm

    Thank you for sharing such a heart warming story… Love your heart, Sean.

    Reply
  17. Dianne Correll - November 24, 2018 7:20 pm

    One of the best!!

    Reply
  18. Donna Burson - November 24, 2018 8:16 pm

    Oooh. What a story!!! Gave me chill bumps.

    Reply
  19. Minnie Bourque - November 24, 2018 8:25 pm

    Love it, Sean! Another world in time and space. Too bad….so sad. Just a wonderful lesson learned by all. God Bless all the children!
    Hope you had a glorious Thanksgiving and will enjoy and experience a glorious Christmas! Merry Christmas to you, your wife and that precious dog! God Bless!

    Reply
    • Janet Mary Lee - November 24, 2018 10:21 pm

      Why he had a big heart…just like you!! 🙂

      Reply
  20. Pamela McEachern - November 24, 2018 11:34 pm

    When we let Humanity in everybody wins 💝

    Peace and Love from Birmingham

    Reply
  21. Susan Kennedy - November 25, 2018 1:33 am

    Beautiful. 💙

    Reply
  22. Rose - November 25, 2018 2:34 am

    This made my heart happy!

    Reply
  23. dogsdolls - November 25, 2018 4:17 am

    you are such a blessing.

    Reply
  24. Edma B. - November 25, 2018 3:47 pm

    What a beautiful story. Brings back memories of the day one of my daughters came home from college and asked me “Mom, how come you never told us we were poor?” I am so blessed. You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  25. Sharon Dodd - November 25, 2018 11:43 pm

    What a beautiful story, Sean. Your stories have a way of taking me back to a simpler and better time.

    Reply
  26. Bob Chiles - November 28, 2018 9:10 pm

    Reminds me of a book I have (maybe you too) about the depression entitled: We had Everything but Money

    Reply

Leave a Reply