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Friday, November 03, 2006

On the Value of a Penny

The other day Horyon asked me to tell a story from my childhood. I thought for a moment, passing over the gems she has already heard, avoiding stories involving Star Trek reruns or other pop culture references, and finally settled on a little number involving a pear tree, two industrious little boys, and a trip to Dairy Queen.

I'm not sure how old I was, but I can't believe I was more than eight or nine, because an older kid would probably have not gotten involved in this little venture. In addition, we moved to the house next to the aforementioned pear tree sometime after I turned seven, I believe. I am too lazy to do the fact-checking on this, and will undoubtedly be corrected by whichever of my parents reads this first.

It was a bright, sunny, summer day, as I recall. The kind of day when dads all around the country like to mow their lawns. My dad also wanted to mow his lawn, but he had a problem: too many pears. You see, there was a large, old pear tree in a back yard, right off the corner of the house, actually. Every summer it produced pears that were good to eat, if you could get to them before the squirrels did, or before they became overripe and fell to the ground. Not having a gang of migrant workers at our disposal, most of the pears on this tree did indeed become too ripe and fell to the ground at the slightest breeze. This created a few problems:

First, nobody wants minced pear spread around their house after mowing the lawn. Smells nice at first, but that doesn't last long in Kansas summers.

Second, some of the pears fell while still solid. The lawnmower would not mince these. Rather, it would catch them on the blade and sling them at ridiculous velocities across the yard, perhaps breaking a window, possibly knocking over the bird feeder, or if you were lucky, striking the neighbor's dog. (I'm sorry, Cookie, may you rest in peace.)

Third, the bees were crazy for pears. Bees alone wouldn't be so bad, I guess, but we were somehow more prone to wasps. For those of you not familiar with wasps, they are like bees only bigger, meaner, and non-honey producing. Growing up in that house it was a regular summer occurrence for Dad to find wasp nests and spray them with poison after warning us away.

In addition to the pear problems, the tree itself was too close to the house. Pear trees don't live forever, like those giant redwoods. They grow old and die, like all of my houseplants. Dad eventually had it cut down before it could collapse onto his house. Tree murder, floral euthanasia, or preemptive defense of hearth and home, I leave it to you to decide, fair reader. At any rate, the eventual fate of the pear tree did not cast its shadow on the tale you are undoubtedly clamoring for me to get on with.

That summer, my dad had an idea to get rid of the pears without chopping them to pieces or flinging them at random around the yard. He came to me and my brother with the following offer:

For every pear that we picked up, he would pay us one penny (about 10 Korean won). I know that sounds incredibly cheap, but remember that this was 30 years ago, at a time when gum ball machines and parking meters still accepted pennies.

Yeah. Whatever. By this point in the story, Horyon was already laughing. I trust that you, gentle reader, are more kind-hearted than she.

Chris and I set to it, picking up pears and collecting them in our baskets, one for him, one for me. I have no idea how long we did this back-breaking, sweat-of-the-brow work. I don't remember the details of the suffering. I can only judge the harshness of this work by the mental scars that I bear to this day. See? There's one just at the base of my left temporal lobe. You can't see it while I'm wearing my glasses.

I am not sure exactly how it was decided that we had finished. Perhaps we had picked up all of the errant pears. Perhaps our kindly father took pity upon us because we were near collapsing. Or maybe we just got tired of picking up rotten fruit. At any rate, the job was done, and it was time to receive our due payment. After all the pears were counted, I'm pretty sure that I had more than Chris. (He had always been a bit fussy, and undoubtedly skipped over a few rotting pear carcasses that I gladly added to my collection.) My total take for the afternoon was something in the neighborhood of $1.57, and let me assure you, I was pretty happy with that.

Then my father had another suggestion: he would drive us to the Dairy Queen, and we could buy whatever we wanted with our money.

Huzzah! and we were off to Dairy Queen!

When we arrived, Chris bought something conservative. He had money left over which would one day be spent on Star Wars action figures or electric guitars. But to me, this particular trip to the Realm of the Queen of Dairy Products presented a unique opportunity; Usually a trip to D.Q. meant an ice cream cone, or perhaps a Buster Bar. My parents had no wish to spoil me, and knew that excessive eating could eventually lead to the current state of my weight. I do not begrudge them withholding the more expensive D.Q. treats. Ice cream cones, Buster Bars, Mr. Misties, and all the other less-than-a-dollar offerings were delicious, no doubt, but not in the same league as the Banana Split, which cost one dollar and fifty cents: Three dollops of D.Q.'s soft serve. Chocolate, strawberry and pineapple toppings. Whip cream, cherries, and of course, a split banana. In my feverish, pre-pubescent dreams there was no goal higher, no nirvana more delightful, no dairy-based dessert more worthy of adoration. All thoughts of saving a portion of my earnings for a future day went right out the window.

There is no bittersweet little ending to this story involving the banana split ending up on the pavement. I did not change my mind and become more thrifty. There is no heart-touching story of sharing it with my brother, or donating it to the Salvation Army. This story ends with an entire banana split being consumed by me.

Not just any banana split, either. The most delicious banana split I've ever had. I've had banana splits since then made with finer ingredients, and in larger portions, but that was the one by which all others are judged. I am sure that it was all the sweeter because I had worked hard for it.

And that was the day that I learned the true value of money: it is good for putting food in your stomach.

By the time I had finished telling this story, minus the flowery bits I tend to add when blogging, Horyon was in stitches. It was hilarious to her that I spent all of my money while Chris saved some of his. It was a riot that my Dad paid me a lousy penny for each pear. And somehow the whole story had an air of silliness to it that I'm afraid has been lost in this retelling. But it is important for us to share stories like this. Stories that reflect our respective cultures. Stories that give insight into how our minds work. Stories about our families.

I love telling the stories of my life, and my favorite friends are the ones who like to hear them. One of my favorite things about being married is sharing stories like this, as well as others that I have made up to gain sympathy. It is a true blessing to me to have Horyon as the best audience in the world. And every once in a while it is appropriate for me to stand up in front of God and Everybody and proclaim that I truly love my wife. I rejoice that God has made a family of us, and look forward to making our own stories with Maxine.

1 comment:

Aubrey said...

Excellent story! My dad used to pay us a penny per cigarette butt that we picked up in the parking lot of a building he owned. And with similar foresight as yours, Rob, I believe I used all of mine on Barbie accessories. Fashion is never a waste of money!

Thanks for making me laugh, as always. And I love the appropriately heart-touching finish.

A Brief Introduction

Roblog is my writing lab. It is my goal to not let seven days pass without a new post. I welcome your criticism, as I cannot improve on my own.

Here is a link to my cung post, which remains the only word which I have ever invented, and which has not, as far as I know, caught on. Yet.