During the waning years of the Depression in a small southeastern Idaho community,
I used to stop by Mr. Miller's roadside stand for farm-fresh produce as the
season made it available. Food and money were still extremely scarce and
bartering was used, extensively. One particular day, Mr. Miller was bagging
some early potatoes for me. I noticed a small boy, delicate of bone and feature,
ragged but clean, hungrily appraising a basket of freshly picked green peas.
I paid for my potatoes but was also drawn to the display of fresh green peas.
I am a pushover for creamed peas and new potatoes. Pondering the peas, I
couldn't help overhearing the conversation between Mr. Miller and the ragged
boy next to me. "Hello Barry, how are you today?"
"H'lo, Mr. Miller. Fine, thank ya. Jus' admirin' them peas......sure look
good." "They are good, Barry. How's your Ma?"
"Fine. Gittin' stronger alla'time."
"Good. Anything I can help you with "
"No, Sir. Jus' admirin' them peas."
"Would you like to take some home?"
"No, Sir. Got nuthin' to pay for 'em with."
"Well, what have you to trade me for some of those peas?"
"All I got's my prize aggie, best taw around here."
"Is that right? Let me see it."
"Here 'tis. She's a dandy."
"I can see that. Hmmmm, only thing is this one is blue and I sort of go for
red. Do you have a red one like this at home?"
"Not 'zackley .....but, almost."
"Tell you what. Take this sack of peas home with you and next trip this way
let me look at that red taw."
"Sure will. Thanks, Mr. Miller."
Mrs. Miller, who had been standing nearby, came over to help me. With a smile
she said, "There are two other boys like him in our community. All three
are in very poor circumstances. Jim just loves to bargain with them for peas,
apples, tomatoes or whatever. 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, perhaps."
I left the stand, smiling to myself, impressed with this man. A short time
later I moved to Utah, but I never forgot the story of this man, the boys
and their bartering.
Several years went by, each more rapid than the previous one. Just recently
I had occasion to visit some old friends in that Idaho community, and while
I was there, I learned that Mr. Miller had just died. They were having his
viewing that evening and knowing my friends wanted to go, I agreed to accompany
Upon our arrival at the mortuary, we got 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 had short haircuts, wore dark suits and white shirts, looking like potential
or returned missionaries.
They approached Mrs. Miller, standing smiling and looking composed, 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,
awkwardly, and wiping his eyes.
Our turn came to meet Mrs. Miller. I told her who I was and mentioned the
story she had told me about the marbles. Eyes glistening, she took my hand
and led me to the casket. "This is an amazing coincidence," she said. "Those
three young men that just left, were the boys I told you about. They just
told me how they appreciated the things Jim "traded" them. Now, at last,
when Jim 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, Jim would have considered himself the richest
man in Idaho." With loving gentleness she lifted the lifeless fingers of
her deceased husband. Resting underneath were three magnificently shiny,
After a while, you learn the subtle differences between holding a hand and
chaining a soul; and you learn that love doesn't mean leaning and company
doesn't mean security; and you begin to learn that kisses aren't contracts
and presents aren't promises, and you begin to accept your defeats with your
head up and your eyes open, with the grace of a woman, not the grief of a
child...you plant your own garden and decorate your own soul instead of waiting
for someone to bring you flowers. And you learn that you really can endure,
that you really are strong, and you really do have worth. And you learn and
learn. With every good-bye you learn.