G. Sam Piatt
PDT Outdoors Writer
THEY say money can’t make you happy. Someday I’d like to have a chance to prove that.
I know that it can make you happy to have enough of it to buy good gifts, or even the necessities of life. And it seems to me that around Christmas time people of all walks of life become more pleasant, more forgiving, more willing to give rather than receive.
I saw this exhibited one Christmas Time long years ago. The story of the Christmas Bracelet actually happened. It was my 12th Christmas on the planet. I hesitate to tell it for concern that readers may think I’m bragging about what a great guy I am. Actually, though, I was probably as selfish and self-centered as any kid in the village. It’s just that Christmas has a way of changing a person’s attitude.
That Christmas was a time when myself and the owner of a little general store that stood on the road near my home, a man who was usually a very practical businessman, acted completely out of character. I actually gave away riches that I had just gotten my hands on.
And I blame it all on the Christmas Spirit.
It happened at mid-day of Christmas Eve. I was madly in love with the little girl with the long blonde pigtail who lived down the street from us. I lived from day to day just scheming up ways to impress her.
The gift I wanted to get for her was in a dusty showcase in Davis & Harvey’s general store. And it was going to stay there, because I didn’t have a dime.
I had delivered The Portsmouth Times along the steep Kentucky hillsides of South Portsmouth up until August, when I quit after a dispute with the manager of the route over how much commission I was to make. My attempt to form a Paper Boy’s Union fell short.
What little money I had managed to save from the paper route I had soon squandered on riotous living – Saturday matinees, BBs, comic books, ice cream and candy. All spent on myself, except for a few treats for the boys at the Play House, next door to the Garden Theater.
My big brother Bootie pulled off a surprise when he got home on leave from the U.S. Navy about noon on the day before Christmas. One of his old school chums had picked him up at the bus station and he walked in the door in full dress blues, toting his sea bag over one shoulder.
My mother went wild. Dad smiled broadly. Little sister Linda climbed on his back. The Christmas tree in the corner of the living room didn’t have electric lights, but it seemed to be fairly glowing. The family circle was complete. There would be presents to open the next morning, and a big Christmas dinner later in the day.
My brother hadn’t even changed out of his uniform before he called me aside.
“Hold out your hands,” he said.
“Shut your eyes,” he said.
He filled my hands with more silver coins than I’d ever seen together at one time!
I was so excited that I didn’t even take time to thank him. I ran up the stairs, holding the money out in front of me, to my room.
I jumped up in the middle of the bed and spilled the money out on the covers. I sifted it through my fingers a few times. I counted it. Nine dollars and fifteen cents.
I went down and got my coat, slipped out of the house, and headed for the general store.
I made my way straight back to the jewelry and notions section. I peered through the dusty glass of the showcase. It was still there! I smiled as my eyes feasted on the “gold” charm bracelet. Mr. Harvey would no longer allow me to feel it. He said I was going to wear all the shiny off it.
I could see her smiling as she clipped it on her dainty wrist.
“Oh, Sammy! You shouldn’t have!”
The price tag on the box still read $8.75.
Mr. Harvey appeared at the showcase. “You just lookin’ again today, or have you finally decided to buy it?”
“I’m buying it, Mr. Harvey.”
“Well, just a minute,” he said. He came back shortly with a gallon of milk in one hand and slid open the showcase window with the other. He picked up the bracelet and I followed him to the front counter.
I pulled the coins out of my pocket and piled them on the counter.
“Be with you in a jiffy,” Mr. Gentry said, glancing hungrily at the coins. “Just as soon as I finish filling this other order. Will there be anything else now, Willis?”
I hadn’t even noticed Willie Atkins (not his real name) at the counter. He was the same age as me. But Willie was usually too busy in the evenings at odd jobs or helping his mother to run much with the gang.
I knew his dad had died back in the summer, apparently having just enough insurance to bury him. Mrs. Atkins had four other children besides Willie, and in those days there was no welfare, no food stamps.
Willie checked the piece of paper he held in his hand. “I guess that’s all mom had down,” he said.
It was mostly staples – flour, meal, sugar, a roll of bologna, bread, milk. There was also a bag of gumdrops and five oranges.
Mr. Harvey tallied the bill at nine dollars and five cents.
Willie handed him the slip of paper. “Mom said give you this note.”
Mr. Harvey read it. His eyes darted up over the rims of his glasses.
“I’m sorry, Willis,” he said. “I can’t put it down. Your mother is more than two months behind. I told her two weeks ago it would have to be cash only until the bill is paid in full.”
I never felt so sorry for anybody in my life as I did Willie. He looked at the grub piled on the counter, bowed his head, and walked out of the store.
Mr. Harvey turned his attention back to me. “People have to learn that bills have to be paid on time. I couldn’t stay in business long if I didn’t collect. I’ve got bills to pay, too.”
He began wrapping the bracelet. “I’ll take care of you before I put all that stuff back on the shelves,” he said.
Quickly, I raked the money off the counter and put it back in my coat pocket. I mumbled something to Mr. Harvey about changing my mind as I hurried to the door.
I caught up with Willie before he’d gone too far. He was pulling the little wagon he’d made from odd pieces of lumber and the wheels from a baby carriage.
“Willie, it’s Christmas,” I said. “I’ve got a gift for you.”
Willie gave me a blank stare.
“Hold out your hands,” I said.
“Now close your eyes.”
I dumped the coins in Willie’s hands. All but a dime.
“Now, let’s go back and get your groceries. You’ve got just enough.”
Mr. Harvey was over in the dry goods section when we walked back in. He was showing a lady some printed sheets. Willie’s groceries were still on the counter. So was the bracelet.
We waited until Mr. Harvey rang up the sale for the lady customer and she left.
“I’ve got the cash now for my grub,” Willie said. He pulled the coins out of his pocket and piled them on the counter.
“Mr. Harvey looked at the money, then at Willie, then at me, shaking his head from side to side. He counted it. Nine dollars and five cents.
I helped Willie carry the groceries out to his wagon and saw him on his way, then I walked over to the candy counter. “I’ll have a dime’s worth of them red and green gum drops, Mr. Harvey.”
He lectured me as he scooped the candy into a bag. “I don’t know about you, Sammy boy. You’re never gonna make a businessman. People will take advantage of you. Yes, sir, you’ll find that they’ll sure take advantage of you.”
Back at the counter, I paid him for the candy. Mr. Harvey picked up the box with the bracelet in it and started back toward the showcase. I headed for the door. “Merry Christmas, Mr. Harvey,” I said over my shoulder, then plopped a gumdrop into my mouth.
Mr. Harvey stopped. He seemed confused. Then he was headed back for the counter. He had the bracelet in his hand. “Wait a minute,” he said. “Come back here a second.”
I came up to the counter and he handed me the bracelet!
“I’ve had that thing back there for over a year. If somebody was going to buy it, they would have bought it by now.
“Go on, take it, Sammy. Give it to your girlfriend. And Merry Christmas.”
I almost choked on my gumdrop.
G. SAM PIATT can be reached at (606) 932-3619 or Gsamwriter@aol.com.