Adventures from Back of Beyond

Friday, February 13, 2009

Worth a penny

In a lifetime of buying things, I can remember in vivid detail my very first purchase.

It was at a neighborhood store, not a big supermarket, but one of those (now) old fashioned little mom-an-pop stores near my home. They carried a little stock of a lot of things, from dairy to a butcher case, candy and gum, books and magazines.

I was about 7 years old and attracted to a rack of kids books in there, and particularly liked a little "Golden Book" about the solar system. It had beautiful artist renderings of the planets, sun, moon. I had never seen anything like that in school. I wanted that book.

By then I had started to read, and knew my numbers. I noticed the "25 cents" in the top corner. I nagged my Mom for a quarter, told her about the book I wanted to buy. It took a few days, but I got my quarter, and planned to buy it myself on our next trip to the store.

I remember being nervous about the proper etiquette for buying something. I didn't know what to do exactly, but just sort of tried to do what other people did. Grownups.

I stood in line, waited my turn. No parents, just me. I approached the counter, which was about at eye height to me. I remember reaching up to put the book and the quarter down on the counter.

The clerk rang it up. He said "twenty-six cents."

Wait a second, I thought. That's not right. How could this be? I showed him where the book was marked 25 cents.

He said "tax."

Tax, what tax? I had no idea there was a thing called tax that's not included in the marked price. Who came up with that bright idea anyway?

I just stood there. I only had the one quarter. I was bewildered, and a little stunned. Didn't know what to do. Should I put the book back? Is that allowable this far into the transaction?

A man behind me in line, a complete stranger, reached into his pocket and put a penny down on the counter. I sheepishly looked at him and muttered a thank you. And walked off very pleased with my first purchase, a book that I treasured for a long time.

No doubt that random act of kindness was an entertaining experience for the generous stranger and the clerk, and well worth a penny.