Monday, May 11, 2009

The True Meaning of Mother's Day

I stood behind him in the checkout line as he counted out pennies one by one. A single red rose lay on the stainless steel checkout counter, drops of water shimmering from the slight vibration of the moving belt.

He looked to be about eleven years old. I noticed that his T-shirt was not only many sizes too big, but there were tiny holes in the fabric near the seams where his skin was showing through. I wondered if it was a hand-me-down.

Near a split in the seam of his faded black skate shoes, his left big toe protruded from a hole in a gray sock. He stopped counting for a moment, his right hand grabbed the back of his jeans, and he jerked them back up. I thought they looked handed down as well, but given the baggy style of today's youth it wasn't clear.

I saw him turn and glance wistfully at the rows of candy bars on the display to my right. He gauged the number of coins still in his left hand, turned back to the checker, and put them back in his pocket.

I thought about handing him a dollar bill for a candy bar, but I honestly don't think he would have accepted it. Just by the way he moved, the way he counted his change, a look of pride emanated from every action.

After I had paid for my card and plant I exited the store. I saw him standing next to a bicycle that looked like it had been built about the time his father was born. Crusty brown padding squeezed out from the faded ripped leather cover that partially hid a rusty seat frame. Rust colored rims, each missing a few spokes were shod with bald tires and mounted to a frame that had one or two spots with flecks of paint.

He carefully placed the flower inside a dirty backpack that was missing one strap. He fastened three safety pins where the zipper had been, letting the flower stick out between them. He slung the backpack over his shoulder and looked back to carefully adjust it so the flower didn't fall out.

He mounted the bike, checked for traffic, pedaled out of the parking lot, and into the bike lane of the street. In a few moments he was out of sight.

I looked at the oversize Mother's Day card and the pricey plant that sat in the back seat of my shiny late model car and realized that it didn't carry the same impact as that simple red rose. It was a trivial task for me to drive to the store, pick out any card I desired, grab the biggest or best plant without looking at the sticker, drive back home, and present it to my wife expecting adoration for taking the time and effort to do so. When I compare that to the thought and effort displayed by the kid, mine fell painfully short.

The simple act of watching that boy was a lesson in itself. As much as I am able to buy my wife nice things, it really is the thought that counts.


  1. Nice descriptions and contrasts. And, yes, I agree that the boy showed character. Things do mean more when they are not easy, but you stick with it.

    It's funny to me how a description like this, one that is a brief portait of reality, can make for a good story starter, whether the story is about the boy or about the person watching.

    I could imagine the POV character feeling challenged to do something that was truly a challenge.

  2. That's interesting that you said that Dave. I once listened to a podcast about writing (Writers on Writing) in which a writer talked about an image that sparked him to create a book. I think it was the trunk of an old car hidden in a grove of trees. The book was about a body being found in the trunk, and the story surrounding how it got there.

  3. Great post - puts it all in perspective.


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