32 cents and small decisions

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By Wendy Hodge

It is a Saturday, and I am standing in front of a Coinstar machine in my local Walmart. This morning when it took both hands to lift my purse onto my shoulder, I reached down into the darkness of my well-worn, name-brand knockoff bag. And with both hands, I lifted out enough change to fill a Mason jar. So now I’m in line behind a lady wearing high heels and a bathing suit and in front of two screaming children playing tug of war with each other’s hair so that I can dump my coins into a machine that will spit out a receipt which can be exchanged for bills.
When it’s finally my turn, the Coinstar eats my coins and I’m left with a piece of paper worth roughly 40 bucks… and a leftover 32 cents.
Thirty two cents may not seem like much, but I recently learned how valuable a quarter, a nickel, and two pennies can be.
Just a week ago, on July 4th, while the whole country was lit up with fireworks and a million or so Grill Daddy Master Grills earning their keep, I met a lovely family. My best friend’s family.
They were warm and welcoming and made me feel at home in their house by the lake. Ping pong was played, and a champion was crowned. Fish were fried, and wine was poured. And when the rain danced on the tin roof, eyes closed and heads nodded. And threaded in and out of every minute was laughter. The full-belly kind of laughter that makes your eyes water and your smile hurt.
When my favorite time of day slipped up on us, and the afternoon shadows grew long, we gathered around a table on the wraparound porch overlooking the water. Mellow with wine and hours of sun, I did what I do best and asked for everyone’s story.
“How did you two meet?” I asked my best friend’s mom.
“Oh, now there’s a story,” she said, her eyes twinkling. “It was so long ago.”
Smiling, she leaned forward in her chair, eager to talk. “I was in college, standing in line in the school cafeteria, when I saw this handsome man right here.” She motioned to her husband, who smiled at me and winked. “Well, of course, I noticed his legs and his cute butt (she said that last part with a lowered voice and a shy grin). He’d been a lifeguard, so he was all tan and fit.”
“My mom, the hussy,” my best friend whispered in my ear, laughing.
His mother took another drink of her red wine and continued. “He heard me tell my friend that I thought his legs were cute, so he asked if I wanted one! Can you imagine?”
The whole table laughed and poured another glass.
“I didn’t think I’d ever see him again,” she continued, “but that very night there was an auction on campus. Girls would bid on eligible bachelors, and if you placed the winning bid you got a date with the man you ‘won.’”
“Here’s the good part,” my best friend’s cousin said.
“Well, there was this red-headed girl named Roslyn (this was said as if the word was a bit sour in her mouth). He had been dating her, though I can’t imagine why… Anyway, she started bidding on him, and I don’t know what came over me. Before I knew it, I was bidding too! Back and forth we went, Roslyn and I, with our bids. Finally, I yelled out ’32 cents!’…. and that shut Roslyn up. Too rich for her blood, I guess,” she giggled. “But here’s the kicker….”
She paused, knowing we were hanging on every word, and waited a moment before she finally finished her story.
“I didn’t even have a single penny with me! I had to borrow the 32 cents from my friend!!” She smiled at me and laughed out loud.
Her husband hadn’t said a word during her story, but now he leaned forward in his chair and with another wink in my direction said, “It appears I am cheap.”
Our laughter echoed across the lake and more stories began. Stories of my best friend’s youth, of adventures and shenanigans, of triumphs and embarrassments were passed back and forth.
While voices rose and fell and another bottle was opened, I looked around the table. My best friend was smiling at indulgently at his mom. His brother and sister-in-law leaned into each other and sighed, happy to hear these decades-old stories again. Out on the lawn, by the water’s edge, children threw a Frisbee and dangled feet off the pier. And the dad of the whole bunch leaned back in his chair, smiling with satisfaction at everything and everyone.
All of this, I thought, because one woman made a decision – a seemingly trivial decision, at that.
She chose to spend her spare change on a whim and some handsome legs. And now, decades later, look what was brought into the world. A house full to the brim with people who love each other and the life they have.
So now I stand in Walmart, quiet in the middle of the chaos, and look at the 32 cents in my hand. I am astounded by the gravity of even our small decisions. And I am humbled with gratitude for where my choices have led me. I think I’ll keep this 32 cents and let it rest in my pocket for a day or two…. or maybe, if I’m lucky, for the rest of my life….

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