This story is by TD Roberts and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Twice in my life I was on the verge of tragedy.
It all happened in Mustang Valley, a Texas panhandle community. In 1946, my family moved to a house on the outskirts of town. Part of the property was a massive two-story barn which became home to our chickens. The size of the barn soon became a problem because some hens laid their eggs in remote corners. Sometimes, we wouldn’t find a nest until we heard the cheeping of little yellow babies.
Mom hated to gather eggs in that barn, because she was afraid of spiders and terrified of snakes that stole eggs.
As often as she could, she sent me to gather eggs. My standard reply, “I’ve got homework,” served during the week but almost never on weekends.
Mom knew I always wanted more money. So, she offered to share her egg business with me, “It’s a mini-business and gives you the opportunity to learn about how to run a business.” The plan was for me to gather the eggs daily, and she’d sell me seven eggs per week, one each day, at the wholesale price of five cents each. On Saturday, I would take all the eggs, hers and mine, to the local Piggly-Wiggly Grocery Store and sell them for ten cents apiece.
That sounded like a great idea since I knew Mom would send me to gather eggs as often as she could, mini-business or not.
This was an unheard-of bonanza for an eight-year-old. I got a dime for my weekly allowance and usually spent nine cents on admission to the Saturday afternoon cowboy movie and a penny on the bubble gum machine.
Mom explained, “To start a business you need capital. So, you’ll need thirty-five cents to start your mini business.” My head spun. Thirty-five cents? I didn’t even have a dime. How could I buy seven eggs for five cents each if I didn’t have any money?
Mom continued, “But since you don’t have the money, I’ll sell you the eggs on credit the first week. You can pay me back Saturday. That’s how business is sometimes conducted. Credit first, then pay what you owe when you’ve made your sales.”
I’ll never forget that first Saturday. After breakfast, I loaded two dozen eggs into a basket, covered them with a dish towel, and dressed to walk to the Piggly-Wiggly. As I got ready, I dreamed of the future and the money I’d make, money to buy candy or toys. If I saved every week, I could buy that red scooter.
It was a beautiful morning, not too hot, not too cold, as I trudged out of the house onto the graveled street.
Jo, about the best bird dog in the whole world, was going with me. I didn’t need protection, but Jo was good company. So, I described to him in detail the red scooter I planned to buy.
“Can you run fast enough to keep up with a scooter?” Jo didn’t actually talk back. But I knew what he was thinking, I sure can. Just try me.
“And think of all the other stuff we can buy! Even some treats for you, Jo.”
I was so busy planning what I’d buy, I didn’t pay much attention to the graveled street. Later, Mom said I was daydreaming, and maybe I was. How many eight-year-olds get to make such easy money? Unfortunately, I naturally walk with both feet angled out from my body’s center line, and somehow my feet and two large rocks, one under each foot, combined to send me and the eggs to disaster!
I sat among the wreckage and cried, while Jo tried to help by licking my face. After a bit, I rescued the three unbroken sticky eggs, put them in the basket among the broken shells, and slowly started home. I felt sooo sorry for myself. As I walked, I left a small trail of egg yolk droplets.
Mom was not amused. She cleaned me up and sat me down for a long lecture, “I’ve told you over and over to stop daydreaming and watch where you’re walking. All you thought about was spending the money you were going to make. But businesses sometimes lose money and go into debt. That’s how it is with you right now.”
The full explanation came in the math part. “The broken eggs count as your seven eggs.” That would make me still owe her for fourteen broken eggs. And I still owed for the thirty-five cents she’d loaned me to start my business. She was right. Instead of making a profit, I was now deep in debt. How many weeks would it take to pay Mom back? Would I live that long?
Matters became worse, because the mail that day brought a Collect-On-Delivery package with thirty-five cents postage due. The package held a secret-decoder-ring from the Captain Midnight radio program. If I couldn’t pay the C.O.D. charges, the package would be returned, and I would lose the decoder-ring plus the dollar I had sent in with my order three weeks before. The thought of losing the dollar and the precious decoder-ring made my eyes sting and my stomach hurt. I was counting on the egg money to pay that postage. Now, I couldn’t pay. I needed money right then.
With no money and no financial backup, I was stuck in the worst nightmare of my life. My world collapsed into blackness and tears.
Through my daze, I saw Dad open his billfold and graciously pay both the postman and Mom what I owed. A wave of love and gratitude washed over me and my knees felt weak. I hugged Dad and hid my face in his shirt so no one could see my tears.
In my eight-year old mind, he had rescued me from a fate worse than death.
The second disaster happened one day as I was approaching adulthood when I drove the family car to high school for the first time. I drove from home light-headed with joy and pride. I was finally grown up and could take Susan on car dates.
Unfortunately, according to the policeman, I drove past the elementary school at thirty-two miles per hour and would have to appear before the judge to determine the settlement of my ticket.
I was horrified and struggled to keep from crying in front of the policeman. What would happen to me?
My buddies at school assured me that I had nothing to worry about and would get a suspended sentence, because it was my first offense. So, I relaxed and began to breath normally again.
The disappointment in my parent’s eyes when I showed them the ticket sent a cold chill over my entire body. I had failed them! I apologized again and again. I couldn’t think of anything else that I could do that would erase that look. The days until my court appearance were agony. I couldn’t bear to look Dad or Mom in the eyes and spent as much time as possible in my room.
Dad drove me to my court appearance. The courtroom was paneled in dark brown wood with little parts of the walls painted yellow. In the front of the room the black-robed Judge Henry sat on a high bench. I felt like a mouse trapped by a cat.
As I waited, my stomach cramped, my hands were clammy, and my tongue felt glued to the top of my mouth. When my name was called, I stood before the bench and with increasing queasiness waited for Judge Henry to pronounce a suspended sentence.
But he didn’t!
“No mercy Henry,” as he was known at the high school, explained that he never gave suspended sentences for speeding in a school zone. “You’ll run over some kid!” he sternly warned. “Ten dollars fine or work it off in jail at three-dollars per day.”
I was thunderstruck. My chest tightened and I had trouble breathing. I was counting on a suspended sentence. I didn’t have more than a dollar and twenty-one cents at home and nothing in my pockets. It was more than three days in jail for me!
I stood numbly in front of the bailiff’s desk, my hands trembling, my head reeling, as Dad answered the necessary questions. When the bailiff asked how the fine would be paid, cash or jail, Dad looked at me for a long moment, then took out his wallet, and handed a ten-dollar bill to the bailiff.
My relief was so great I could barely walk.
Once in the car, Dad turned to me, “Son, I paid the fine, not because you deserve it, but because I love you.”
I have never forgotten those words. Now, as an adult, I understand how they apply to my relationship with God, my heavenly Father. He extends his redemptive mercy and grace to me, not because I deserve it, but because He loves me.