Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Pickle Jar

My cousin sent me this in an email.

The pickle jar as far back as I can remember sat on the floor beside the dresser in my parents' bedroom. When he got ready for bed, Dad would empty his pockets and toss his coins into the jar. As a small boy I was always fascinated at the sounds the coins made as they were dropped into the jar. They landed with a merry jingle when the jar was almost empty. Then the tones gradually muted to a dull thud as the jar was filled. I used to squat on the floor in front of the jar and admire the copper and silver circles that glinted like a pirate's treasure when the sun poured through the bedroom window. When the jar was filled, Dad would sit at the kitchen table and roll the coins before taking them to the bank. Taking the coins to the bank was always a big production. Stacked neatly in a small cardboard box, the coins were placed between Dad and me on the seat of his old truck. Each and every time, as we drove to the bank, Dad would look at me hopefully. "Those coins are going to keep you out of the textile mill, son. You're going to do better than me. This old mill town's not going to hold you back." Also, each and every time, as he slid the box of rolled coins across the counter at the bank toward the cashier, he would grin proudly "These are for my son's college fund. He'll never work at the mill all his life like me." We would always celebrate each deposit by stopping for an ice cream cone. I always got chocolate. Dad always got vanilla. When the clerk at the ice cream parlor handed Dad his change, he would show me the few coins nestled in his palm. "When we get home, we'll start filling the jar again." He always let me drop the first coins into the empty jar. As they rattled around with a brief, happy jingle, we grinned at each other. "You'll get to college on pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters," he said. "But you'll get there. I'll see to that."

The years passed, and I finished college and took a job in another town. Once, while visiting my parents, I used the phone in their bedroom, and noticed that the pickle jar was gone. It had served its purpose and had been removed. A lump rose in my throat as I stared at the spot beside the dresser where the jar had always stood. My dad was a man of few words, and never lectured me on the values of determination, perseverance, and faith. The pickle jar had taught me all these virtues far more eloquently than the most flowery of words could have done. When I married, I told my wife Susan about the significant part the lowly pickle jar had played in my life as a boy. In my mind, it defined, more than anything else, how much my dad had loved me. No matter how rough things got at home, Dad continued to doggedly drop his coins into the jar. Even the summer when Dad got laid off from the mill, and Mama had to serve dried beans several times a week, not a single dime was taken from the jar. To the contrary, as Dad looked across the table at me, pouring catsup over my beans to make them more palatable, he became more determined than ever to make a way out for me. "When you finish college, Son," he told me, his eyes glistening, "You'll never have to eat beans again - unless you want to."

The first Christmas after our daughter Jessica was born, we spent the holiday with my parents. After dinner, Mom and Dad sat next to each other on the sofa, taking turns cuddling their first grandchild. Jessica began to whimper softly, and Susan took her from Dad's arms. "She probably needs to be changed," she said, carrying the baby into my parents' bedroom to diaper her. When Susan came back into the living room, there was a strange mist in her eyes. She handed Jessica back to Dad before taking my hand and leading me into the room. "Look," she said softly, her eyes directing me to a spot on the floor beside the dresser. To my amazement, there, as if it had never been removed, stood the old pickle jar, the bottom already covered with coins. I walked over to the pickle jar, dug down into my pocket, and pulled out a fistful of coins. With a gamut of emotions choking me, I dropped the coins into the jar. I looked up and saw that Dad, carrying Jessica, had slipped quietly into the room. Our eyes locked, and I knew he was feeling the same emotions I felt. Neither one of us could speak.

This truly touched my heart. I know it has yours as well. Sometimes we are so busy adding up our troubles that we forget to count our blessings. Never underestimate the power of your actions. With one small gesture you can change a person's life, for better or for worse. God puts us all in each other's lives to impact one another in some way.

As I read this I wondered Maybe there was a reason that I never married and had children. God might have had this planned for me all along. I hope that I have made mother's life better. And I hope that doing this blog helps someone else along the way.


Blogger Gail Rae said...

I've read the pickle jar story before, although not nearly as well written as the copy in your post.
I have to say, though, the part of this post that moves me the most is your summation. I feel exactly the same about my life and taking care of my mother! I've felt this many times and expressed it sometimes to relatives. I also feel that the importance and quality of what we do in our lives is enhanced if we believe that, despite the apparent chaos of life, there is a reason for everything and our faith in that reason, whether or not we can intuit the reason, is an important aspect of what we do, no matter how "lowly" the task seems.
Carry on, Bailey, you are in excellent company [Oops...if I do say so myself!].

Mon Sep 11, 01:37:00 PM CDT  
Blogger Bailey Stewart said...

My cousin sent this out in a mass mail - no particular reason other than she likes to send this kind of stuff (like the "if you love Jesus you'll send this on to 10 people), but as I read it, and especially the last paragraph, I began to see how it could apply to AD caregiving. We do touch their lives - whether they are cognizant of it or not. And I do believe that by blogging and communicating with each other - we are enhancing each of our lives.

Oops...if I do say so myself!

Go ahead, you can say it - I heartily agree!

Mon Sep 11, 07:24:00 PM CDT  
Blogger Brandy said...

Bailey, by the time I was don ewith the story there were tears in my eyes. (yes, I'm a sap.) But, what ade them spill was the addition you penned at the bottom. You are in my heart and prayers. My Mom always said, "God has a plan for everyone and everything."

Tue Sep 12, 11:32:00 PM CDT  

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