I was at the corner grocery store buying some early potatoes. I noticed a small boy, delicate of bone and feature, ragged but clean, hungrily apprising a basket of freshly picked green peas.
I paid for my potatoes, but was also drawn to the display of fresh green peas. I am a pushover for creamed peas and new potatoes.
Pondering the peas, I couldn’t help overhearing the conversation between Mr. Miller (the store owner) and the ragged boy next to me.
‘Hello, Barry, how are you today?’
‘Hello, Mr. Miller. Fine, thank you. Just admiring them peas. They sure look good.’
‘They are good, Barry. How’s your Ma?’
‘Fine. Getting stronger all the time.’
‘Good. Anything I can help you with?’
‘No, Sir. Just admiring the peas.’
‘Would you like to take some home?’ asked Mr. Miller. ;
‘No, sir. Got nothing to pay for ’em with.’
‘Well, what have you to trade me for some of those peas?’
‘All I have is my prize marble here.’
‘Is that right? Let me see it,’ said Miller.
‘Here ’tis. She’s a dandy.’
‘I can see that. Hmm mmm, only thing is this one is blue and I sort of go for red.. Do you have a red one like this at home?’ the store owner asked.
‘ Not ‘zackley, but almost.’
‘Tell you what. Take this sack of peas home with you and next trip this way let me look at that red marble,’ Mr. Miller told the boy.
‘Sure will. Thanks, Mr. Miller.’
Mrs. Miller, who had been standing nearby, came over to help me.
With a smile, she said, ‘There are two other boys like him in our community, all three are in very poor circumstances. Jim just loves to bargain with them for peas, apples, tomatoes or whatever. When they come back with their red marbles, and they always do, he decides he doesn’t like red after all and he sends them home with a bag of produce for a green marble or an orange one, when they come on their next trip to the store.’
I left the store smiling to myself, impressed with this man. A short time later I moved to Colorado , but I never forgot the story of this man, the boys and their bartering for marbles..
Several years went by, each more rapid than the previous one. Just recently I had occasion to visit some old friends in that Idaho community, and while I was there learned that Mr. Miller had died. They were having his visitation that evening, and knowing my friends wanted to go, I agreed to accompany them. Upon arrival at the mortuary, we fell into line to meet the relatives of the deceased and to offer whatever words of comfort we could.