Reading this bit of holiday schmaltz on Snopes reminded me of an old story that a quick search of the archives tells me I've never told here.
My first year out of college, I was living in Kirksville with my then-fiance, Carrie. I had spent the summer working for the Scouts, and Carrie had been working, too, but we needed to move into a new apartment because her place fell out from underneath us, and I'd been living in a tent for the last 3 months. If I remember correctly, I had a job already, pushing grease at McDonald's, but wouldn't get my first check for a couple of weeks, while her landlord was holding on to her damage deposit for as long as he legally could. We were, in a word, broke.
How broke, exactly?
And the cupboard was damn near bare.
Luckily, I remembered that the boxes from my old apartment contained a little plastic container into which I'd thrown my excess change on and off during my last year of college. It had been gathering dust in my parent's basement over the summer, but I dug the box out of the closet, found the container, and dumped it out on the floor. It added up to $4.17.
Thank god we had gas in the car, because that got us to Wal-mart, where we bought as much rice, dried beans, flour, etc. that we could, while I kept a running total in my head, taking my best guess at the tax. My best guess was a bit off, though, as everything rang up to $4.23. I knew we were six cents short, but I counted out the change anyway, hoping I was remembering wrong. I wasn't, so I started looking at our pile of groceries, wondering which item to keep back. It wasn't an easy choice, but the line was piling up behind us, and my face was getting redder by the moment.
The woman next in line smiled and handed me a dime.
I've never been as grateful for anything as I was for that dime, but what I'm most grateful for now, through the distance, was the smile, as if there was nothing more natural than paying for your groceries with a box full of change, wondering which meal you could afford to miss because you were six cents short.