Daddy has been dead for over fifteen years. This story has been bouncing around in my head for much longer than that. Much longer. It stands out as a major childhood memory. Is it really about the six cents? Well, no.
One summer afternoon Daddy and I were finishing work for the day on our newly acquired land we had bought from my grandparents and I asked him if we could stop at Uncle W. G.’s store for a Coke on the way home. At that time a Coke had gone up in price from five to six cents a bottle. He said,
“I don’t think so, son, I’m about out of money.”
I pressed the point as we were driving from the field, not wanting to take no for an answer. Daddy calmly stopped the pickup and took out his wallet. He opened it and there was no money in it. Nothing! Then he reached in the pocket of his overalls where he kept his change, and there he found only six cents—a buffalo nickel and a penny. He then pulled his pocket inside out and showed me there was no more change in it. I felt as small and petty then as I have ever felt. (All these years later I felt a pang in my throat as I wrote this sentence.)
I sheepishly said, “I’m sorry. Let’s just go home.”
Daddy drove on up to the main road and as we approached the store he turned left and parked in the normal place beside the store. I felt like a heel. We got out of the truck and walked in where Uncle W. G. greeted us with his usual big smile and twinkle in his eyes. Daddy walked over and got one Coke from the refrigerated case and handed it to me. Then he laid his last six cents on the counter for Uncle W. G. They then had their usual animated conversation while I guiltily drank the Coke.
Daddy never said another word about this incident, and he didn’t need to. The Problem Child had just learned something about what it was like to be a parent who was broke. I had learned something about humility, about my feelings of entitlement, and about the burdens parents can bear in silence.