During the waning years of the depression in a small southeastern Idaho community, I used to stop by Mr. Miller’s roadside stand for farm-fresh produce as the season made it available.
Since food and money were scarce, bartering was used extensively. One day Mr. Miller was bagging some early potatoes for me. I noticed a small boy, delicate, ragged but clean, hungrily apprising a basket of freshly picked green peas.
I paid for my potatoes but was also drawn to the peas. I am a pushover for creamed peas and new potatoes. I could not help overhearing the conversation between Mr. Miller and the boy next to me.
“Hello, Barry, how are you today?”
“H’lo, Mr. Miller. Fine, thank ya. Jus’ admiring’ them peas . . . Sure look good.”
“They are good, Barry. How’s your ma?”
“Fine. Gittin’ stronger alla’ time.”
“Good. Anything I can help you with?”
“No, sir. Jus’ admiring’ them peas.”
“Would you like to take some home?”
“No, sir. Got nuthin’ to pay for ’ern with.”
“Well, what have you to trade?”
“All I got’s my prize marble here.”
“Is that right? Let me see it.”
“Here ‘tis. She’s a dandy.”
“I can see that. Hmm, only thing is this one is blue, and I sort of go for red. Do you have a red one at home?”
“Not ’zackley . . . almost.”
“Tell you what. Take this sack of peas home and next trip let me look at that red marble.”
“Sure will. Thanks, Mr. Miller.”
Mrs. Miller came over and with a smile 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.”
I left the stand, smiling to myself, impressed with this man. A short time later I moved to Utah but never forgot this man, the boys, or their bartering.
Several years went by, but just recently I had occasion to visit some old friends in that Idaho community. While I was there, I learned that Mr. Miller had died.
They were having his viewing that evening, and knowing my friends wanted to go, I agreed to accompany them.
At the mortuary, we fell into line to meet the relatives and to offer whatever words of comfort we could. Ahead of us in line were three young men. One was in an army uniform, and the other two wore nice haircuts, dark suits, and white shirts—very professional looking.
They approached Mrs. Miller who was standing, smiling and composed, by her husband’s casket. Each of the young men hugged her, kissed her on the cheek, spoke briefly with her, and moved on to the casket.
Her misty light blue eyes followed them as one by one, each young man stopped briefly and placed his own warm hand over the cold pale hand in the casket. Each left the mortuary, awkwardly wiping his eyes.
Our turn came to meet Mrs. Miller. I told her who I was and mentioned the story she had told me about the marbles.
Eyes glistening she led me to the casket. “Those three young men that just left were the boys I told you about. They just told me how they appreciated the things Jim ‘traded’ them. Now, at last, when Jim could not change his mind about color or size they came to pay their debt.
“We’ve never had a great deal of the wealth of this world,” she confided, “but right now, Jim would consider himself the richest man in Idaho.”
With gentleness, she lifted her husband’s lifeless fingers. Resting underneath were three magnificently shiny red marbles. If true wealth is measured, not by what you made but by what you left behind, then he could have been the richest man in Idaho.