To top off a wonderful weekend of family and friends, today I gave $100 to a fifth grader named Eli.
I didn’t know his name was Eli until later, but he caught my attention at Fred Meyer when I overheard him discussing the prices of different items with his father. He seemed to have a keen eye for a bargain and instantly won my heart. I made a comment about it and his father said, “Yeah, he helps me out a lot!” The boy looked at me solemnly and said, “Thank you.”
I followed the two of them for a bit, weighing the idea of giving the hundred to the boy. I had my hand inside my pocket, folding and unfolding the bill as I walked.
The companionable sweetness between them was palpable , and I could see that the father already relied on this boy’s wisdom. The whole thing made me smile. I listened to them talking quietly and decided to make my move.
I had ditched my shopping cart and was wandering around empty-handed, which I felt made me appear a little wacky. As I sidled up to them at the deli counter, the boy cut his eyes toward his dad. I could almost hear the thought that passed between them: “Seems crazy, but probably harmless.”
I wanted the boy to know that I admired his frugality and that I recognized in him a kindred spirit. Somehow I also wanted to present myself as a cautionary tale: being thrifty is a good thing, but beware the tendency to be a cheapskate. I started to explain how I had received a gift from my mother last year and was paying it forward. How I had learned to be both frugal and a cheapskate and was working to rid myself of some bad habits.
The two of them looked at each other a few times, the boy clearly taking cues from his father about how to react. “I overheard you call him Eli,” I said. “That’s my son’s name.” They seemed to find this reassuring, and both gave me a shy smile.
I told the boy I wanted to give him a gift, and held out the hundred. He stared at it for many seconds then quietly asked, “For real?” Then he quietly said, “Thank you.” His father shook his head. “That’s very generous, but you don’t have to do that,” he said.
“Oh, I know!” I answered, finally managing to push the bill into Eli’s hand. I wish I could have gotten a photo of his face at that moment, but I hadn’t yet gotten out my camera. “Thank you,” said Eli.
“I’m Ben,” said the dad, reaching out to shake my hand. I told them both about the blog, and Eli said he would check it out. “He’s a really great writer,” said Ben proudly.
I told Eli I would love to know what he does with the money, and that it’s totally up to him (“with your dad’s permission, of course”). I suggested maybe he would use part of it to do something fun for himself and part of it to help someone else. “It’s up to you, though.” He nodded solemnly.
“Thank you,” he said. “Thank you.” As we said goodbye, he shook my hand and said, one more time, “Thank you.”
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