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We prowled through the second hand bookstore the day after Christmas, just my husband Louie, our daughters, Jenny and Helen, and me. This was a precious time for us. We would be splitting up as a family in just a couple of days. It had been a tough eight months since my husband had retired from the Navy. We hated every good-bye, so we had manipulated the military system while on active duty, preventing some. Now, we were retired, and we were eight months into our longest separation. We assured one another of our love, and we clung to our faith that this separation would soon come to an end.
Military families seem to fall into two categories: those who look for affectionate opportunities, and those who avoid close contact, because "good-byes" are painful. In our military career, we had become painfully aware that anything can happen during the briefest separation. We were shocked to discover that the only job available for Louie, after retirement was in the city of Norfolk, Virginia. Our dream was to live out the rest of our lives in the mountains of southwestern Virginia, six-and-a-half hours away. My asthma had gotten so bad, that it was impossible for me to stay with Louie in the city. We had finally settled for a separation, praying that a job would become available in the beautiful region that we love.
There we were, the day after Christmas, delaying another departure by passing time in a second hand bookstore, before the girls and I headed back to southwest Virginia. We were as broke as we'd ever been, with Louie supporting two households. Even so, we were thankful for every moment together, and we seized upon every opportunity for extra hugs, shared daydreams and laughter.
Besides the proprietor, there was only one other person in the bookstore, a lovely, well-dressed woman, about my age. I noticed her costly clothes, her shoes, and her expensive handbag. I wondered what it would be like, to be rich enough to walk into a bookstore and have the money to buy any book my heart desired. We were having so much fun, however, that I quickly forgot the woman.
We joked as we continued our treasure hunt, clutching our spending money of five dollars apiece, all hoping to be the first to find the oldest, least expensive book. It was a bitter-sweet excursion. Frequently Louie and I would brush past one another, finding excuses to touch or to give one another's hand an extra squeeze. Jenny remembered that there was an ATM machine not far from the bookstore, and she decided that she needed another twenty dollars that she had squirreled away.
"No fair!" I cried, laughing. "The rest of us can only spend five dollars, and here you're going to have twenty-five dollars?!" We all laughed, and we began to tease Jenny mercilessly, but she was able to convince her Dad that she must have that twenty dollars, in order to get that irresistible book.
"Come on, Jenny," Louie laughed. "I'll drive you to the ATM." Then we did another round of hugging and kissing, not wanting to be apart for even a few minutes. It must have been a curious ballet, this emotional family scene, but we were oblivious to what others might think. Unmindful of the impression we made, we continued to give kisses and hugs all around. I have to admit that we are a "huggy-kissy" family, so looking back, I realize how odd we must have appeared.
Finally, in between another hug and kiss, I spied my perfect book! It was a hundred years old, and it was on my favorite time period, the Middle Ages. Oh, how I wanted that book!I quickly checked the inside cover for the price, and my heart fell.
It was twenty-five dollars! We just didn't have it. I looked up at Louie, already knowing the answer. He must have wanted me to have that book, because I could see the pain in his eyes. Louie reached out and gave me an extra hug.
"Oooohh, I wish I were rich," I murmured, as my eyes locked with the woman's.
"It looks to me, as though you already are." She said, with a smile.
There was a pause that stretched through eternity, and my heart filled with comprehension. I looked up at my husband, and I gazed at my daughters, wrapped as we were in the arms of love, and I knew it. I was rich. Very rich. I quickly turned to thank the woman for her gentle reminder, but she was gone!
I am quite certain that it was all part of God's plan to remind me of what being "rich" is all about .faith, love, family, and friends. When I get to heaven, I will not be at all surprised to discover that God sent an angel to a second hand bookstore, to give me this rich message, the day after Christmas, not so long ago.
The years passed. I finished college and took a job in another town. Once,while visiting my parents, I used the phone in their bedroom. Sadly, I noticed that the pickle jar was gone. It had served its purpose and now had been removed.
A lump rose in my throat as I stared at the spot beside the dresser where the jar had always stood. My dad was a man of few words; he never lectured me on the values of determination, perseverance, and faith.The pickle jar had taught me all those virtues far more effectively than the most eloquent of words could have. How fondly I remembered that old jar and its place in my life.
When I married, I told my wife Susan of the significant part that old pickle jar had played in my life as a boy. In my mind, it defined, more than anything else, how much my dad had loved me.
The first Christmas after our daughter Jessica was born we spent the holiday with my parents. After dinner, Mom and Dad sat next to each other on the sofa, taking turns cuddling their first grandchild. Jessica began to whimper softly, and Susan took her from Dad's arms."She probably needs to be changed." she said carrying the baby into my parents' bedroom to diaper her. When Susan came back into the living room, there was a noticeable mist in her eyes.
She handed Jessica back to Dad before taking my hand and leading me into the back bedroom. "Look!" she said softly, her eyes directing me to a spot on the floor beside the dresser.
To my amazement, there, as if it had never been removed, stood the old pickle jar, the bottom already covered with coins. I walked over to the pickle jar, dug down into my pocket, and pulled out a small handful of coins. With a gamut of emotions choking me, I dropped the coins into the jar. I looked up to see Dad, carrying Jessica, had slipped quietly into the room. Our eyes locked, and I knew he was feeling the same emotions I felt. Neither one of us could speak.
We had no need for that. The pickle jar was back in its old spot now with a renewed purpose. I could see the joy in my Dad's eyes as he gently held his granddaughter in his arms. The old pickle jar was new again.