The Sweetest Thing

The Sweetest Thing

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Be The Best You Can Be

The Sweetest Thing

No legacy is so rich as honesty.

~William Shakespeare

I had been following my mom and her shopping cart around our small-town grocery store for what felt like forever, at least six aisles and the bakery department. At ten years old, I was obsessed with candy and got permission to head up front to the checkout aisle. Once there, I ran my fingers over the rows and rows of goodies trying to settle on a favorite and dreaming of what it would be like to devour the entire rack full. I smelled large shiny brown wrappers and shook palm-sized purple boxes. I loved almost all of the treats, but chocolate was always my first choice. Skittles and Starbursts were okay, too, especially the yellows and reds.

As I was pondering all things sweet, I noticed a man a few feet away pushing buttons on the ATM machine. Most people I knew didn’t use that magic cash machine. My parents still preferred to drive to the bank to get money. This man, though, looked younger than my parents. He was dressed in a suit, had dark hair, and seemed to be late for something, anxiously waiting for his cash to appear. The machine made a grinding noise, and he immediately grabbed a stack of bills and headed out. Bored with the candy, I wandered over to the ATM, where I started pushing the buttons as if looking for some secret combination. Eventually, I peered into the bottom of the machine and saw it: a beautiful, crisp $20 bill. Though I wanted to believe my magic had made the cash appear, I knew the man in the suit must have left it behind.

I held the money in my hand, staring at the number “20” and feeling richer than I ever had. The bill was so smooth, without a crease on it, so perfect that I wondered if maybe it had been printed inside that machine. I thought about slipping the money into my pocket. No one would know, but it didn’t feel right. I knew it wasn’t mine. I hadn’t earned it. I saw how hard my dad worked to make money. I watched him come home from work exhausted each evening. Sadly, this $20 didn’t belong to me. I needed to find its owner, but first I had to find my mom.

I started running through the market frantically, when I finally found my mom wandering the produce aisle. “Mom!” I panted wildly.

She whirled around, clearly concerned. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

“There was this guy using the money machine, and he left $20 in it. We have to find him and give it back!”

She paused a moment, then pushed her full cart to the side and took my hand. “He might be gone already,” she said kindly, trying to lessen the potential disappointment that always followed when I had my mind set on something that didn’t or couldn’t happen, like receiving a perfect score on a test or that coveted solo in choir.

“But we’ll look for him,” she said reassuringly.

“I think he was walking to his car,” I said.

We scurried out the automatic doors, only to see several men in the parking lot. “That’s him,” I cried, as I pointed my finger toward the man in the suit. “I think…” He was stepping into his car.

“Are you sure?” my mom asked, looking at me nervously.

“Pretty sure,” I replied.

“Excuse me, sir,” my mom asked as she approached the young man. “Were you just at the cash machine?”

“Yes,” he said tentatively, wondering what was coming next.

“Well, my daughter found money in there and thinks it may belong it you.” She pointed to me and he smiled.

“Let me check,” he said, as he pulled out his brown leather wallet and multiple bills. “Twenty, forty, sixty, eighty… I think I got it all.”

“Okay,” my mom said, as she turned away.

“Mom, that’s him,” I insisted in a whisper.

“Oh wait,” he said with surprise. “You’re right! I’m missing a $20 bill.”

“Here you go,” I said, beaming with pride. “Twenty dollars,” I proclaimed, as if I was a detective who had solved a major mystery.

“Thank you so much,” he said in an official tone. “That was so nice of you,” he said, bending down and shaking my hand as he would an adult. My heart swelled. I felt important. I felt special. “Thank you,” he repeated.

“You’re welcome,” I said.

“You must be so proud,” the man said, turning to my mother.

“I am,” she smiled.

“Can I get your address?” he asked. “I want to send your daughter a thank you card. What’s your name, honey?” he said, turning back to me.

“Felice,” I answered. My mom gave him my dad’s work address, and we said goodbye.

When my mom and I returned to the store, my mind was racing. Twenty dollars. What could I have done with that $20? I bet I could have bought a puppy or every single candy bar in town! But now none of that would happen. I knew I had done the right thing. My parents had always taught me to be a good citizen, but usually that just meant holding open doors or being polite to adults. I had never had to give up money before, especially not twenty whole dollars.

A few weeks later, my dad came home from work with a big brown box in his hands. “Felice!” he called, “I got a package for you!” I jumped up from the recliner I was sharing with my little sister and ran toward the front door. “Here” he said, as he put the box on the floor so I could get a good look at it. “Let’s open it up.” Within the box was a note and a smaller shoebox. I ripped it open to find dozens of packages of candy, Applets & Cottlets, a Pacific Northwest powered-sugar treat.

“Oh my gosh!” I screamed as my dad handed me the card. “Dear Felice, Thank you very much for returning my $20. You are a great girl, and I appreciate your honesty. I hope you enjoy this candy. Best Wishes, Tom.” Tom included his business card. Turns out he was vice-president for the candy company, which sounded like the coolest job ever. I had done the right thing and now I had been gifted with candy. And though it wasn’t chocolate, I loved it, sharing with my family and eating one bar every night until it was gone. It tasted sweet, sugary, and also satisfying, each bite reminding me that what I had done mattered. That I made someone happy. That my honesty, although it wouldn’t always be rewarded with candy, would make a difference to someone. And that was the sweetest part of all.

~Felice Keller Becker

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