Nickled and Dimed

Nickled and Dimed

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Book of Christmas Virtues

Nickled and Dimed

I was sitting at my desk involved in paperwork one sunny May afternoon when the door opened, and a young boy, about nine or ten, came into the store.

He walked confidently toward me and said he wanted to purchase a gift for his father. His serious countenance made it obvious: This was a mission of importance.

As we wound through the furniture division of Loy’s Office Supplies, he expressed dismay at the cost of each chair and lamp. Finally, I suggested a desk-pad set. With eyes glowing, he thoughtfully chose a maroon faux leather unit with matching pencil cup, memo holder and letter opener. His joy nearly matched my own—the whole process ate two hours of my time—and we headed toward my desk to finalize the sale.

“Okay, I’ll be in every week to pay on this for my dad,” said young Michael Murphy.

“And you’ll pick it up just before Father’s Day?” I asked.

“Oh, no, ma’am. This is for Christmas.”

My mouth gaped as wide as my eyes when he handed me his first payment: a nickel and two dimes. But that day changed all of our lives at Loy’s.

As the months passed, neither rain nor snow kept Michael away. Week after week, he arrived promptly at four o’clock every Friday to make his payment. His mother stood outside during each recorded transaction, and one day I asked to meet her.

From her, I learned that Michael’s father was out of work. She took in laundry and ironing to eke out a living for the family of seven. I felt badly, but I respected their pride and refusal of help. But with the approach of winter, all of us at Loy’s noticed Michael wore only a thin sweater, no matter how deep the snow. We concocted a story about a stray coat left at the store—that just happened to be his size. It worked.

One day Michael ran in to announce he had a job— bringing in the newspaper and sweeping the front steps for an old lady down the street every day after school. The ten cents she paid each week would bring him closer to his purchase.

As the holiday season drew near, I feared Michael would not have enough money to pay off the gift, but my boss advised me not to worry.

Two days before Christmas, a dejected Michael came into the store. He hadn’t earned enough money to make his final payment.

“Could I please take the present for my dad so he’ll have it for Christmas?” His eyes bored straight into my own. “I promise I’ll be in after Christmas to finish paying it off.”

Before I could answer, my boss looked up.

“Why, young man, there’s a sale on desk sets today.” He glanced at a paper in his hand. “I think it’s only fair that you get the sale price, too.”

That meant his dad’s gift was paid for!

Michael raced outside to tell his mother. Amid teary hugs and broken thank-yous, we sent them on their way, with Michael clasping the precious, gift-wrapped present to his chest. All of us were proud of Michael’s commitment to his project and his devotion to the dad he loved so much.

A few weeks after Christmas, a shabbily dressed man came into Loy’s and limped directly to my desk.

“Are you the lady my son Michael talks about?” His voice was gruff and as oversized as the man himself.

When I nodded, Mr. Murphy paused. He cleared his throat.

“I’ve just come to thank you for all your help and patience. We don’t have much,” he picked at his worn glove, “and I still can’t believe that youngster would do this for his old dad. I’m awful proud of him.”

Rising from my chair, I walked around the desk to give him a hug. “We think Michael is pretty special, too. As we watched him pay off that desk set, it was clear he loves you very much.”

Mr. Murphy smiled in agreement and walked away. But as he approached the door, his head swiveled my way and he blinked back the tears.

“And you know what? I don’t even own a desk!”

Binkie Dussault

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