From Chicken Soup for the Romantic Soul

The Two-Dollar Bill

I sat there with trembling hands, holding the little tin box and wishing desperately I didn’t have to tell my mother its contents. It was winter of 1977, and I had just flown back to Tulsa, Oklahoma, from Tucson, Arizona, where I had buried my dad. At the funeral, a heavyset woman with kind eyes handed me the little box and said, “Your dad wanted your mom to have this.” She patted my hand and disappeared in the funeral crowd. As I opened the box, I saw half of a two-dollar bill, worn and crumbled. The stories I had been told as a child came flooding back with tears.

It was May 1939 when my mother and dad eloped. They were very much in love. Dad took his last dollar to buy gas for the borrowed car to drive to the nearby town to get married. He had saved a two-dollar bill for emergencies. He tore it in half, and they each promised to keep their half until “death do us part.”

Mother graduated in August from nursing school, and Dad got a job driving a truck. In April 1940, I was born, and then eighteen months later my brother was born. They managed to save enough to rent a house in a poor neighborhood. We were a very happy family.

Then the world was at war. Dad was stationed overseas in the army. Mother went to work as a nurse while we lived with my grandparents. Dad came home in 1946 with a wounded arm, having been away for two years.

Over the years, their marriage began to fall apart. Dad was an alcoholic, and they had difficulties making ends meet. Mother continued her nursing career, supporting the family while Dad went from job to job. The verbal fights became intolerable for my brother and me through our teenage years. There were some good times, but too often I remember the bad ones.

I graduated from college in 1962, and my brother came home from the army. Dad moved from the home to an apartment, but the conflicts about his drinking continued. Then in 1965, he moved to Arizona where his stepmother was living.

I heard from Dad occasionally and knew that he was having lots of medical and emotional problems. Mother always said she didn’t care what happened to him, although there was always a look in her eyes that made me believe she really did care. Never in all of those years was anything said by either of them about their half of the two-dollar bill.

But here I stood with a little tin box full of reminders of what was left of my father’s life. Among these objects lay a fragile, half piece of faded green money.

As I handed her the box, I searched her face for some emotion. There was none. She opened the box, stared at its contents, then reached in gently and took out the worn bill. Nothing was said about it. As she left the room, she shoved the box back into my hands and simply said, “You can keep the rest of this.” The next time I saw the bill was twenty-one years later.

After Mother died, I inherited the treasured cedar chest. I often found myself rummaging through the quilts and objects left me by my mother and grandmother. One of those treasures was a big, bulky family Bible. One day, as I fumbled through its many pages, there it was—the worn green piece of money. It was placed between the pages and now pressed and uncrumbled.

Several times over the next few years, I would look at the bill and think about all the places it had traveled. Examining it closer, I noticed a few names scrawled and faded. I knew these must have been old army buddies. I wondered what happened to them after the war. I wondered, too, what ever happened to the other half of the bill.

On one occasion as I caressed it lovingly, I saw the names were gone! Suddenly the realization hit me. This wasn’t Dad’s half of the bill. Was it Mother’s? I searched frantically in the Bible for the other bill. There it was!

My fingers shook as I slowly placed the two halves together. All of my senses reeled. I felt as though lightning singed my fingers. While I had assumed I only had the half that Dad had sent to Mother on his deathbed, I had the half that she had kept all of those years too.

Did she place them in different parts of the Bible for a reason? Had she placed them both there for me to find? I stood there trying to understand. Looking at the two-dollar bill, the story I had heard as a child came flooding over me. Words began drifting toward me from somewhere far away.

Now I understood. When they were married, they made a vow to each other. The two-dollar bill was a symbol of their love for each other. Through bad times and good times, that symbol was always with them. For better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness or in health, and even “until death us do part.”

April Felts

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