Three Red Marbles


I was at the corner grocery store buying some potatoes and I noticed a small boy, ragged but clean, hungrily appraising a basket of freshly picked green peas.

I paid for my potatoes but was also drawn to the display of fresh green peas.  I'm a pushover for creamed peas and new potatoes.

Pondering the peas, I couldn’t help overhearing the conversation between Mr. Miller, the store owner, and the ragged boy next to me.

“Hello Barry, how are you today?”
“H’lo, Mr. Miller.  Fine, thank ya.  Them peas sure look good!”
“They are good, Barry. Just got them today.  How’s your Ma?”

“Fine.  Gittin’ stronger alla’ time.”
“Good.  Anything I can help you with?”

“No, Sir… jus’ admirin’ them peas.”
“Would you like to take some home?” asked Mr. Miller.

“No, Sir.  Got nuthin’ to pay for ’em with.”
“Well, what do you have to trade me for some of those peas?”
“All I got’s my prize marble here.”

“Is that right?  Let me see it” said Miller.

“Here ’tis.  She’s a dandy.”

“I can see that.  Hmm mmm, only thing is this one is blue and I sort of go for red. Do you have a red one like this at home?” the store owner asked.
“Not zackley but almost.”
“Tell you what,"
Mr. Miller told the boy, "Take this sack of peas home with you and next trip this way let me look at that red marble.”

“Gee, thanks Mr. Miller.  I sure will”

Mrs. Miller, who had been standing nearby, came over to help me.  With a smile she said, “There are two other boys like him in our community.  All three are in very poor circumstances.  Jim just loves to bargain with them for peas, apples, tomatoes, or whatever.”

“When they come back with their red marbles – and they always do – Jim decides he doesn’t like red after all, and he sends them home with a bag of produce for a green or orange or purple one when they come on their next trip to the store.”

I left the store smiling to myself, impressed with this man's charity without embarassing the boys.  A short time later I moved to Colorado, but I never forgot the story of this man, the boys, and their bartering for marbles.

Years went by, each more rapid than the previous one, until I recently had occasion to visit some old friends in back in my home town.  While I was there, I learned that Mr. Miller had recently died and they were having his visitation that evening.  My friends were planning to  go, and I asked if I could accompany them.  Upon arrival at the mortuary we got in line to meet the relatives of the deceased and to offer whatever words of comfort we could.

Ahead of us in line were three young men.  One was in an army uniform and the other two had nice haircuts, dark suits and white shirts… all were very professional looking.  They approached Mrs. Miller, standing composed and smiling by her husband’s casket.

Each of the young men hugged her, kissed her on the cheek, spoke briefly with her and moved on to the casket.  Her misty light blue eyes followed them as, one by one, each young man stopped briefly and placed his own warm hand over the cold pale hand in the casket.  Each left the mortuary awkwardly, wiping his eyes.

Our turn came to meet Mrs. Miller.  I told her who I was, reminded her of  what she had told me about her husband’s bartering for marbles those many years ago, and how it had remained one of my favorite memories of my earlier years.  With her eyes glistening, she took my hand and turned to the casket.

“Those three young men who just left were the boys I told you about.  They just told me how much they appreciated the things Jim ‘traded’ them back then.  Now, at last, when Jim could not change his mind about color or size, they came to pay their debt.”

“We’ve never had a great deal of the wealth of this world,” she continued, “but right now, Jim would consider himself the richest man in Idaho.”

With loving gentleness she lifted the lifeless fingers of her deceased husband.  Resting underneath were three exquisitely shined red marbles.