It was my first winter in California after graduating from Penn State. It was getting chilly. One morning, as I walked by a thrift shop, I was surprised to see Penn State mugs.
The little mugs were cute. They appeared to be handmade ceramics with a funny face capped by a mortar board, complete with tassel, and had the name of my alma mater etched above the eyebrows. I went into the shop and was surprised by how cheap they were—fifty cents each! I took both.
The clerk had taken my money, while an elderly woman was speaking to another clerk at the next register. The lady was saying that she only had a dollar on her, but the winter jacket was six dollars, and she wondered if she could put a dollar down and make payments as she got the money. She said she would really need the jacket as winter was coming, but…
The clerk explained that they did not have a layaway plan and that they could hold it for a day, no more. The lady said she wouldn’t have the rest of the money by the next day.
I motioned my clerk toward me and leaned to her. I held out a five dollar bill and said, “I’d like to pay for her jacket.”
The clerk seemed a bit taken aback and said, “Do you know her?”
I said “No, but I’d just like to pay for her jacket.”
The clerk asked, “Why?”
I really didn’t have an answer, other than it seemed like the thing to do at the time. If the woman was that desperate, the least I could do…
“Oh this is so nice of you, I’m sure she’ll want to thank you.”
“No. Please, don’t make a big deal out of this. Just take the money and tell her it was paid for. That’s all you need to do.”
She turned to the other clerk to tell her, but I didn’t want a scene. I dropped the five on the counter, grabbed my mugs, and left.
One of the mugs broke in during a move, but I still have the other. I intended to get the mugs as a reminder of home, but that remaining mug now has a very different meaning. It reminds me to do my little part when I can.
(top photo credit, bottom photo by author)