A cup of memories

Mug drawing by Jean Hagert Dow
Mug drawing by Jean Hagert Dow

Mary Lee Hagert
Executive editor

On a gray, drizzly Saturday afternoon one December long ago, I was cramming for college finals when a jangling phone interrupted the quiet of my dorm room.

The caller, my 10-year-old brother, Jim, breathlessly said he had just finished the difficult task of going door-to-door collecting money from the subscribers on his newspaper route.

After setting aside the amount he owed our hometown paper, he announced with pride that his earnings were just over a dollar in coins. He intended to spend "the whole wad" on a surprise Christmas gift for Mom.

"Would you help me go shopping?" he wondered.

Was I willing to suspend memorizing freshman chemistry equations to play one of Santa's helpers for a while? ... He hardly needed to ask.

Since my family lived only a mile from the university, I suggested we meet in an hour in Campustown.

As I stood waiting on a corner, Jimmy, as he was known back then, rode up on his bike, unzipped coat flapping about, blond hair matted down from the mist, and a huge grin bisecting his face.

He was going to buy Mom the "best Christmas present ever" using only his hard-earned money.

I didn't have the heart to reveal what a challenge it would be to find anything that he could afford.

Glancing at the street's pricey jewelry and clothing stores, I said perhaps we ought to check out Wally's Pipe and Gift Shop first.

Wally was a kind, soft-spoken man with a fringe of white hair just above his ears. Upon entering the store, Jimmy announced he wanted to buy his mother a Christmas present and jingled the change in his small cloth pouch.

Wally surveyed the expensive collectibles and chess sets on his shelves, and then paused for a moment before pointing out some coffee mugs that had arrived just that week.

After studying each cup, Jimmy chose an attractive one with orange circles and a brown handle. Emptying the pouch's contents onto the counter, he added up his dimes and nickels.

Wally shot me a sly wink and exclaimed, "Lad, you're in luck! That mug is only $1 and with the sales tax, you will have 35 cents left over."

I doubt there was ever a happier 10-year-old Christmas shopper.

Wally placed the mug in a brown paper bag and handed it to Jimmy, who gleefully walked out the door and hopped on his bike.

Then, in a split second, the unthinkable happened. The bag slipped out of his hand and landed on the sidewalk with a distinctive cracking sound.

He scooped up the bag, peered inside, and when he looked up at me, it was as if his face had shattered into as many pieces as the broken mug. Tears of anguish trailed down his cheeks and mixed with the soft-falling rain.

Noticing the commotion outside the store window, Wally came out to investigate.

Seeing his young customer's distress, he invited us back inside. He gently said he was to blame; he should have wrapped the mug and put it in a larger bag. He reached up and grabbed an identical mug off the shelf and offered to "sell" it to Jimmy for 35 cents.

With the sobs subsiding, Jimmy managed to shake his head in agreement. This time Wally encased the cup in layers of padding to avoid any chance of another mishap.

Our mother, Jean, was indeed surprised by the present on Christmas morning and touched by the story behind it.

Thanks to the elderly shopkeeper's kindness, the memory of that gift purchase, and its close escape from calamity, continues to bring smiles to our faces so many holiday seasons later.

Mary Lee Hagert can be reached at mlhagert@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7820.


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