Quarters for the Hopeful

Shining hope lying among sunflower seeds and peanut shells.

Shining hope lying among sunflower seeds and peanut shells.

It was last Monday, June 30.

I dug through a large bag of sea salt Kettle Brand® chips as I sat on the hard, aluminum bleacher of an Inver Grove softball field. The sun was headed down to bed, but was still just high enough up the sky to peek over the maple trees and (as Dad would say) “spit sunshine” into my eyes. I watched attentively, squinting, cheering when necessary, as my dear husband made some pretty clever center outfield catches.

As I enjoyed the game I couldn’t help but be distracted by a trio of pre-kindergarten girls running around me, using the bleachers as their playground while their (attentive?) mothers sat chatting in lawn chairs on the grass below and 15 feet to my right.* The girls climbed and ran and swung and crawled their way on and around the bare aluminum bleacher and, as I watched them, a glitter on the ground beneath the aluminum seating caught my eye. I leaned forward to get a better look.

It was a quarter.

I smiled to myself and kept an eye on it the rest of the game.

I started scouring for “ground money” in elementary school.

My mom was exceedingly good to my two sisters and me. She made our school lunches with love every day (up until we were well capable of making them ourselves, that is) and was an excellent budgeter. The family called her the “Coupon Queen”; it wasn’t uncommon for her to rack up $100+ in coupon savings per grocery trip. Our homemade lunches usually consisted of cut or uncut fruit, an assorted sandwich, a Ziploc® bag of chips, a bottle of water, the occasional juice box (if they were on sale at the grocery store that week), and a sweet snack, like a small packet of gummy bears or a cookie or two.

I was a milk child. I could drink glasses and glasses of the stuff. (My younger sister was the pickle and butter fanatic. I don’t know that my older sister had a particular food love, but I’m sure she did.) Mom always bought whole milk; none of that 2% or fat-free nonsense. Chocolate milk was a delicacy – I took it in all forms: Hershey’s® syrup (heavy on the syrup), Ovaltine® mix, Nesquik® powder, and even the not-so-tasty pre-made chocolate milk from the grocery store. And Strawberry Nesquik® milk? Man… my mouth still waters just thinking about it (too bad its chock full of HFCS).

During my years at Sugar Hill Elementary in Moreno Valley milk came in little boxes that only cost 25¢ from the school cafeteria. Heaven, and for only a quarter! How could I resist? It didn’t take me long to realize that my classmates’ school money often fell from their assorted pockets and backpacks onto the floor of the cafeteria. If I were lucky enough to find 25 cents worth, I’d pocket it and rush to the lunch lady ASAP to exchange my riches for a red or brown box of dairy delight.

After a while, my eyes started finding things other than money.

I was an inquisitive but quiet child – I’m certain my parents wondered about me – but my introversion permitted me to scavenge without facing ridicule (or whining) from friends. I’d find toys (or pieces of) in the playground grass, jewelry (plastic spider rings, anyone?) or gummy bears (yes… I’d rinse them in the water fountain and eat them… shame on me…) beneath cafeteria tables. And my territory soon went beyond school grounds.

At home, I found bugs and critters hiding in the jungle that was our backyard: lizards, crickets, massive earthworms, praying mantis, and even an 8” Coral-bellied ring-necked snake which my sisters and I promptly named Sylvester. While camping in the Anza Borrego Desert one spring, I was by myself playing archaeologist and uncovered a bead that looked to be of Native American origin, a fingerprint embedded in the hardened clay to add to the mystique of the find.

Found at campsite near Anza Borrego, California. Year found est. 1990. Smaller image details remnants of a fingerprint.

Found at campsite near Anza Borrego, California. Year found est. 1990. Smaller image details remnants of a fingerprint.

I made a habit of either making pets of my discoveries or stashing them safely away in one shoebox or another. Many of them I still have – like the Anza Borrego bead – while others have been tossed in exchange for greater treasures.

From my spare change habit, I learned to notice things others simply didn’t.

Who knows how much money I’ve accumulated over the course of my lifetime from the change and cash that’s come aground. My largest find was a $50 bill, about three years ago in a drugstore; my smallest jackpot, a Mexican copper peso (if we’re counting by International Exchange Rate, that is).

But it isn’t all about the money, is it? As a little girl, it was that way (the lunch lady wouldn’t trade a milk for a dirty rainbow eraser, after all), and it was a very simple way to think, to live, to be. It was a simple way to HOPE for something good.

Today, I know even more the value of a dollar earned (and, more so, the luck of a dollar found!), but I’ve also come to understand there are things that can’t be bought; there are things that can’t be saved or stashed away into a box. Things like friendship, love, time, and experiences. Things like watching fireflies or fireworks alight in the sky, or being kind to a stranger. Things like picking up a piece of trash on the side of the road, not because you’ll get something for it, but because it’s the right thing to do, and that good feeling you get doing it is enough.

Hope is priceless.

Children are simple – they don’t know yet about making money or paying bills or life’s bigger disappointments –but they are also often simply profound. Like what a 7-year-old named Samantha said in response to the question, “What is love?”:

“Love is… when you tell someone… something bad about yourself… and you are scared that that person won’t love you because of what you said… then that person surprises you by loving you even more!”

Though I’m considerably more outgoing today, I still carry that simple little girl with me. The one on the lookout for lost things no one else sees, seeking the profoundness still out there that the adult me doesn’t want to forget about. She’s in the back of my mind, looking out for quarters on the ground, just in case there’s an opportunity to buy a treat for 25¢.

Here’s to being hopeful,

-Jessi MOI.

*I’ll not go into a rant about my musings of little girls (or little boys, for that matter!) using sharp-edged and high-up aluminum bleachers as a playground.

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