A boy was walking home from the corner shop, running an errand for his dad. He loved the way the grass cut up between his toes and tickled the underside of his feet, sometimes a little too sharply. Its coolness after the hot asphalt was great but not when it was really freshly cut. It was okay today, though, because Mr Buckley cut it last Saturday.
Right then he saw a shilling pointing at an angle towards him. He it held up to look at the merino; it could buy him twenty cobbers or thirty freckles. A bag that’d be the biggest bag of sweets that he’d ever had. The shilling was more than he ever had. He put a hand into a pocket to take out father’s change. It was much more than the shilling, but for him, his shilling was just as valuable.
He thought of turning back towards the shop but something deeper inside said he’d better go home first. Being out alone was on condition that he didn’t go out of the way. Straight there and straight back.
His dad was in the driveway still unloading bricklaying tools from the ute. The biggest man he knew; over six feet. “Six two” he’d heard his mother say. And full of the biggest muscles he’d ever seen. He looked up at his father’s deep sun tanned skin and sun bleached golden hair. Brick dust and smears of dried cement still covered his clothes, arms and legs. His boots were caked in the stuff like hard grey icing.
“I’m back. Here’s your change. And your smokes.”
“Put them over there for a minute.”
“Dad, look, I found a shilling”
“In the grass at Buckley’s place”
“Well, looks like someone’s dropped it coming back from the shop. You’d better take it round there in case someone’s looking for it”
“But it’s mine. I found it”
“No son. It belongs to someone else. Take it back and give it to McLeod, let him give it to the person. If nobody claims it then you can get it back off him.”
There was never any arguing with his father. What was said was done. He returned to the shop, all the while feeling cross over the injustice of it and the loss of a shilling’s worth of sweets.
“Mr McLeod, I found a shilling outside Buckley’s. Dad said to give it to you in case someone lost it.”
“Rightoh son. I’ll look after it.”
The boy handed it over watching it disappear into the man’s hand. He turned and left the shop.
He returned the next day.
“Mr McLeod, did anyone take that shilling?”
The following day he asked the same question.
“Yes. It was Old Mick Derby’s shilling. I remembered he was in here a little while before you, so I asked him if he was a bit short. He said he’d lost a shilling or I’d short changed him.”
Old Mick Derby was the town drunk. He’d stagger up and down the road in his century old clothes with old fashioned braces, four-day growth, hacked voice and pitiful “old person” smell. He was poor and sad and lonely but content with his lot regardless. He grew vegetables in a huge garden, more than he could ever eat, and gave them away to neighbours. All you had to do is send your son over with a cardboard box. Sometimes the box of vegetables included a fresh chicken, gutted and feathered, if the son would just hold it down while he fetched the axe.
“Oh” came the boy’s deflated reply; it must have spoken volumes to the shopkeeper because just then he leaned under the counter and brought out a cobber.
“He’s your reward for being honest, son.”
The boy’s eyes lit up as the cobber spilled into his hand."Thanks Mr McLeod”
Something changed in the way the shopkeeper treated the boy from then on. The boy noticed it each time he visited but it took him a while to realise why; he was just a kid but he’d earned a man’s respect. That, and the fact every once in a while Mr McLeod would slip him a cobber, perhaps to remind him that he’d done something good.
This story of a father teaching his son the meaning of honesty stayed with him as vividly as told above. He can still feel the stiff grass outside Buckley’s place, still see that shilling with it’s merino head shining in the sun as he turned it, and the taste of disappointment of not being allowed to keep it. And he can still feel the pride in having done the right thing and being respected for it. Somehow, it made that bad taste not so bad after all.
I retell this story to point out that we are compelled to respect good people. Honest people. And that it’s linked to self esteem and self worth. Honesty is integrity.