From what we get, we can make a living; from what we give, however, makes a life.--Arthur Ashe
My husband, Stephen, drove to a bigger city about an hour away to pick up materials for our fixer-upper that could not be found locally. He had all three boys, ages one to four, with him on the trip, and to unwind on the way home, he decided to take the scenic route on narrow, winding roads through hill country. He hadn't been this way before and felt it would be a treat for the kids to soak up the autumn landscape.
A host of movements caught his eye, prompting him to slow down in front of a lone house with an expansive front yard. At the edge of the lawn was a congregation of brightly colored whirligigs that pedaled in the direction of an easterly wind. No sign indicated they were for sale, but instinct made him think that they were. He only had five dollars in his wallet, but he thought it wouldn't hurt to do a little browsing.
He pulled over, set the car to idling, and heaved himself out.
"Wait here, boys," he instructed. "I'll be right back."
The variety was impressive. Among them were paddling ducks, flowers, lumberjacks sawing logs, and his personal favorite, a Native American in a canoe, his oars spinning like mad. On closer inspection of the handiwork, he saw that whoever constructed the lawn ornaments was a novice at painting. Drips, smudges, and the features of the Native American's face made him think of folk art.
If they were indeed for sale, their weathered appearance yielded that it had been a while since anyone paid mind to this display. After all, it was off the beaten track, and no neighbors were in clear sight with harvested cotton fields kissing the horizon.
Stephen started. An older gentleman was heading his way.
"Hello!" Stephen replied, greeting him with a hearty handshake. "Got some great whirligigs here. Are you selling them by any chance?"
"Yep, I sure am!" he said, grinning wide and rubbing his palms together. "Found one you like?"
Stephen was torn. He didn't have the money really.
Yet something about the eagerness in the man's eyes compelled him to respond almost instantly, "Well, that canoe sure would look great in my garden."
"Ah. Wouldn't you know you picked my favorite one, sir. I'll let you have it for five dollars."
The exact amount left his wallet. Stephen couldn't believe his ears.
"Well, you got yourself a deal!" he said, handing him the bill. "You make all these yourself?"
"Yes, sir. The wife passed on, and it's just me here, so I spend most of my time in the workshop. Wait here. I'll get a bag for you."
"Oh, you don't have to go through the trouble."
"No trouble at all! Won't be a minute."
The man whistled the long walk back to the house, practically dancing. He placed the whirligig carefully in a plastic sack and handed it reverently to Stephen as though parting with an old friend.
"Fine bunch you got there," he said, using his chin to point at the car. The older boys' faces were pressed to the windows, their brows furrowed with curiosity. "Think they're thirsty? I've got sodas."
With a pang in his heart, Stephen felt the underlying intent of the innocent question. A bid to prolong the visit for a bit. He couldn't deny the sweet man a little stretch of conversation.
"You know, we could use some water, if you don't mind."
Stephen detected an extra bounce in the man's step. All five of them traipsed back to his home for a tour of his workshop and of his life, drinking tumblers of ice water, until the sky blushed with the setting sun.
"Dad?" Ethan asked when they scooted back into the car for the drive home.
"I liked that man. He was nice."
"Yes, he was, big boy. A very nice man."
It was the best five dollars he'd ever spent.
And the whirligig, we'd come to find out, looked perfect in our herb garden.