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Perspectives

Pick Me Up: The Little Moments We Remember

a simple reminder brings some clarity during the holiday shopping season

On one of the darkest days of the year, three days out from Christmas, I was battling a head cold and an aching body. I was in no mood for Christmas shopping, but I had run out of room to procrastinate.

So to be at the mall and surrounding chain stores – wandering through crowds, past ransacked shelves, under fluorescent lights and blaring sales – only worsened my aching body and spirit. I was tired, I was hungry, and it was time to call it quits.

Like my father before me, I’m not comfortable with excessive gift giving or receiving. Leading up to Christmas, Dad always gave the same reminder: “You don’t have to get me anything.” We always did, but we knew not to make it lavish. A gift certificate for an oil change was plenty. As a kid, this seemed boring to me, but as I age, it makes perfect sense.

Driving home, in the need for a pick me up, I saw the Culver’s sign on Bracket Avenue glowing through the Wisconsin night. I thought, A cheeseburger ought to do it. I decided to also pick up some French fries for my 12-year-old son, who was sitting home alone – probably hungry and lonely. It’d be a good surprise for him.

I was about to pull forward into my numbered stall, when I heard my father’s voice. It’s been 12 years – 12 Christmases – since Dad passed away, but I still imagine his voice.

After placing my order into the drive-thru speaker, I pulled forward to the window to pay. It came to $6.10, so I dug in the change compartment, found a dime, and handed it to the clerk with my bills. But we fumbled the transfer, and the dime dropped to the asphalt – a minor annoyance. I fished another dime out of the change compartment and completed the transaction.

I was about to pull forward into my numbered stall, when I heard my father’s voice. It’s been 12 years – 12 Christmases – since Dad passed away, but I still imagine his voice. This time he said, “Don’t throw away your money like that. Pick it up.” For Dad, it wasn’t a matter of 10 cents; it was a matter of principle.

I opened my car door, but since I was so close to the building, it only opened half-way. Then I unbuckled my seatbelt and tried to lean out. Restricted by my bulky winter coat and my bulky winter physique, I hung on to the steering wheel with one hand and hung sideways out the car.

There on the ground before me, laid a minor Christmas miracle: my dime, someone else’s dime, a couple of nickels, a penny, and a quarter. It was like a wishing well on asphalt – left from people who couldn’t be bothered to pick their own money up off the ground.

I grabbed my dime. It felt weird to take the rest of the change, but it seemed more weird to leave it there. So through my half-opened door, with my body inverted like a deep sea diver picking up treasures off the ocean floor, I took it all.

I drove home, with my car smelling like French fries, and with the memory of my father jingling in my head like loose change.

It was good to hear from you, Dad.

Thanks for dropping by.


This was made by

Ken Szymanski  author

Ken Szymanski lives in Eau Claire’s Third Ward neighborhood, with his wife and two sons. He attempts to live in the present, but the 1980s have always exerted a strong gravitational pull on his writing. He tries to fight it, but it’s no use sometimes.