At the time I was a child of about ten, our family would by today’s standards have been considered economically challenged. Poor. Whenever we traveled, Mama brought a loaf of bread, mayonnaise, and bologna for sandwiches. At the time, I thought it was great. Like we were having a picnic. An adventure. But as the saying goes, when the student is ready the teacher will appear.
The summer I was to go into fourth grade, my Pop decided we needed to take a road trip to some of the Civil War battle grounds. The drive from Gallup, New Mexico, took two ten-hour days. We stayed in a motel, a particularly adventurous thing for me, as I’d never before done that. We also ate our supper in a restaurant – another first. My little brother and I were allowed to share an order of fried shrimp – a delicacy I’d only heard about but never tasted. Full of that marvelous repast, we walked out the restaurant and into the evening darkness. As we walked to our car, I spotted something shiny on the parking lot asphalt. Glinting from the reflected light of a street lamp, the thing looked about the size of a quarter, which carried the same weight as pirate treasure in those days of penny candy. I joyously stooped to pick up the glittering prize.
But my fingers did not encounter cold metal. Instead, they slid through a sticky, wet gob of phlegm. I commanded my stomach not to hurl its prize of fried shrimp, wiped my fingers on my skirt, and then slumped to the car – dreams of a paper bag of licorice pipes and candy lipsticks evaporating like ice in the hot sun.
Takeaway? Other than as a life lesson, not all bright and shiny things have value. They may, in fact, be quite toxic. Or ugly. Or both. And sometimes the price of obtaining them is more than they’re worth.