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Red light, green light, look both ways.

August 19, 2015
By John Wharff
 
As we begin a new school season I’m struck by a childhood memory that I’d like to share.  Some forty or so years ago on the way home from the 1st day of 3rd grade at Washington Grade School a friend and I found an envelope in front of Nelson’s Drug Store with a $10 bill in it.  Excitement is hardly a strong enough word to describe the way we felt.  After all, these were the days of penny candy, nickel comic books and milk money (2¢ white 3¢ chocolate).  Our first instinct was to run into Nelson’s Drug Store and buy the guy out.  Upon further discussion it was a race to the house to spread the good news of our newfound fortune. Now rationale is not high on a 3rd graders list when he’s packin’ a new 10 spot, but it was decided between Mom and Mr. Nelson that “the right thing to do” would be leave the money at the store for one week to see if anyone would claim it.
 
The point of regressing to this time is twofold, to remind folks that school is back in session, and also to take a moment to slow down and revel in simpler times. I am convinced as a father and a radio station owner that there is no more important day of the year, than the first day of school. I can hear the morning team of Jonesy and Bays saying, ‘drive extra careful today because it’s the 1st day of school and there are some young folks out there today that have a lot more on their mind than whether to look both ways before crossing the street.’ The 1st day of school wraps excitement, anxiety, and wonder into a package that becomes the next chapter of life. There is no big sale, or conference call, board meeting or deadline but there is responsibility and accountability. Big things for a young mind.
 
Looking back on the big find, back in the day, I’m guessing schoolwork suffered that 1st week with my mind set on visiting Mr. Nelson everyday after school.  I do recall at the end of that week there were no takers and we were rewarded by someone’s apparent misfortune.  Finder’s keepers. I’d like to think that the person that lost that money forty years ago would have left it there on purpose if he or she would’ve known what joy it would bring to two young boys.  There is a chance that happened. 
 
The difference between today and back then is that there are a million things to steal our mind from the joy of simple thought. I’m thinking less young folks journal, and hike and chase a day that has no outcome attached. I’m not trying to sound like an old fogy, but it would be cool to see a kid drop the iPad and go for a walk in the cemetery. Or better yet, walk into a 1970's penny candy store with a crisp $10 bill in their rubber squeeze change purse. That is simple joy.
 
After I purchased the latest Archie comic book and stuffed my pockets with jawbreakers it was suggested by one of my parents that I leave a single dollar where some other kid would find it.  This was like asking Howard Hughes to start from scratch, but reluctantly I accepted the challenge and to this day assume it was successfully accomplished.  I wasn’t to keen on the idea at the time, but it sure makes sense now.  The surprise, the joy, the anticipation, the reward, it is all so vivid for something that happened so long ago. And if you’re reading this and saying, “Hey, that was my $10 in that envelope”, well thank you, it’s worth a lot more today.
 
Lives change every day for things we do and things we don’t do. Simple decisions like driving carefully in and around schools, stopping to spend a quarter at a lemonade stand, and stopping to ask a kid, how was your 1st day of school? It may not make us rich, but then that all depends on your definition.
 
 
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