“The pickle jar as far back as I can remember sat on
the floor beside the dresser in my parents’ bedroom.
When he got ready for bed, Dad would empty
his pockets and toss his coins into the jar.
As a small boy, I was always fascinated at the sounds the coins
made as they were dropped into the jar.
They landed with a merry jingle when the jar was almost empty.
Then the tones gradually muted to a dull thud as the jar was filled.
I used to squat on the floor in front of the jar to admire
the copper and silver circles that glinted like a pirate’s
treasure when the sun poured through the bedroom window.
When the jar was filled, Dad would sit at the kitchen table and
roll the coins before taking them to the bank.
Taking the coins to the bank was always a big production.
Stacked neatly in a small cardboard box, the coins were
placed between Dad and me on the seat of his old truck.
Each and every time, as we drove to the bank, Dad would
look at me hopefully. ‘Those coins are going to keep you
out of the textile mill, son. You’re going to do better than
me. This old mill town’s not going to hold you back.’
Also, each and every time, as he slid the box of rolled
coins across the counter at the bank toward the cashier,
he would grin proudly. ‘These are for my son’s college
fund. He’ll never work at the mill all his life like me.’
We would always celebrate each deposit by stopping
for an ice cream cone. I always got chocolate. Dad
always got vanilla. When the clerk at the ice cream
parlor handed Dad his change, he would show me the
few coins nestled in his palm. ‘When we get home,
we’ll start filling the jar again.’ He always let me drop
the first coins into the empty jar. As they rattled around
with a brief, happy jingle, we grinned at each other.
‘You’ll get to college on pennies, nickels, dimes and
quarters,’ he said. ‘But you’ll get there; I’ll see to that. No
matter how rough things got at home, Dad continued
to doggedly drop his coins into the jar. Even the summer
when Dad got laid off from the mill, and Mama had to
serve dried beans several times a week, not a single
dime was taken from the jar.
To the contrary, as Dad looked across the table at me,
pouring catsup over my beans to make them more
palatable, he became more determined than ever to
make a way out for me ‘When you finish college, Son,’
he told me, his eyes glistening, ‘You’ll never have to
eat beans again – unless you want to.’
The years passed, and I finished college and took a
job in another town. Once, while visiting my parents,
I used the phone in their bedroom, and noticed that
the pickle jar was gone. It had served its purpose
and had been removed.
A lump rose in my throat as I stared at the spot beside
the dresser where the jar had always stood. My dad
was a man of few words: he never lectured me on the
values of determination, perseverance, and faith. The
pickle jar had taught me all these virtues far more
eloquently than the most flowery of words could have
done. When I married, I told my wife Susan about the
significant part the lowly pickle jar had played in my
life as a boy. In my mind, it defined, more than
anything else, how much my dad had loved me.
The first Christmas after our daughter Jessica was born,
we spent the holiday with my parents. After dinner, Mom
and Dad sat next to each other on the sofa, taking turns
cuddling their first grandchild. Jessica began to whimper
softly, and Susan took her from Dad’s arms. ‘She probably
needs to be changed,’ she said, carrying the baby into my
parents’ bedroom to diaper her. When Susan came back
into the living room, there was a strange mist in her eyes.
She handed Jessica back to Dad before taking my hand
and leading me into the room. ‘Look,’ she said softly, her
eyes directing me to a spot on the floor beside the dresser.
To my amazement, there, as if it had never been removed,
stood the old pickle jar, the bottom already covered with
coins. I walked over to the pickle jar, dug down into my
pocket, and pulled out a fistful of coins. With a gamut of
emotions choking me, I dropped the coins into the jar. I
looked up and saw that Dad, carrying Jessica, had slipped
quietly into the room. Our eyes locked, and I knew he was
feeling the same emotions I felt. Neither one of us could
Never underestimate the power of your actions.
With one small gesture or seemingly insignificant practice, you can change a person’s life.