In a little town on the Gulf of Mexico you could find Staff's Restaurant from 1931 until it closed in 2013. I'm proud to say that I had a meal in that family owned restaurant. An amazing slice of history for the Ft. Walton Beach area, resting now with the ages.
We took our daughter Madeline to Staff's for dinner in 1997, shortly after moving to the panhandle of Florida. She was a little thing, not quite two. Though she did well through dinner, she was ready for a change of scenery about check time. Since we had just moved, our credit card seemed to think it odd that we were dining in Florida. As Paul waited for the payment to go through, Madeline and I stepped out for a needed walk.
The only thing between Staff's and Highway 98 was a narrow sidewalk. We had two choices. We headed East which seemed a little more open and lit. Hand in hand we walked until we came to a large Live Oak tree. Madeline stopped for a little acorn collection. Once her hands and pockets were filled, we continued.
In the not-far-enough distance, I spotted a man walking West on 98. He was easy to notice as he stumbled and talked aloud to himself. Turning back to the safety of the restaurant seemed a bad idea, as he would then have been out of sight and behind us. I sized him up and decided that with the adrenaline of a mama bear, that I would surely possess if needed, I could take him. He was pretty thin and drunk.
The gap between us continued to diminish. Finally, there were only about ten feet left until the dreaded pass, on this narrowing sidewalk. We met. He stopped. We stopped. Madeline held out her hand and his met hers. She loaded him up with all of the acorns that could fit into such a tiny hand.
He smiled. It was actually a beautiful moment. He reached into his pocket. My adrenaline started to rise. I began to figure out what my best angle of attack was going to be.
He pulled out a wad of cash. Rolled in some sort of peel-off, easy access, billionaire style. As he removed what to many could have been a life savings, he said, "Now let me see what I have for you."
I quickly responded, "No, that is not necessary."
He replied, "No, it actually is. It is never too early for a child to learn the value of a dollar. She gave me these beautiful acorns and she deserves something in return." He removed the outermost dollar bill and handed it to Madeline.
My next thought was, "I wonder what she's going to think of this. Has she even seen a dollar bill? Have I taught her anything about money?"
Much to my surprise, and shredding any other thoughts I could have, Madeline SHOVED that dollar bill into the recesses of her pocket! I don't know if she knew what it was, but she certainly knew that she wanted it. Even more than the acorns!
We thanked him and said goodbye. He continued East toward Staff's and we walked a little farther West, allowing the distance between us to widen enough to warrant turning back.
Within minutes I noticed a police car passing. His lights turned on. He pulled over and stopped the man who had just educated Madeline on the value of a dollar. We turned, stayed back out of the way, but close enough to intervene on his behalf if necessary.
The two spoke for a moment. The man continued on towards Staff's and we were close enough by this point to engage the police officer in our second lesson of the night. I began, "Madi, this is a police officer. See the clothes that he wears. He is here to keep us safe."
We approached the officer, he smiled. I asked him about the man and let him know that he had not been any trouble for us. He assured me that he was simply doing his job and trying to make sure that all was well. While we were making small talk, Madeline noticed that she was once again under the Live Oak tree. She filled her hands once more. In perfect toddler style she quickly lifted her hands and offered her newly acquired goodies to the officer.
He graciously accepted her kindness and said, "Now, what do I have for you in exchange for these lovely acorns?"
My only thought was, "Where in the world have we moved to? Do these people never stop and pick up acorns? Do they not realize that they are free and ALL OVER THE GROUND?"
He pulled out a quarter and offered it to Madeline. She promptly added it to the pocket that contained the dollar. Our ten minute walk had earned her $1.25!
I turned to the officer and our eyes met. He said, quietly, so Madi wouldn't hear, "You know, that is the most that I've ever paid for a handful of acorns." I looked at him and replied, "You know the man that you stopped? He gave her a dollar!"
We both agreed that there was a lot more to the human heart than meets the eye. You never know where you will find kindness.