Amazing Kids! Magazine

The Penny Promise

By Sean Traynor, Editor-in-Chief

Jose’s ears burned as Drake spat the words, “You’re such a Loser!”  Before he could shake off the sting, Drake reached forward with both hands and shoved his hands into Jose’s chest so hard that it took his breath away.  The shove sent him tumbling backwards amidst a chorus of laughter from Drake Conway’s friends.  Rolling over with his face near the ground, Jose lifted his head a few inches, eyes downcast.  He couldn’t bear to look them in the eye.  This was a familiar scene to him and he knew that any hint of a confrontation would just make them berate him more. He shimmied a few feet away and huddled in a ball, arms wrapped around his knees. A single tear made its way down his mud-streaked face. He used the back of his hand to quickly erase it from view.

Drake and his friends turned away with a “humph” and made their way back to the classroom.

Jose slowly pulled in a long breath, releasing it again with deliberate force through clenched teeth.  His clutched fists pounded against his thighs.  Would this never end?, he thought.  The days were passing by like honey through his mama’s jar.  With misty eyes he debated whether to return to class or not.

It was then he saw it: a slight glint in the mud on the ground.  He nudged it with the toe of his well-worn shoe.  Reaching down he picked the item out of the mud and held it up to his face.  Oh, it’s just a penny, he sighed.  He turned it over in his dirty hands.  No matter how much he washed his hands in the morning after working, the dirt never came out of the creases.  It was a tattoo to his classmates, showing them he was different: a seasonal laborer, a type of person whom they were unfamiliar with; someone whom they had come to despise.

In his hands he looked at the penny more closely.  There inscribed on the front were the words, “In God We Trust.”  He shoved the penny in his pocket and swore right then and there that he would make things different for his family, no matter what.  He wouldn’t let those bullies win. With that, he took a steadying breath and headed back to the classroom.

At the shrill cry of the parting bell, Jose darted out of the classroom with a new spring to his step.  He ran the two long miles to his temporary housing outside the apple orchards.  He made a momentary stop at the stream along the side path to the row of single-room shacks to find an empty water jug, and brought it with him to his ”home”.  Placing it just inside the door, he dropped the penny inside and listened to the pinging sound it made with satisfaction.  We’ve just begun, he thought and he whistled his way to the stove to hug his mother. No matter how difficult the day had been, the warm smell of cheese and tortillas heating on the stove made him feel safe and hopeful.

His parents were convinced that coming to America would be better for their family.  So far they had only experienced hard work and a cold impasse that the people of town felt necessary to emphasize whenever they were around.  He had to chip in to make life bearable.  Every morning he had to go into the fields at daybreak to pick as quickly as his small hands could spin. As hard as he could scrub, the juices from the fruit would not come off of his hands.  He tried to hide them in his pockets, but the kids always knew and snickered as he approached.

Tonight he felt different; now, he had a plan.  Every day he would search for change and drop it into the water jar when he returned home.  Periodically he would cash in his jar for paper money that went into the first bank account his family had ever had.  It seemed so far away, but Jose could see the light at the end of the tunnel.  He would work hard at school, save money when he could, and pull his family out of the deep hole of misery they battled every day.

The next morning he arose even earlier to complete his chores.  He made sure he had everything he needed for school and set off confidently.  The teachers noticed a difference.  No longer did Jose blend into the woodwork of the classroom; he made a point to participate and learn everything he could.  He worked hard to earn extra money and drop it into his water jug at the end of each day.  Whenever he felt frustrated, he pulled out a penny from his pocket and reread the “In God we Trust” motto.  It drove him to continue on through many hard times.  His family managed to stay in the area by finding jobs for the other months of the year.  He was able to take on several jobs at once to support his family and also to add to his “Jar for the Future”, a name that his little sister had assigned to it.

Many years later, he was able to turn his hard-earned money into his deposit for college.  Putting the check inside the envelope, it seemed as though his dreams were finally coming true.  By focusing on his goal, he had finally ensured a better future for himself and his family.

While in school he kept up his ritual of the money jar, as if abandoning the pattern would destroy the dream. The jar was old and rusty now, but the brighter future it held could not be tarnished.  It helped him through tough times when he could barely keep his eyes open from lack of sleep.  Like a beacon, it lit the way until he graduated at the top of his class with a nice job waiting for him.

Years later, Jose was now a successful businessman.  Stopping in at the local coffee store at lunch, he recognized his old classmate, Drake Conway behind the counter.  There was not a hint of recognition in his eyes as Jose ordered a coffee to go.  He looked down to see a jar with a label that said, “Tips, Please” and he threw his change inside the jar.

“Thank you, sir,” Drake murmured.

Jose glance back over his shoulder as he was leaving the shop to see a Drake with downturned eyes and coffee-stained hands.  It brought him back to those early days when he was the one laying on the dirt ground.  Never again, he whispered.  Thank you, Drake, for reminding me.

He sped home with a determination that had not subsided since his life-changing choice many years earlier.  He no longer needed the water jug near the door, but the motto continued to motivate him every day to do his best – In God We Trust.  Yes, he had believed and followed his dream.  As he settled down into his chair, admiring his two small children on the floor in front of him, he caught a glint out of the corner of his eye.  There, in the corner of his son’s room he could see a glass jar, with two shiny pennies in the bottom.  A warm sense of security flooded over him as he knew that he had done well.  Not only had he provided a nice home for his family, but the motivation for a better future had been instilled in his children from an early age.  They too, would learn to work hard and follow their dreams.