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“Riches,” Friend, Aug. 1986, 34


“I’m going to get rich,” Tom told his mother on Saturday morning. “All the money I have in the world is the quarter Uncle Fred gave me. A quarter isn’t enough to buy the green bike in Thompson’s department store window. So I’m going to get rich.”

“How are you going to do that?” his mother asked. “There aren’t many ways a boy your age can earn money.”

“I’ll find things to do,” Tom assured her. “Mrs. Davis’s yard is a mess. I’m sure she’ll pay me to clean it up. Don’t worry. There are lots of ways I can earn money.” He smiled. “I’ll make at least five dollars, just today! In a few weeks I’ll be rich enough to buy the bike.”

Tom whistled as he pulled his wagon down the sidewalk. He was still whistling when he rang Mrs. Davis’s doorbell.

“I’m going to earn money for a bike,” he told Mrs. Davis. “Will you hire me to clean your yard?”

Mrs. Davis looked surprised. Then she looked sort of embarrassed. “I’m sorry, Tom,” she said. “I would certainly like to have this dirty yard tidied up, and I can’t do it myself. But my pension isn’t enough for me to pay to have it done.”

Tom looked at the branches and paper scraps cluttering the yard. Then he looked at Mrs. Davis. Even though she was old and could barely stoop to pick up things, she kept the inside of her house clean. Tom was sure that she hated having a messy yard. “Look,” he said. “Your yard is small, and it’s early. I can easily clean it before I start getting rich.”

“Why, thank you, Tom!” said Mrs. Davis. “Come in when you’re finished. I’m baking cinnamon cookies today.”

Tom smiled. Mrs. Davis’s cookies were worth waiting an hour to start getting rich!

The sun was inching higher into the sky when Tom carried the last branch to the trash pile. If he hadn’t been so hungry, he would have skipped eating the cookies and gone right on to getting rich.

He’d barely left Mrs. Davis’s house with the extra bag of cookies she’d insisted he take home, when he heard someone call, “Young man! Could you help me?”

Looking around, Tom saw Mr. Gunther waving at him. “I need help carrying some boxes to the basement,” the old man said. “I have to store some of my junk down there, or there won’t be room upstairs for me.”

He cackled at his own joke, and Tom smiled. Mr. Gunther lived on a pension too.

I won’t get rich here either, Tom decided.

“Come on,” the old man urged. He walked toward his house, not even waiting for Tom to agree to help.

Tom sighed, then followed Mr. Gunther inside. His mom wouldn’t be happy with him if he refused to help a neighbor. Besides, Mr. Gunther was pretty nice. Last summer he’d showed Tom how to make neat little boats from plain old tree leaves.

An hour later Tom looked at the clock in Mr. Gunther’s kitchen. It was ten-thirty, and he still had only a quarter!

“Wait,” Mr. Gunther said as Tom started for the door. He looked embarrassed, like Mrs. Davis had, and Tom knew that he was going to apologize for not having money.

“I don’t want anything for helping,” Tom said quickly, feeling embarrassed too.

Mr. Gunther looked relieved. “Checks just don’t reach far enough nowadays,” he mumbled. Then he took a small box from the table. “I found these when I was cleaning. Do you have a stamp collection?” He opened the box, and Tom stared at a stack of old envelopes. The one on top had a big stamp with an airplane from World War II on it.

“Wow!” Tom said. “I don’t have any stamps this old!”

Mr. Gunther looked pleased. “Here, then,” he said. “And if you’re trying to make money, Mrs. Jackson seldom moves her car from her garage. She’s sure to need some errands done.”

“Thanks a lot!” Tom said as he left. Helping Mrs. Jackson was a good idea. Once she’d given him a whole dollar just for getting a loaf of bread from the store!

Mrs. Jackson was pleased to see Tom and sent him to the store. But after he’d paid for her bread and milk, there was only a dime and four pennies change.

“I’m so sorry, Tom,” she said after she had dug through three old purses to see if she could find more money. “I guess fourteen cents is all I can pay today. I haven’t been to the bank lately to get any cash.”

Tom gulped. Then he remembered the dollar she’d paid him last time, and he knew that he’d already been paid for today too.

“That’s OK,” he said. “Fourteen cents is plenty. Thank you, Mrs. Jackson.”

“Thank you!” she said. Then she smiled. “You’re a nice boy, Tom. It’s good to have helping neighbors.”

Her words made Tom feel so good that he was almost home before he realized that the morning was gone and that he was only fourteen cents closer to being rich enough to buy the green bike.

Still, he thought as he parked his wagon, Mrs. Davis’s cookies will make a great dessert. And he was eager to get Mr. Gunther’s old stamps soaked off the envelopes and into his album. As for Mrs. Jackson … well, she had given him some money, and she was a good friend.

“Hurry, Tom. Lunch is ready,” his mother called. When he went into the kitchen, she asked, “Well, are you rich yet?”

Tom grinned and replied, “Yep—I sure am.”

Illustrated by Sharron Vintson