The Gift Of Honesty

By —— Bio and Archives--December 16, 2018

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The Gift Of Honesty
In Hollandale, a town near my father’s Mississippi Delta farm, Purlene and Ug Upton owned a mom-and-pop store, and paid top dollar for pecans.

One look explained Ug’s nickname: A mule kicked him on the cheek, and his jaws no longer matched, giving his face an ugly twist. The blow also affected one eye, which focused momentarily and then roamed.


Each year my boyhood best friend and mentor Jaybird and I gathered the nuts in my father’s pecan grove, sold them to the Uptons, and split the proceeds with Dad, who was so tight folks said he didn’t even breathe all the air he needed. Giving something for nothing was not his way; if I wanted Christmas cash, I earned it.

That fall, pecans covered the ground. Jaybird and I walked in circles, spiraling out from the tree trunk, filling buckets and dumping them in burlap bags. I was saving for my first shotgun, and eagerly anticipated the Saturday trips to Upton’s in Jaybird’s pickup to sell the harvest.

Mr. Wade at the hardware store promised to hold the Remington until a week before Christmas, but if I didn’t have the money by then, he would offer it to other customers. He let me hold the brown-stocked, blue-barreled beauty, and I savored the smell of gun oil.

On one trip to Hollandale, Upton’s was packed with folks selling pecans. Ug weighed and wrote out receipts, which Purlene redeemed at the cash register.

In his haste, Ug scribbled two receipts, giving one to Jaybird and one to me. Not noticing this, Jaybird handed his receipt to Purlene, took the money, gave me change for candy, and moseyed out front.

Purlene was as slow-witted as Ug was ugly, and I knew she wouldn’t notice the duplicate receipt. Remembering the gun oil smell, I got in line, furtively glancing back at Ug. Purlene peered down at me through scratched bifocals and counted out the cash. The Remington was mine!

Noticing my smiling face as we headed home, Jaybird asked why I was so happy. When I told him about my clever trick, the old black man eased off the road and U-turned. I froze in fear.

“Please don’t go back — I’m scared of Mr. Ug,” I begged. “He’ll never know.” Jaybird drove on. Stopping in front of Upton’s, he muttered, “I’ll wait here.”

“Mr. Ug, somehow me and Jaybird got paid twice, and didn’t discover the mistake until after we left.” My knees knocked as that eye focused on me, and then began roaming.

A toothless smile creased Ug’s slanted jaw, and he said, “That’s a mighty honest thing you did, boy.” Handing me a $20 bill from the returned cash, he said, “Merry Christmas.”

Finally, I had enough to buy my first shotgun, which I still cherish to this day. But, from one of the most God-loving, God-serving men I’ve ever known, I received a far more valuable gift that Christmas … a gift that would last a lifetime: the gift of honesty.


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Jimmy Reed -- Bio and Archives | Comments

Jimmy Reed is an Oxford, Mississippi resident, Ole Miss alumnus, Army veteran (Vietnam Era), former Mississippi Delta cotton farmer and ginner, author, and retired college teacher. His short story anthology, Boss, Jaybird And Me, is available at Squarebooks.com (telephone: 662-236-2262). His latest collection of faith-based short stories, entitled One Hundred By Five Hundred, is also available at Square Books (telephone: 662-236-2262) and at amazon.com. To receive Reed’s free weekly newsletter, send an email address to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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