Our brightest blazes of happiness are commonly kindled by unexpected sparks.” — Samuel Johnson
It was one of those luminous Indian summer afternoons — clear cobalt skies and pure yellow light shimmering through the maples on our front lawn. This was autumn’s last hurrah, and even the neighborhood kids sensed the day was ripe for celebrating.
We woke early that morning to find a crisp runner of mustard-gold leaves carpeting the sidewalks. If you squinted hard enough and used your imagination, you’d swear it led straight to Oz.
I’d taken the day off work and suggested we drive to the old cider mill in Franklin Village, where it’s always worth standing in line for the best cinnamon doughnuts made in Michigan. But Nate, who was six at the time, had his own ideas. He and Catie, the girl next door, would set up their own cider-and-doughnuts stand in our front yard, which faces a well-traveled boulevard.
Naturally, I ended up at the local fruit market, loading a shopping cart with doughnuts and several gallons of apple cider.
Back home, I retrieved a card table and some cardboard for a poster, then rallied the kids to assemble the doughnuts and paper cups on a serving tray. The three of us positioned the cider stand at the corner of our front yard.
The small entrepreneurs perched on lawn chairs and waited patiently for customers. They waved at passing cars and periodically rearranged the paper cups. Business was painfully slow. Watching the eager pair from the front porch, I felt my heart skip each time a car sped past them. Surely some generous adult would step on the brakes, reach deep into a pocket, and pull out a dime for a cool cup of cider. But most drivers didn’t seem to notice.
I’ve been guilty of similar oversights. Rushing to the office, the bank, or an appointment, I’ve driven past countless children trying to earn spare change at their sidewalk stands. Sometimes I rolled down the window and promised to catch them on my way back, at my convenience, which was usually too late.
Slowly but surely, my faith in humanity was restored as a few neighbors came around to patronize the cider stand. Quarters, dimes, and nickels clinked musically in the collection cup, while Nate and Catie whirled around the card table.
And I’ll never forget how stunned the pair looked when a stranger pulled up in a red convertible with the top down, radio blaring. Leaping from the car, the man sprinted up to the table, grabbed one of the cups, and downed his cider in one memorable gulp. He smiled as he stuffed a bill into the collection cup, and didn’t wait for his change. As the stranger roared down the boulevard, the children flew to me on the front porch, chirping like startled sparrows all the way up the steps.
“Guess what! That guy in the car gave us ten dollars for the cider and he didn’t want any change!! TEN DOLLARS!!”
Breathless and giddy, the two began negotiating how the miraculous windfall would be divided. One of them remarked that the cider must have been very good, having earned such an awesome profit.
Despite everything that’s wrong in the world, it’s hard to remain cynical on a grace-filled day like that. I remembered a phrase I’d read by the poet John Keats, and I knew that this was what he meant by “Moments big as years.” –Cindy La Ferle
— Copyright 2005; Hearth Stone Books; excerpted from Writing Home —