$6.17 and a Teddy Bear named Sam
Fort Worth, Texas
November 17, 2001

This summer he and his wife decided to tell their daughter about the college fund they started for her when she was a baby. Well…he decided. His wife thought it might be a little beyond a five year old. He conceded that, but figured it would be a good way to begin ingraining in her the importance of a college education and the importance of saving money.

Jessie, his daughter, is rather precocious. A couple of days after listening to her father tell her what they were doing and why, she decided she needed to contribute. She was, after all, five and a half. According to her father, she is militant about the “and a half”. It somehow means she’s a big girl now. To her that meant she should contribute to her college fund.

She got some lemons, sugar, water, and Sprite from her mother and made up a pitcher of, what she called, Lemonade Blasts. It was her own secret recipe. The preparation appeared to consist of squeezing a few lemons, adding a dash of water, a ton of sugar, and filling the rest of the pitcher with Sprite. She took her pitcher and some cups and marched down to the end of her driveway and sat on the curb waiting for the money to come rolling in.

He came home from work that night and saw his daughter sitting on the curb in the summer twilight. His wife told him she’d been out there for hours. Hadn’t sold a thing. The next day they went out and spent about twenty dollars on a cheap card table, some tagboard, and some fluorescent magic markers. She worked Monday through Friday every week selling her Lemonade Blasts for five cents a pop.

In three weeks she made $6.17, which works out to 123.4 Lemonade Blasts. No one really knows how she ended up with the seventeen cents. Every penny she made went into her Shrek piggy bank. Her mother would occasionally exchange a pile of the smaller coins for dollar bills or quarters.

Her father, the practical man, thought that maybe they should try to teach her that she really hadn’t made any money yet, that she’d spent more than she had made back through her sales. His wife laughed at him and threatened to lock him in the trunk if he did. When Jessie would sit down to dinner with her parents and recount to her father each sale she had made that day…it melted him a little. He thought maybe he could teach her the practical lesson of profit later. Every night when he came home he would buy two Lemonade Blasts for he and his wife. The drinks were so sweet they would surreptitiously pour them down the sink. He figured his daughter had created a hardcore sugar addiction in some of the neighborhood kids.

Summer ended, Jessie went to school, and the burgeoning Lemonade Blast business went into hibernation until next summer. Shortly after that the planes pounded into the WTC, the Pentagon, the field in Western PA.

Her father worked hard and sometimes took short business trips. He liked to sit in front of the television with his laptop and briefcase when he had to bring work home and watch TV while Jessie played. After the Attacks the TV was always tuned into the news. He and his wife had spoken with Jessie’s teachers and counselors at her school to get advice on the best way to explain to someone so young what had happened. They wanted her to understand the event enough to understand that, yes, it was horrible, but that Osama Bin Laden and the Al-Qaeda network weren’t some omnipotent boogeymen.

Sometime shortly after the attack there was a story on one of the television networks about the family of a fire fighter who had died trying to help people at the WTC. He had a little girl about the same age as Jessie. Her father was only half paying attention to the story, having become, like many of us, a little numb to the individual human dramas that littered our post-Attack world. Then he noticed Jessie standing at the edge of his big, comfortable chair. She was very worried.

He set aside his work and pulled her up on to his lap. She was terribly concerned about that little girl whose father had died. She was terribly concerned about her daddy going on a trip.

She changed after that. She was a generally happy little girl who seemed to be doing fine. But if her father was late in getting home she would grow increasingly anxious and beg her mother to call him on his cell phone to find out where he was and how long it would be before he got back. Every now and then she would wonder about that little girl.

One night in October, he had a late business dinner in Dallas and an early meeting there the next day. He planned to stay at the corporate apartment his company keeps for such occasions. The drive was nearly fifty miles each way and the commute in the morning would be brutal. He called home. They had talked to Jessie before hand about his being away for a night. She was concerned but seemed okay. She was being very brave. Jessie got on the phone and spoke with her father. She wanted to know what time he would be home the next day.

As a toddler, Jessie went everywhere with a big, floppy, teddy bear named Sam. The mere thought of being separated from Sam was devastating to her. When she started Kindergarten she wanted to take Sam with her. Her father wouldn’t let her. Over time, she stopped carrying Sam with her but each night, you could peek into her room and see her asleep, hugging Sam tightly to her.

Sam had become dingy and worn and threadbare over the years. He was missing one eye.

That night, while he was talking with his daughter, he asked her if she was going to be okay with him being gone and offered a gentle assurance that he would be home the next afternoon. She said that she would be fine, that when she got into bed she and Sam were going to pray for her daddy to be safe.

Something about that scorched him. He drove home that night. He slipped into her room and sat by her bed and watched her sleeping. Hugging Sam.

Days passed. Weeks. She grew less anxious about her father’s arrival time back at the homestead. She no longer talked about that little girl from the television report.

His firm had cut back severely on travel so he there had been no long trips since the attacks. Then a trip to New York came up. He preferred not to go, but the client was insistent and the client was big. He would fly out the Sunday before Thanksgiving and come back that Tuesday night, fighting through the pre-holiday traffic and the excruciatingly slow security checks at the airport. They talked to Jessie about it. She was concerned but nothing to cause her parents excessive worry.

One night last week, on one of the cable news networks, there was a report on the fundraising that had been done to date. It was, he said, a generally triumphant report about the money that had been raised and was now being distributed to surviving families. They mentioned families of fire fighters. Something in that struck a nerve with Jessie.

A few minutes later her father looked up to see Jessie standing at the foot of his big comfortable chair with her cupped hands holding something towards him and Sam wedged under her arm. In her hands were four one-dollar bills, six quarters, four dimes, five nickels, and two pennies.

$6.17.

She put the money on the table next to the chair and told her father that when he went to New York he should give the money to the little girl, the daughter of the firefighter. She said it would help her to get an education. It broke his heart.

But he is a practical man.

He thought maybe he should try to explain to her again what had happened. That there were so many little girls and little boys still waiting for a mother or a father to come home. He thought he should tell her that she was very good to be so generous but that $6.17 was not very much money and she should hold on to it and that the little girl would understand.

Jesse held Sam out towards her father. She said he should give Sam to the little girl. That maybe if that little girl had Sam she wouldn’t be so sad. She wouldn’t miss her daddy so much.

He will be taking a later flight home from New York than he had originally planned. His meetings end late morning but he wants to go down to the World Trade Center site, or as close as he can get. He thinks it is important to see that. To know. He’s going to be carrying a briefcase, an overnight bag, and a check for $6.17 that he has rounded up to the nearest $5000. And he has to see if he can find someone who will know what to do with the big, floppy, dingy, worn one-eyed teddy bear named Sam that he will be carrying with him.

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