Recently, my 6-year-old son, Koleson, and I took a break from errands to fill the tank on my near-empty truck. Because I was paying in cash, and he had successfully negotiated for himself a small cherry Slurpee, we pulled up to the pump and ran inside to prepay.
I asked for $50 in fuel and paid for his treat. Then we returned to the pump, waited for it to turn on and began to fill the tank. I was quite surprised when the pump slowed but did not stop at $50. Instead, it crawled to $50.02 before powering completely off. I couldn't recall a pump ever going past the prepaid amount.
As I returned the nozzle to its place, I told my son through his open window to unbuckle and climb back out of his booster seat because we needed to return inside and pay the extra 2 cents in gas.
"Well, of course we do. We owe them two pennies."
As we walked back across the lot, I handed Koleson two shiny brand-new pennies I'd just gotten in change from the initial purchase. Back inside we approached the same clerk who'd rung me up just minutes before. I explained that the pump had gotten a bit over zealous and given 2 cents more than we'd paid for.
It's hard to describe the look on her face. Surprise? Shock? Awe? Bewilderment? Complete confusion?
"You came back in here to pay 2 cents for gas?" Her mouth hung open. "And it wasn't your fault?"
"Well, of course we did." I looked down at my wide-eyed son, still slurping on his Slurpee, his little lips now cherry red. "We owe two more pennies, right bud?" He nodded, smiled big and dropped the two pennies I'd given him on the counter.
The woman rang up the transaction and thanked us. "You know that's not something people do, right?"
My boy and I simply smiled back, said, "Thank you," and went about our evening errands. Before pulling away, I snapped this picture on my cellphone.
As we drove off to our next adventure, I explained to him the obvious: every cent matters. I wanted him to know that even though 2 cents doesn’t sound like much, the integrity it buys is priceless.
With all due respect to the clerk at the counter, I think she's wrong. I think a lot of us would have paid the 2 cents. I don't want to believe that we live in a world where most people don't bother paying their fair share, no matter the amount.
After all, it's really not about the minuscule value of two pennies — it's about the infinite value of honesty.2 comments on this story
I hope that 10, 20 or 50 years from now, my son doesn't remember anything else about that night. Sure, we went to Lowes and together sat on every riding mower in the store and pretended to race. Yes, we washed the truck at a self-serve place that guarantees both of us are going to get wet.
But the lasting memory of the night was watching him toss two pennies on the counter and learning that we pay our debts, we keep our promises and we always do the right thing — even when it's inconvenient and even when it's only worth a few measly drops of gasoline.
I could be wrong. But that's my 2 cents.
Jason Wright is a New York Times bestselling author of 10 books, including "Christmas Jars," "The Wednesday Letters," and "The 96th Annual Apple Valley Barn Dance." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or jasonfwright.com.