The nearer he got to Father, the more he dreaded asking for a nickel. He had never before thought of doing such a thing. He was sure Father would not give it to him.
He waited till Father stopped talking and looked at him.
"What is it, son?" Father asked.
Almanzo was scared. "Father," he said.
"Father," Almanzo said, "would you - would you give me - a nickel?"
He stood there while Father and Mr. Paddock looked at him, and he wished he could get away. Finally Father asked:
Almanzo looked down at his moccasins and muttered:
"Frank had a nickel. He bought pink lemonade."
"Well," Father said, slowly, "if Frank treated you, it's only right you should treat him." Father put his hand in his pocket. Then he stopped and asked:
"Did Frank treat you to lemonade?"
Almanzo wanted so badly to get the nickel that he nodded. Then he squirmed and said:
Father looked at him a long time. Then he took out his wallet and opened it, and slowly he took out a round, big silver half-dollar. He asked:
"Almanzo, do you know what this is?"
"Half a dollar," Almanzo answered.
"Yes. But do you know what half a dollar is?"
Almanzo didn't know it was anything but half a dollar.
"It's work, son," Father said. "That's what money is; it's hard work."
Mr. Paddock chuckled. "The boy's too young, Wilder," he said. "You can't make a youngster understand that."
"Almanzo's smarter than you think," said Father.
Almanzo didn't understand at all. He wished he could get away. But Mr. Paddock was looking at Father just as Frank looked at Almanzo when he double-dared him, and Father had said Almanzo was smart, so Almanzo tried to look like a smart boy. Father asked:
"You know how to raise potatoes, Almanzo?"
"Yes," Almanzo said.
"Say you have a seed potato in the spring, what do you do with it?"
"You cut it up," Almanzo said.
"Go on, son."
"Then you harrow - first you manure the field, and plow it. Then you harrow, and mark the ground. And plant the potatoes, and plow them, and hoe them. You plow and hoe them twice."
"That's right, son. And then?"
"Then you dig them and put them down cellar."
"Yes. Then you pick them over all winter; you throw out all the little ones and the rotten ones. Come spring, you load them up and haul them here to Malone, and you sell them. And if you get a good price, son, how much do you get to show for all that work? How much do you get for half a bushel of potatoes?"
"Half a dollar," Almanzo said.
"Yes," said Father. "That's what's in this half-dollar, Almanzo. The work that raised half a bushel of potatoes is in it."
Almanzo looked at the round piece of money that father held up. It looked small, compared with all that work.
"You can have it, Almanzo" Father said. Almanzo could hardly believe his ears. Father gave him the heavy half-dollar.
"It's yours," said Father.
- Farmer Boy, by Laura Ingalls Wilder
That was two days ago. We often stop and discuss what we're reading, but this wasn't one of the things we talked about. Today, Ryan (13) asked me if I remembered the story from Farmer Boy and I said that I did. Then he said to me "These days, money isn't always work." I asked him to explain his statement, and he replied, "Well, welfare. Welfare isn't work." Then he clarified his statement. "Actually, it IS work, but it's somebody else's work."
It amazes me that he figured that out, with no help from anyone. It amazes me that he considers these issues, even after the story is over and the book is closed. But what really amazes me is that he understands this concept much better that many adults.