The salesman was having a particularly good month. In addition to receiving a healthy commission, the company had been running a contest and he was the proud owner of a new state-of-the-art clothes washer.
This caused a slight, but happy, problem. At his wife’s instance they had purchased a new washing machine only two years ago. He now had to find a way to dispose of a very serviceable washing machine in very good condition. Sure, he could put an ad in the paper and sell it, but selling was what he did all week. Spending a weekend or two waiting for phone calls and rejecting lowball offers sounded too much like work. He and his wife decided instead to sell the washing machine to a used appliance store that offered to pay them fifty dollars for the surplus machine. After all, fifty bucks is fifty bucks.
On his way to the used appliance store, he passed through the part of town filled with low-end businesses and unfortunate families with more gumption than money. He spotted a little girl selling lemonade at a makeshift corner stand. In the front yard, no more than fifty feet away, a watchful mom in her mid thirties folded clothes into neatly arranged baskets. The salesman, with young children of his own, was a sucker for entrepreneurial kids. He stopped to buy a cup of lemonade, and to see what kind of sales pitch she had.
“How much,” he asked, leaning his head out of the idling pickup with the soon to be liquidated washing machine in the bed.
“Oh, it’s free,” said the little girl.
“Free?” echoed the salesman, somewhat shocked. “You can’t make any money giving lemonade away.”
“I’m not trying to make money, Mister,” said the little girl. “We were studying the earthworm in school and learned that the earthworm eats old dead plant stuff and then puts it back into the ground to help flowers grow. Lemons grow free in the backyard, water doesn’t cost much, so I made some lemonade to give away to thirsty people. I thought I’d be like the earthworm and make the world better and that made Momma smile and that’s good ‘cause she was real sad.”
She handed the salesman his free cup of lemonade, which he drank quickly, hiding his puckering lips with the back of his hand. It was a bit tart. Lemons and water may be cheap, but sugar obviously wasn’t.
“Why is your Momma sad?” queried the salesman.
“Well, she washes cloths for a living and our old washing machine broke last week,” answered the little girl. “Now she has to wash cloths in the bathtub and that is very hard. We have a dryer and that works okay but we can’t just go out and buy a washing machine.”
Suddenly the recovery of fifty dollars for an old washing machine seemed insignificant. Though he wasn’t philanthropic by nature, he decided that maybe money was less important than joy.
He helped Momma take out her antique machine and installed his newer washing machine in its stead. He plugged it in and started it up just to make sure, and everything worked just fine. Feeling better about himself than he had in a long time, he decided that from now on he would be like the earthworm and, as best he could, leave the world better than he found it.
As he left, the little girl waved and shouted, “Thank you for helping, Mister.”
He began to realize that it was probably the best $50 he would ever spend.