In 1945, a 12-year-old boy saw something in a shop window that set his heart racing. But the price—five dollars—was far beyond Reuben Earle's means. Five dollars would buy almost a week's groceries for his family.
Reuben couldn't ask his father for the money. Everything Mark Earle made through fishing in Bay Roberts, Newfoundland, Canada. Reuben's mother, Dora, stretched like elastic to feed and clothe their five children.
Nevertheless, he opened the shop's weathered door and went inside. Standing proud and straight in his flour-sack shirt and washed-out trousers, he told the shopkeeper what he wanted, adding, “But I don't have the money right now. Can you please hold it for me for some time?”
“I'll try," the shopkeeper smiled. “Folks around here don't usually have that kind of money to spend on things. It should keep for a while.”
Reuben respectfully touched his worn cap and walked out into the sunlight with the bay rippling in a freshening wind. There was purpose in his loping stride5. He would raise the five dollars and not tell anybody.
Hearing the sound of hammering from a side street, Reuben had an idea.
He ran towards the sound and stopped at a construction site. People built their own homes in Bay Roberts, using nails purchased in Hessian sacks from a local factory. Sometimes the sacks were discarded in the flurry of building, and Reuben knew he could sell them back to the factory for five cents a piece.
That day he found two sacks, which he took to the rambling wooden factory and sold to the man in charge of packing nails.
The boy's hand tightly clutched the five-cent pieces as he ran the two kilometers home.
Near his house stood the ancient barn that housed the family's goats and chickens. Reuben found a rusty soda tin and dropped his coins inside. Then he climbed into the loft of the barn and hid the tin beneath a pile of sweet smelling hay.
It was dinnertime when Reuben got home. His father sat at the big kitchen table, working on a fishing net. Dora was at the kitchen stove, ready to serve dinner as Reuben took his place at the table.
He looked at his mother and smiled. Sunlight from the window gilded her shoulder-length blonde hair. Slim and beautiful, she was the center of the home, the glue that held it together.
Her chores were never-ending. Sewing clothes for her family on the old Singer treadle machine, cooking meals and baking bread, planting and tending a vegetable garden, milking the goats and scrubbing soiled clothes on a washboard. But she was happy. Her family and their well-being were her highest priority.
Every day after chores and school, Reuben scoured the town, collecting the hessian nail bags. On the day the two-room school closed for the summer, no student was more delighted than Reuben. Now he would have more time for his mission.
All summer long, despite chores at home weeding and watering the garden, cutting wood and fetching water—Reuben kept to his secret task.
Then all too soon the garden was harvested, the vegetables canned and stored, and the school reopened. Soon the leaves fell and the winds blew cold and gusty from the bay. Reuben wandered the streets, diligently searching for his hessian treasures.
Often he was cold, tired and hungry, but the thought of the object in the shop window sustained him. Sometimes his mother would ask: “Reuben, where were you? We were waiting for you to have dinner.”
“Playing, Mum. Sorry.”
Dora would look at his face and shake her head. Boys.
Finally spring burst into glorious green and Reuben's spirits erupted. The time had come! He ran into the barn, climbed to the hayloft and uncovered the tin can. He poured the coins out and began to count.
Then he counted again. He needed 20 cents more. Could there be any sacks left any where in town? He had to find four and sell them before the day ended.
Reuben ran down Water Street.
The shadows were lengthening when Reuben arrived at the factory. The sack buyer was about to lock up.
“Mister! Please don't close up yet.”
The man turned and saw Reuben, dirty and sweat stained.
“Come back tomorrow, boy.”
“Please, Mister. I have to sell the sacks now—please.”The man heard a tremor in Reuben's voice and could tell he was close to tears.
“Why do you need this money so badly?”
“It's a secret.”
The man took the sacks, reached into his pocket and put four coins in Reuben's hand. Reuben murmured a thank you and ran home.
Then, clutching the tin can, he headed for the shop.
“I have the money,” he solemnly told the owner.
The man went to the window and retrieved Reuben's treasure.
He wiped the dust off and gently wrapped it in brown paper. Then he placed the parcel in Reuben's hands.
Racing home, Reuben burst through the front door. His mother was scrubbing the kitchen stove. “Here, Mum! Here!”Reuben exclaimed as he ran to her side. He placed a small box in her work roughened hand.
She unwrapped it carefully, to save the paper. A blue-velvet jewel box appeared. Dora lifted the lid, tears beginning to blur her vision.
In gold lettering on a small, almond-shaped brooch was the word Mother.
It was Mother's Day, 1946.
Dora had never received such a gift; she had no finery except her wedding ring. Speechless, she smiled radiantly and gathered her son into her arms.