Three Red Marbles

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Three red marbles

By W. E. Petersen

This story first appeared in the October 1975 Ensign Magazine.

One day Mr. Miller was bagging some early potatoes for me. I noticed a small boy, delicate of bone and feature, ragged but clean, hungrily apprising a basket of freshly picked green peas.

I paid for my potatoes but was also drawn to the display of fresh green peas. I am a pushover for creamed peas and new potatoes. Pondering the peas, I couldn’t help overhearing the conversation between Mr. Miller and the ragged boy next to me.

“Hello Barry, how are you today?”

“H’lo, Mr. Miller. Fine, thank ya. Jus’ admirin’ them peas … sure look good.”

“They are good, Barry. How’s your Ma?”

“Fine. Gittin’ stronger alla’ time.”

“Good. Anything I can help you with?”

“No, Sir. Jus’ admirin’ them peas.”

“Would you like to take some home?”

“No, Sir. Got nuthin’ to pay for ’em with.”

“Well, what have you to trade me for some of those peas?”

“All I got’s my prize marble here.”

“Is that right? Let me see it.”

“Here ’tis. She’s a dandy.”

“I can see that. Hmmmmm, only thing is this one is blue and I sort of go for red. Do you have a red one like this at home?”

“Not zackley … but almost.”

“Tell you what. Take this sack of peas home with you and next trip this way let me look at that red marble.”

“Sure will. Thanks Mr. Miller.”

Mrs. Miller, who had been standing nearby, came over to help me. With a smile she said, “There are two other boys like him in our community, all three are in very poor circumstances. Jim just loves to bargain with them for peas, apples, tomatoes, or whatever. When they come back with their red marbles, and they always do, he decides he doesn’t like red after all and he sends them home with a bag of produce for a green marble or an orange one, perhaps.”

I left the stand smiling to myself, impressed with this man. A short time later I moved to Colorado but I never forgot the story of this man, the boys, and their bartering.

Several years went by, each more rapid that the previous one. Just recently I had occasion to visit some old friends in that Idaho community and while I was there learned that Mr. Miller had died. They were having his viewing that evening and knowing my friends wanted to go, I agreed to accompany them.

Upon arrival at the mortuary we fell into line to meet the relatives of the deceased and to offer whatever words of comfort we could. Ahead of us in line were three young men. One was in an army uniform and the other two wore nice haircuts, dark suits and white shirts … all very professional looking.

They approached Mrs. Miller, standing composed and smiling by her husband’s casket. Each of the young men hugged her, kissed her on the cheek, spoke briefly with her and moved on to the casket. Her misty light blue eyes  followed them as, one by one, each young man stopped briefly and placed his own warm hand over the cold pale hand in the casket. Each left the mortuary awkwardly, wiping his eyes.

Our turn came to meet Mrs. Miller. I told her who I was and mentioned the story she had told me about the marbles. With her eyes glistening, she took my hand and led me to the casket. “Those three young men who just left were the boys I told you about. They just told me how they appreciated the things Jim ‘traded’ them. Now, at last, when Jim could not change his mind about color or size … they came to pay their debt.”

“We’ve never had a great deal of the wealth of this world,” she confided, “but right now, Jim would consider himself the richest man in Idaho.”

With loving gentleness she lifted the lifeless fingers of her deceased husband.

Resting underneath were three exquisitely shined red marbles.

H/t beloved fellow Doc’s Wife


“…love one another; as I have loved you…. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:34-35

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7 responses to “Three Red Marbles

  1. Leave it to FotM to start my day with those tears that come from the heart. I want to be like Mr. Miller when I grow up, someday.

  2. I’ve heard the marble story before too. In fact, I was taking care of a woman who was trying to get child support from her deadbeat ex-husband. He finally got himself in such a state that I was able to have him arrested for skip;ping on a payment, and he was put into the county jail. In order to get out, he had to come up with $15,000 cash, less than 20 percent of his total bill. He did, and was able to go on his way, where the next time he got arrested, the child (in reality, a young man), would be out of college, at the rate of speed in the courts here in the Big City. No mother ever gets what she is owed, and it hurts them, their children and society in general.

    I had a retainer to keep 20 percent of the recovery. Even lawyers have to eat. But, when I was leaving the courthouse, I went directly to the bank, opened a trust account for the young man who was off to an out of state school where he’d gotten into the college major and program of his dreams. My client had been out of town for work, and I didn’t want that much cash sitting around. So, I plunked it all into the trust. He was going to need that $15,000, plus five more to pay the gap between his scholarship and out of state tuition costs.

    I didn’t collect a dime from that woman. What I did ask though is that they make sure that as soon as possible, another young man in similar straits, would have my $3000, or my 20 percent, to assist with tuition. To date, five young men and women have been helped by that young guy. It was the best investment I have ever made. My partner, who was going to get at least a third of my money wasn’t happy with me. Of course, he owed me about $70,000 in unpaid salary, but that was my money, not my partner’s. I have never regretted it, and have done the same thing at least 25 times since then. I can’t keep up with the numbers that have been assisted down the line from my own “gift” to my clients.

    Every time, those that have gotten a break from me have passed it on to others. Every time.

    • I have asked you once before, and I’m asking you a second time:

      Please consider adopting another alias, other than Anonymous. Fellowship of the Minds has had an Anonymous, with a blue face, since the beginning. Your “face” used to be pink; but now it’s become blue. So we now have two “blue-faced” Anonymous. It is confusing to everyone. I, as Administrator of this blog, can go “behind the curtains” to see your e-addresses. That’s the only way I know you are the previously pink-faced Anonymous. Otherwise, I’d think you are our long-time commenter, blue-faced Anonymous.

      If you refuse to use another alias — in addition to your not responding to comments directed at you — whatever comments you write on FoTM will no longer be published.

      • Thank you, Sage. Your words are much appreciated!

        Thus far, formerly pink-faced, now blue-faced, Anonymous, has not responded to my request. She’s oblivious. Instead, she’s written FIVE more comments that have gone into FoTM’s spam folder — as will all future comments.

  3. Tear jerker, loved it!

  4. Eowyn, that was a five star thumbs up 🙂


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