Sara thanked the vendor for the caramel apple and promised him that she would bring her mother back for more as soon as they had finished the ones they already had. Sara's mother smiled at the man, who was thoroughly impressed by the little girl, who seemed to have been taking her mother for a stroll, not the other way around.
Everything she saw during the walk through the park with her mother was new and exciting. Her mother was only too eager to explain that Central Park was the biggest, most wonderful park in the world. She did her best to answer every question with enthusiasm and love, though when they came face to face with an old man and a three-legged dog sleeping beneath a tree, Sara's mother could not immediately explain why the man was there, or why his clothes were so dirty, or why his the old man's dog had only three legs. "Well, Sara, some people like living outside. You know how daddy likes camping? Some people like camping a real whole lot. They don't have a bathtub out in the woods, so they tend to get a little messy. That's all."
Without a second thought, the little girl broke away from her mother's grip and ran over to the old man and tapped him on the shoulder until he awoke. He awoke with a start, grunted a little, smeared the greasy dirt around on his face absentmindedly, and then allowed his eyes to focus on the little girl, who was now being pulled away by her mother. The mother was not smiling. In fact, she was very concerned. The little girl, however, was trying again to break free. Where her mother saw casus for alarm, Sara saw an old man and a dog and thought that they might be hungry.
Again, she broke free and ran on her short, stubby legs to the old man, who was now fully awake and smiling. The dog was wagging his tail. Sara handed the man the apple and asked the dog if he would like to have a bite. The dog barked in what may have been approval. The old man thanked her, all the while looking at the caramel apple and holding it as if it had been the only meal he had ever had. The old man pulled something from his pocket and handed it to the girl. "Here, take this. It's my lucky charm. Never got me a mansion or a big fancy car, but I got this here apple and I gots my dog and I gots a new friend. By the way, my name is, well, you can call me Old Willy. Pleased to meet you, little one. Thank you for the apple. Me and Spike, we loves dem apples!" A second later, Sara's mother was pulling her away and the old man was watching, smiling a wide and toothless grin, as the dog barked what may have been some sort of canine thank you. The old man bit off a piece of the apple and fed it to the dog. By then, Sara and her mother had vanished around a corner.
That night, Sara got her customary bath and that's when she remembered the old man. She asked her mother if the old man could come to dinner sometime. "Can he bring his dog?" "Oh, I don't think so, hun. He's probably gone back home by now. And you know what we taught you about strangers. It was a good thing you did, giving that man something to eat. But you have to remember that not all people are good! You have to be careful and listen to mommy! Promise mommy you won't ever do that again!"
"If we see him again, maybe we can give him another apple." Of course, Sara's mother fully intended not to go to that part of the park again.
"Mommy, can you get me that funny little coin the man gave me? I want to play with it."
Sara's mother called for her husband to bring the coin into the bathroom, but he called back that he was still putting it in the necklace.
"You can play with it later." Sara pouted.
And that was the last she had seen of the funny little coin until almost 30 years later, when helping her parents move and she saw something on the portable little t.v. about a homeless shelter being closed. "Jeez, mom, I hate watching the news these days. Hey, remember that man we met in the park when I was about four or five? That old man and the dog? He gave me something. That coin. What ever happened to it?"
"Oh, that. I think it's in my jewelry box. Yes, it must be. I forgot all about that."
"Me too. Can I see it?"
Without a second thought, Sara's mother left the room and returned a minute later. "Here. Here it is." She held out a small inexpensive chain. Attached to it was a small brown colored coin. At that moment, Sara's husband came in, clearly exhausted from having been loading a moving van all morning. "God! This is murder! You guys had more stuff than I thought! Shooo. Can't wait til Pops gets back with the grub!"
He saw his wife and mother-in-law looking at the necklace and asked them what they were doing. They recounted the story about the old man in the park and the dog and the caramel apple.
"I think the old man's name was Willy. I don't remember what he called his dog. The dog, I remember, looked like Dick and Jane's dog, Pepper."
"Who," her husband asked?
"Dick and Jane. You know."
"Oh, right. Fun with Dick and Jane and all that. A bit before my time."
Sara's mother interrupted. "See, that's what you get for marrying a younger man." She and Sara laughed. Her husband took hold of the necklace and looked at it closely. While he looked the coin over, the two women turned their attention back to the t.v. and watched as a reporter did a segment from the homeless shelter. A priest was showing off the facilities and talking about the loss to the community. "Who the heck would paint a coin? See this, it's been painted." Oblivious to the world around him, he began scraping at the coin with a thumbnail, finally dislodging a bit of paint.
"Hey, look. This thing's gold or brass or something. Look." They took turns looking at the coin and the shiny metal exposed beneath the brown paint.
"Mom," Sara asked, "Doesn't dad have a coin book somewhere. Maybe we can see if it's worth anything."
"Well, I think so. If he still has them, they're in the box marked den stuff."
"The one I just took out and put in the truck. I guess you want me to go bring that one back up all those stairs?"
"No dear. Just go out and have a quick look for a coin book. We can't do much else until dad gets back with the Wendy's."
"Ok. I can handle that."
Ten minutes later he came back with a hard cover book. Here's the only one I could find. Sara flipped through the book, but could not find the coin. Her husband took the book from her and said, "You just didn't look hard enough. Here, let me do it." Sara looked at her mother. They both shared a private glance, roughly translated, it said, "Men!"
Unable to find the coin in the book, they waited for the Wendy's burgers. When they arrived, they ate them hurriedly, all the while passing the necklace back and forth, taking turns looking at the coin.
Finally, it was Pops who spoke, "Why don't we quit playing all this nonsense and just take it around the corner to the Scott's Coin Shop? If it's worth anything, I'm sure he'll give us a fair price and then we can get the truck loaded and get on with the move. Lucky we started early this morning. We got plenty of time. C'mon, I'll drive."
The man behind the counter looked at the coin through an eyepiece. With each passing moment, he appeared to grow more excited about what he held in his hands. He consulted a number of books and then looked at the coin through the eyepiece again. While this was going on, Sara, her husband, mother and father, glanced up at a television. There were protesters picketing around the homeless shelter. The reporter said that they were trying to keep the shelter open and were only moments away from being arrested and taken downtown for booking. Even the priest was in on the protest, standing defiant before a line of policemen who were all talking into their hand-held radios, apparently waiting for instructions.
"This here coin is about as rare a thing as I ever saw. You know what you have here? This is a $20 gold piece minted the year the United States became the United States. There were only five of these minted. I believe they were minted by Ben Franklin, himself. The other four are in the Smithsonian. I'll give you $25,000 for it right now. Take a check?"
The man was clearly trying to keep calm, but his facial expression and the way he went for a pen and his checkbook told the others a different story.
Sara looked back up at the television as her husband, mother and father chatted excitedly amongst themselves about their sudden good fortune.
The man behind the counter was shaking as he wrote out the check. Sara's husband took her in his arms and hugged her tight, whispering he loved her over and over. When he let go, he told her that the first thing they would do was to go get a bigger television and a new lawn mower and this and that and some more widgets.
Suddenly, he appeared childlike. He was a mere child reading a Christmas wish list with eyes filled wide with images of sugar plum colored Corvettes and microwaves and the down payment for the Harley he always wanted. She looked at her mother and she was saying something to Pops about a trip to Bimini. Again, Sara looked back at the television. The police were cuffing several protesters. In the crowd, Sara thought she saw a dog that looked suspiciously like Dick and Jane's dog, Pepper. She focused on the screen, trying in vein to see if the dog had three legs or four. Of course, she knew it was a silly thing to do. But, at that moment, Sara knew what to do.
The priest emerged from the jail, momentarily covering his eyes from the brightness of the overhead sun. There were several people cheering his release. He scanned the crowd until he found the woman in the orange and white dress, who said she would be waiting with a modest donation. The priest edged his way through the crowd to the woman. She gave him the check as a couple of photographers for the newspapers snapped away. "I couldn't help myself. I just kept seeing the story on the t.v. all day and I had to do something."
Meanwhile, back at the car, Sara's family was sad, but they knew what Sara was doing was for the better and that in time, they would not feel so full of loss.
That night, while watching television with her husband, Sara remembered at the last minute to put a blank tape in the VCR to record the scene in front of the police station. The announcer said it was going to be on the 10 PM news. When the story came on, Sara was ready. She hit record and settled back in the chair, snuggling next to her husband, who was still a bit sore over the loss of his brand spanking new Harley.
Halfway through the segment, Sara was sure she saw the dog again. This time she saw clearly that the dog had only three legs. Standing just behind the dog was a man she thought she recognized, but could not quite place the face. It caused her to sit up on the edge of the couch and say over and over, "Oh my God! That dog... I've seen that dog, haven't I?
No, impossible. I'm just going to play the tape back and look again."
When she played the tape again, she saw the same thing. The three legged dog barking up at the camera and then the man. She paused the tape and stared into the tiny face on the screen. "Where have I seen you before?"
And then it came flooding back. It was Old WIlly. As she stared at the face, it seemed to move, despite the fact that the tape was on pause.
None of the other figures were moving, just the toothless old man. Sara was certain she heard him say "Thank you, Sara." But with her husband sitting there still pining over the motorbike, she kept this to herself.
A day later, Sara took the tape over to her mother's house and played it to her, but the dog and the old man were not on the tape.