The person in the sunshine suit was what triggered the whole thought process. It was hot enough that even my continually cold body was heated up, and the car air was on high. Standing on the hot pavement waving at cars was Mr. - or maybe Miss - Sunshine, in full costume. Sweltering, I am sure.
My heart went out to him/her. And so did my admiration. This, I thought, is a person who needs to work, who took a job not caring what the job was, who is looking for a way to pay the bills. I have no idea whether those bills are gas to get to school or milk for the baby or something less noble. It doesn’t matter. In a day where so many just wait for a handout or don’t care one minute if they walk out on their obligations, this person stood waving to cars in a sunshine suit to collect a paycheck.
I wished I could do something for Mr. Sunshine. I tried smiling and a slight wave, but it was hard to tell whether this registered or not. If money were no object, I thought, I would park in the lot behind Sunshine and hand him $1,000.
And so the game began.
Even before Tennessee had a lottery, we liked to play the “If you won the lottery” game. Often it was on the way to the beach, where we passed through states that had lotteries and bought our tickets for the week. We would quiz the children and each other with the parlor-game questions: What’s the first thing you would buy? Would you go to work the next morning? Who or what good cause would you champion? Would you continue to go to college?
It was a combination of just plain fun, a little bit of dreaming and an insight into where our minds and hearts were at the time.
The answers changed over the years, obviously for the children, but even with my husband and me. Our heart’s desires for “things” got smaller, and, as we got older and set in our ways, we realized there were just some things we wouldn’t do no matter how much money we had. Like wear a watch that cost more than my house payment. Or vacation on the French Riviera.
It also became even more evident to us that the things that we really craved didn’t come with price tags. Good health. More time with friends and family. One more day with loved ones lost. Worry-free mornings, when you don’t have to listen to soldiers’ names on the casualty reports or read in the local paper how another business has failed or anything else negative about the housing market.
But Mr. Sunshine got me thinking again. If someone just handed me a whole wad of cash, and I had to just pass it around to strangers, what would I do? What would really make me feel good? What anonymous acts would charge up my day?
I chewed on a bagel the next morning and jotted down my Top 10 list:
1. Drive around and give $1,000 to every costumed character or person standing on the side of the road waving a sign.
2. Visit every fundraiser car wash and donate $1,000 to each one to wash just the outside of my car.
3. Find family-owned, country restaurants, order a glass of sweet tea and leave $1,000.
4. Buy a block of UT football tickets and give them to the Boys & Girls Club. Hire the bus to take them to the game.
5. Hire Pistol Creek Catch of the Day, a Blount County band that champions many good causes with free performances, to play for a party and pay them 10 times their fee.
6. Buy a full-page ad in Blount Today for 52 weeks at the open rate. Run one of my son’s beach or mountain photos every week with the message: A friend hopes you have a really good week.
7. At my favorite Starbucks drive-through, give the guy who always remembers what I want before I order it $1,000 for my tab and the tab of the four cars behind me, with instructions that he keep the change.
8. Purchase 50 tickets to the newest animated movie and pass them out to families in front of the movie theater.
9. Send the staff at the 9-1-1 centers $1,000 gift cards to the Alcoa Wal-Mart, the most community-minded corporate store I have ever seen.
10. Go to three church services on Sunday morning and leave $1,000 in the offering plate with a note praising the church organist and pianist.
Would the list change if untold wealth suddenly came my way? Oh, probably. But on that day, with Mr. Sunshine sweltering in the heat and waving, waving, waving to every car, this was my list.
What would you do?
Sherri Gardner Howell