Here’s a chapter from Guide’s Greatest Hero Stories.
Originally published in Guide on February 24, 1982
The week before his birthday, Eric received a letter from his uncle Don. Enclosed were three $1 bills. He read the letter carefully.
This isn’t all that I’m giving you for a birthday present. You are getting bigger now, and so I am giving you a challenge. Use the enclosed money to buy something, and I will match it in value. If you buy something foolish, so will I. If you buy something worthwhile, so will I. It’s up to you. I’ll see you soon.
“Look at this letter,” Eric said to his sister, Becky, who was two years younger. “How about going shopping with me on Friday when school lets out early? You can help me pick out my present.”
“I think that would be fun. But it’s three more days until Friday. That’s a long time to wait.”
“Not that long,” her brother said, “and besides, I have to do some thinking first. I have to decide what would be foolish or not foolish.”
“I think that’s going to be a hard thing to do.”
“I know it will be. And what’s more, maybe what I don’t think is foolish Uncle Don will.”
Eric thought about it all day, and after supper that evening he wrote down a list of possible things he could get for three dollars: a new model plane, a light for his bike, another Hot Wheels car, a baseball.
“Have you made up your mind yet?” Becky asked Eric on Thursday morning as they walked to school together.
“Not yet,” he said. “We can shop around tomorrow before I really decide.”
“Well,” said Becky, “I’m glad it’s not today, because I have a scratchy throat.”
By the time school was over, Becky’s throat was worse.
“Your voice sounds funny,” Eric told her on the way home from school.
“You aren’t going to go to school tomorrow,” her mother said when she looked at Becky’s throat, “and what’s more, I think you’ll be staying in bed.”
“But what about my shopping trip?” Eric wanted to know. “She promised to go shopping with me.”
“We’ll just wait and see how she is by tomorrow afternoon,” Mother said calmly. “She may be a lot better by then.”
But she wasn’t. In fact, Becky’s voice was even more hoarse the next morning, and she had a fever. Eric knew there was no way she could go with him, so that afternoon he set out for the shopping center on his own.
He had pretty well decided he was going to add another car to his Hot Wheels collection. No one could say that was a foolish present, he thought to himself. But while he hunted for the Hot Wheels location in the new big store that had just opened, he came across something he just knew he had to have.
It was a giant-sized poster of a gorilla holding a sign that read: “Nobody is going to push me around.”
I know the exact spot for it, Eric said to himself. Next to the chest of drawers on the wall near my bed. That’s going to be my motto, and I’ll see it every day.
After he paid his money and the store clerk handed him the long cardboard poster tube and his sales slip, Eric hurried outside and started for home. He could picture what his classmates would say when they saw it. When he got to the corner near his home, he began to run. He could hardly wait to hang the poster.
As the screen door slammed when he stepped into the kitchen, his mother called from the living room. “Is that you, Eric? Come here quickly.”
Eric set the cardboard tube on the kitchen table and went into the room where his mother was sitting next to the telephone.
“I’m waiting for a call from Dr. Walker,” she said. “Becky is worse than she was earlier today.”
Before Eric could say anything, the phone rang. It was the doctor, and while his mother talked to him, Eric walked to his sister’s room.
Becky opened her big brown eyes as he came close to her bed. Her face was red, and her light hair hung limply about her cheeks and forehead.
“Becky, are you all right?” Eric touched her hand.
“Just hot and thirsty,” she said, “and I want to get up. There’s nothing to do or see. Can’t I get up?”
“Not for a while, dear,” Mother said as she came in from the hallway. “Dr. Walker thinks you should stay in bed until every bit of fever is gone.”
When she heard that, Becky started to cry.
“I wanted to go to the pet show this weekend,” she said. “My friend Maureen is going to enter her lizard, Sloopy. It would have been fun to see.”
“See you later, Sis,” Eric called from the doorway. He waved his hand.
Back in the kitchen, he picked up the cardboard tube and stepped out of the house. This time he closed the door quietly, and then he ran back to the store.
Once inside, he glanced around to find the clerk who had sold him the poster. “I haven’t even had it out of the tube,” he said, “but I’ve changed my mind about it. Here is the sales slip.”
“People don’t usually return posters,” the clerk said. “I believe you will have to talk to the store manager.”
She rang a little bell next to the cash register. A few moments later a well-dressed woman walked down the aisle.
“What seems to be the problem with the poster?” the manager asked.
“There’s no problem with the poster at all,” Eric explained. “I didn’t even take it out of the tube. It’s just that my sister is sick and has to stay in bed, and I’d like to get something for her instead.”
“I am sure that will be all right,” the manager said. “Do you have any idea of what you would like to get her?”
“Oh, yes,” said Eric quickly. “She needs a pet to keep her company. I’d like to buy a goldfish and a little bowl to keep it in so that she can watch it swim around while she has to stay in bed.”
“Would you like some colored pebbles for the bottom? You’d have enough money for that, the bowl, and two fish. I believe your sister would like it.”
“I know she would,” Eric agreed. “She loves all kinds of pets.”
The store manager put the bowl and pebbles into one bag and the two fish into a small plastic box that was filled with water. Eric carried them home carefully.
“They’re for you,” he told his sister.
“Oh, thank you very much!” Becky said, and she smiled as she watched Eric fix the pebbles in the bowl and pour the goldfish and the water into it. The fish seemed delighted with their new glass home and swam over the colored pebbles.
Becky watched them a few minutes, then turned to her brother. “Oh, Eric, I can’t take these. You must have used up all of your birthday money for them.”
“Why not, Becky?” Eric insisted. “It was my money, and I could use it any way I wanted to. I wanted to make you happy. Besides, I’ll have fun watching the fish too, you know.”
When Uncle Don arrived a few days later and heard the story of the two fish, he patted Eric’s shoulder. “Congratulations, nephew. I see you met the challenge I gave you, and the gift you chose was a very thoughtful one indeed. Now I’d like you to take me to the store where you bought it.”
“It’s close enough to walk to,” Eric said. He felt good to know his uncle Don was proud of him.
The store manager saw them come in. “How did your sister like her two new pets?”
“And now,” said Uncle Don, “we’re looking for some additions to Eric’s Hot Wheels collection. They’re for his birthday.”
“And this is for your birthday too,” said the store manager after Eric had chosen the Hot Wheels he wanted. She handed Eric a long cardboard tube.
“This is one birthday I’ll always remember,” Eric said as he thanked his uncle and the store manager for their gifts.
At home when Eric opened the cardboard tube, he found a little note rolled up inside: “Sorry the gorilla poster you selected was sold, but this one has a special message too.”
Eric hung it up in the exact spot where he had planned to put the gorilla poster. Then he stepped back and looked at it. Under the picture of a large, happy elephant eating a huge peanut were the words “Good deeds always bring giant-sized happiness to others.”
“That’s something else I’ll always remember,” said Eric, and then he went to Becky’s room to show her his new Hot Wheels.
Written by Rosaleen Schmutz