The Value of Money

I’m reading Laura Ingall’s Wilder’s Farmer Boy to my four kids again.  The chapter titled “Independence Day” has a story that never ceases to resonate with me.

I don’t know why, but I can’t read it aloud without crying.

Perhaps it’s nostalgia for my own hard-work, conservative, country raising.  Or because I understand that the value of money has been undermined by an out-of-control central authority.  Maybe it’s the knowledge that, contrary to its current status, money should be sound and trust-worthy, a thing of integrity and honor.

In any case, I feel compelled to share the story with you here.  I hope the excerpt brings some emotion to you, too.

Father was a little way down the street, talking to Mr. Paddock, the wagon maker. Almanzo walked slowly toward them. He was faint-hearted, but he had to go. The nearer he got to Father, the more he dreaded asking for a nickel. He had never before thought of doing such a thing. He was sure Father would not give it to him.

He waited until Father stopped talking and looked at him.

“What is it, son?” Father asked.

Almanzo was scared. “Father,” he said.

“Well, son?”

“Father,” Almanzo said, “would you — would you give me — a nickel?”

He stood there while Father and Mr. Paddock looked at him, and he wished he could get away. Finally Father asked:

“What for?”

Almanzo looked down at his moccasins and muttered:

“Frank had a nickel. He bought lemonade.”

“Well,” Father said, slowly, “if Frank treated you, it’s only right you should treat him.” Father put his hand in his pocket. Then he stopped and asked:

“Did Frank treat you to lemonade?”

Almanzo wanted so badly to get the nickel that he nodded. Then he squirmed and said:

“No, Father.”

Father looked at him a long time. Then he took out his wallet and opened it, and slowly he took out a round, big silver half-dollar. He asked:

“Almanzo, do you know what this is?”

“Half a dollar,” Almanzo answered.

“Yes. But do you know what half a dollar is?”

Almanzo didn’t know it was anything but half a dollar.

“It’s work, son,” Father said. “That’s what money is; it’s hard work.”

Mr. Paddock chuckled. “The boy’s too young, Wilder,” he said. “You can’t make a youngster understand that.”

“Almanzo’s smarter than you think,” said Father.

Almanzo didn’t understand at all. He wished he could get away. But Mr. Paddock was looking at Father just as Frank had looked at Almanzo when he double-dared him, and Father had said Almanzo was smart, so Almanzo tried to look like a smart boy. Father asked:

“You know how to raise potatoes, Almanzo?”

“Yes,” Almanzo said.

“Say you have a seed potato in the spring, what do you do with it?”

“You cut it up,” Almanzo said.

“Go on, son.”

“Then you harrow — first you manure the field, and plow it. Then you harrow, and mark the ground. And plant the potatoes, and plow them, and hoe them. You plow and hoe them twice.”

“That’s right, son. And then?”

Then you dig them and put them down cellar.”

“Yes. Then you pick them over all winter; you throw out all the little ones and the rotten ones. Come spring, you load them up an haul them here to Malone, and you sell them. And if you get a good price, son, how much do you get to show for all that work? How much do you get for half a bushel of potatoes?”

“Half a dollar,” Almanzo said.

“Yes,” said Father. “That’s what’s in this half-dollar, Almanzo. The work that raised half a bushel of potatoes is in it.”

Almanzo looked at the round piece of money that Father held up. It looked small, compared with all that work.

“You can have it, Almanzo,” Father said. Almanzo could hardly believe his ears. Father gave him the heavy half-dollar.

“It’s yours,” said Father. “You could buy a sucking pig with it, if you want to. You could raise it, and it would raise a litter of pigs, worth four, five dollars apiece. Or you can trade that half-dollar for lemonade, and drink it up. You do as you want, it’s your money.”

Almanzo forgot to say thank you. He held the half-dollar a minute, then he put his hand in his pocket and went back to the boys by the lemonade stand. The man was calling out,

“Step this way, step this way! Ice-cold lemonade, pink lemonade, only five cents a glass! Only half a dime, ice-cold pink lemonade! The twentieth part of a dollar!”

Frank asked Almanzo:

“Where’s the nickel?”

“He didn’t give me a nickel,” said Almanzo, and Frank yelled:

“Yah, yah! I told you he wouldn’t! I told you so!”

“He gave me half a dollar,” said Almanzo.

The boys wouldn’t believe it till he showed them. Then they crowded around, waiting for him to spend it. He showed it to them all, and put it back in his pocket.

“I’m going to look around,” he said, “and buy me a good little sucking pig.”


I love ag.  I love the books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder and edited by her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, that celebrate ag production, improvement and integrity.