Horace Zurlo was an old man. He had been an old man for an extraordinarily long time. Even Mrs. Botkin down the street, who had known him for more years than she cared to admit, couldn’t remember a time when Horace was young. He was crotchety, the kids on the block would say. He was grumpy, said the clerks at the supermarket where he shopped, and Ethel at the post office agreed wholeheartedly. Horace didn’t think he was old. Of course he knew his own exact age, although he wouldn’t tell anyone. Officer Dompsky had stopped him a few years ago for not stopping at a STOP sign, and so had seen Horace’s driver’s license. Date of Birth: 08-05-13. He knew that Horace was 82 years old. He told his wife Madge. Madge told Ethel. Ethel told Mrs. Botkin. Mrs. Botkin told Horace. Horace got mad,and swore he was going to move away and find a place that wasn’t full of busybodies, where people would just leave a man in peace. But of course he didn’t. Horace had lived right there on that street for all but one of his 82 years. He wasn’t going any place now.
Horace was unhappy. Folks thought that was why he acted so grumpy and crotchety and so “old.” “What can we do to cheer up Horace?” all the neighbors asked each other. They tried to give him a surprise birthday party the year after Officer Dompsky found out how old he was,but Horace refused to come. It was a grand party; everyone who did come had a great time. But of course it didn’t do anything to make Horace happy. Neighbors would send him presents for no reason at all. Horace would say “Thank you,” but he didn’t seem to improve any in the happiness department. After a while everyone just came to the conclusion that Horace liked being unhappy, and that he wasn’t going to change, and so they just left him alone.
Unknown to his neighbors, Horace had his own plan for happiness. In a few years, he told himself, when he was indeed “old,” he was going to buy happiness. He was going to pay for it with a fine silver spoon that he had inherited from his own grandmother many years ago. Just having such a fine spoon would have been enough to make most folks happy, particularly one with such family connections. But no, not Horace. To him it was just a means to an end.
Horace wasn’t quite sure where one went to find happiness, even when one had such a fine silver spoon to trade for it. He would figure that out one of these days, when he was “older.” So while he waited, he would periodically go down to the cellar behind the shelves of canned vegetables, and take out a small brass box in which he kept valuable items. Among them was grandmother’s spoon. He would look at it, admire it for it was beautiful, clean it with a soft cloth to retard tarnish, and put it back.
On August 1st, just before Horace’s 83rd birthday, he suddenly decided the time had come. He went down to the cellar, got the silver spoon, wrapped it in a cotton cloth, and slipped it into a fanny pack that he strapped to his waist. Then he set off downtown to see if he could find some happiness.
He took the number 87 bus, the same one he had been riding to town for years. He got it right by the post office, and it would drop him off right at Rosenbaum’s department store on Liberty Avenue. They had several floors of merchandise. Maybe they carried happiness. Horace was whistling, something he hadn’t done in a long time.
He got off the bus and waited for the light to say “Walk!” and when it changed he stepped off the curb and hurried across the street. Just at that moment a taxi-cab that was running the red light blared its horn and came within an inch of hitting Horace. If he hadn’t leaped for the far curb he would have been a goner. He hit the street hard, tumbling over and knocking the wind out of himself, but was otherwise unhurt. He was very scared and mad and annoyed, but shouting a few choice epithets in the direction of the speeding cab helped him get over that.
As he brushed himself off and straightened his socks, Horace realized that his fanny pack was missing. A quick look all around him found it, lying in the middle of the street. He spotted it just in time to see it disappear under the wheels of a city trash truck. As soon as the truck passed, Horace ran back into the street and grabbed his pack. It had a lovely tire tread pattern, and it was flat. “My spoon!” gasped Horace. A quick peek in the pack confirmed that it too was flat.
Horace was beside himself. Of what value was a flattened spoon,even so fine a spoon as this? Surely no one would take it in trade for anything, much less something so dear as happiness. Discouraged and despondent Horace took the next bus home. For quite a while his neighbors noted, he was even more grumpy and crotchety than his norm.
Horace didn’t have many relatives. One of the few was his cousin Agnes, whom he visited once or twice a year. He really didn’t like her all that much, but she had been his mother’s “favorite niece,” and so Horace had always tried to at least be nice to her. If truth be known, Horace was more than a bit jealous of Agnes. In his mind she was rich, and had a big house and lots of fine things. She was a happy person, and a little of that always rubbed off on Horace. But it seldom lasted long.
So he decided to visit Cousin Agnes, and as he always did, looked around for something to take as a little gift. Agnes had everything, she needed nothing, so Horace usually didn’t put much effort into deciding what to take. “I think I will take her this useless old spoon,” he thought.
Agnes was delighted! The spoon had been her grandmother’s too, and even though it was no longer spoon-shaped, she loved it. “I have everything I need,” she told Horace. “I am thrilled to get something I don’t need at all, but which means so very much to me!” She gave Horace a big hug, and a little kiss on the cheek too, and it had been a long time since they had been kissing cousins. “You have made me so happy!”
Horace had never been much of a giver. His gifts to Agnes had always been token kinds of of things, and he never gave anything to anyone else. But he found himself pleased to see Agnes so happy, and it made him happy to feel that way. Since happiness and Horace had been strangers for so long it was an unusual feeling indeed. But he liked it! He wished he had another spoon to give to Agnes.
Suddenly Horace realized that grandmother’s spoon had indeed been traded for happiness. He always knew he would figure out how to do that! He and Agnes had the loveliest visit they had had in years, and the next week Horace treated her to dinner at Gambucci’s–her favorite restaurant, he had remembered. His neighbors noticed the difference right away, but they were wise enough not to inquire of Horace, just in case such inquiry might break the spell and give them back the grouch. They just enjoyed it, particularly when Horace started sending them presents, and when he announced that next year HE would host a neighborhood birthday party.
The moral of the story is simply this: you don’t have to have a silver spoon to find happiness, but it certainly might help.