by Richard Albertse
George, Southern Cape, Republic of South Africa
One sunny autumn afternoon in March 1976, a friend and I peddled hard up an incline towards his house. The sun shimmered brightly off Tom’s black, thick-framed bicycle. You would never see his bike with so much as a grain of dirt on it. I had a state-of-the-art ten-speed racing bike. I shifted gears, and as I bent over, I got a glimpse of Tom’s shining school shoes. My quiet friend was always neat and tidy, but his clothes were old and worn. Not for the first time, I wondered if he owned anything else.
We turned into a street lined with small, dilapidated railway houses. Tom opened a gate and through we went. I got off my bike and leaned it against the garage wall. It was a small, whitewashed house. The tiny patch of lawn was neatly mowed. Tom’s mother was hanging up washing a few steps from a beautiful flower bed. The three shrubs I could see were perfectly trimmed.
We went in by the back door. The kitchen had a sink cupboard with white and pink striped lace curtains; a small kitchen table with three chairs stood between a thin corner cupboard and an ancient stove. Everything was spotlessly clean.
All in all, I counted five rooms. Tom had a bed, a one-door closet, a table, and the fourth kitchen chair in his room. A couple of books leaned against the wall on one corner of the table, and on the other corner stood a model steam engine — Tom’s pride. The wheels were slightly elevated from the tabletop. Tom opened a small bottle and poured the whole contents — a few teaspoons of special fuel — into the model steam engine. He pressed a button and stood back, sighing. His face was a mask of anticipation. We held our breath. A minute or two passed. Then a wisp of thin smoke escaped the funnel. Tom leaned down and gently shifted a small lever. The machine started huffing and puffing. The wheels turned, first slowly, and then faster and faster. The smoke bellowed out in small blue-grey misty clouds. Three minutes ticked by. All too soon, the engine stuttered and died. I looked up into Tom’s face. His face was cracked open wide with a great big smile. He was so happy!
I grew up in a home where wealth was constantly gradually increasing. My wardrobe grew from two sets of hand-me-down safari suits and school clothes to a substantial number of expensive, new, fashionable clothes. I took it all for granted. We weren’t rich, but we were definitely not poor. But I was still a kid. I did not appreciate what I had… until I visited Tom’s house.
These people had almost nothing, yet they were happy and content. The contrast between my wealth and my friend Tom’s lack of it were so great. I got perspective. I will never forget how happy and content they were with so little.
It is better to have less to live with and more to live for. Thank you, Tom, for unknowingly teaching me the value of being content with what I’ve got.
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6 thoughts on “The Treasure of Contentment”
When I was growing up, we traveled all over the country, rarely staying in one place for very long. My step-dad raced greyhound dogs and it seemed like it was either feast or famine. If the dogs were running good, we had plenty, but if they were off, we had very little. At a very young age, I learned to appreciate what we had and to be happy with it. We learned to be satisfied with what we had and to work for anything else that we wanted. If you want something, the best solution is to work for it and earn it, otherwise you will probably not appreciate it as you should.
What a wonderful lesson – I am so glad you were open to learning it.
It wasn’t until I got ‘old’ that I realized my family was ‘poor’. We had good food–Mom was a great cook–and we always seemed to have what we needed. Family and love were the real treasures.
So true – our family lived through the “Great Depression” – we always had a roof over our heads and food on the table due to Mom & Dad working hard and managing well. – poor and just didn”t know it!
God is GOOD and will always be there.
It sound like you were rich in the things that are most important.
Wonderful story. We too were not well off but we still had good food on the table, solid parenting from our parents, good education from the public schools, and my brother and I both turned out fine. I am thankful to my parents, who are both gone, for being united in our upbringing and any differences were quietly worked out. May they both rest in peace knowing they did a job well done.