Just Plain Sarah Jane

by Nancy Julien Kopp -

Sarah Jane gasped when she spied a dainty white china dish in the display window of Owensby’s General Store. How many times had she heard Ma wish for something beautiful for their cabin?

The dish was only big enough to hold a few morsels of Christmas candy, or perhaps Ma’s special pickles. Shaped like a leaf, the scalloped edges were painted blue with fine gold lines curving and swirling through the color. Three ruby red and pink roses with soft green vines graced the center. Ma had nothing this pretty.

Sarah Jane slipped her hand into her pinafore pocket and fingered the smooth metal and tiny ridges of the pennies lying there. She pressed her nose against the window to see the price tag propped beside the dish. In bold black print it said “19 cents.” She rubbed the pennies once more and marched into the store.

“What do you want, Sarah Jane?” Mr. Owensby said.

He was tall and thin with a mouth that turned down and eyes that watched the merchandise in his shop like a hawk guarding its prey.

“Ma needs some white thread, Mr. Owensby. She said to put it on the bill.”

“I’ll bet she did,” the storekeeper mumbled. His mouth turned down even farther.

Sarah Jane ignored the comment. She stepped closer to the display window.

“You want something there?” Mr. Owensby asked.

“No, just looking. That little dish is the prettiest thing I ever did see.”

“Huh! May be pretty, but it isn’t practical. Folks ‘round here need practical more than pretty. Don’t know why I let that city salesman talk me into it.”

Mr. Owensby clamped his lips together and handed Sarah Jane the thread.

“Thanks,” she called as she sailed out the door. She started down the wooden walkway but backtracked for one more peek at her treasure. The roses look so real I can almost smell them, she thought. She took two quick hops and turned toward home.

She could see Pa unhitching the horses from the plow when she neared their barnyard.

Sarah Jane ran to her father. “Pa, Pa, will you give me a penny every Saturday like you promised? Will you?”

Pa grabbed hold of the harness. “Said I would. One penny every Saturday if you help me hitch up and unhitch. Hope you’ll save it, Sarah Jane, not go buying candy at Owensby’s every week.”

“Oh, I’ll save it, Pa. I’ve put aside fourteen cents already, and I’ve my eye on something special.”

“Must be mighty special to make your eyes shine so and set your feet to dancing.”

Sarah Jane stopped by Owensby’s window on her way home from school every day. In only five weeks she’d have enough to buy the dish for Ma.

Finally the day arrived when Pa gave her the last penny she needed. She tied them up in an old handkerchief and ran most of the way to town. Out of breath by the time she reached the store, she stopped to take in great gulps of air. The familiar excitement bubbled up once more, but when she turned to the window, the bubbles burst. The dish was gone. Cold fingers of fear clutched at her stomach.

She ran inside. “Mr. Owensby, where is the dish, the one with the roses?”

“Ha!” Mr. Owensby said, placing both hands on the counter and leaning forward. “Finally sold it. Lowered the price this morning, and Johnny Ripple snapped it up for Annabelle Nelson’s birthday.” His mouth turned upwards a bit, then he frowned. “Why?”

Sarah Jane’s voice trembled. “It was mine. I’ve been saving my money.” She held up the cloth bundle. “See. I have the nineteen cents here.”

“Nineteen cents! Now look what you’ve done.” Mr. Owensby’s mouth turned down farther than ever before. “You should have told me you wanted it. I sold it to that boy for twelve cents.” He pounded his fist on the counter. “You made me sell that dish at a loss. Boy got himself a real bargain, and it’s all your fault, Missy.”

Sarah Jane slipped out the door and headed straight for Annabelle’s house. All the boys liked Annabelle, but Sarah Jane knew none of the girls at school felt the same.

She bounded up the steps of Annabelle’s house and rapped on the door. Her thumping heart kept time with her knocking. When Annabelle answered, Sarah Jane lost no time in small talk. “Annabelle,” she said, “may I see the dish Johnny gave you?”

“How did you know about that?” Annabelle put her hands on her hips and stamped her foot...

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