Mom and Pop Klaus were the only names I ever knew them by. When my family moved to Amarillo in 1953, this hardy couple with a heavy Scandanavian accent lived across the vacant lot just north of us.

We soon learned that the Klauses owned and ran several A&W Root Beer stands in our town. He worked long, hard hours in this thriving enterprise.

One Saturday afternoon, Pop Klaus showed up on our front porch and rang our doorbell — a most unusual event. We usually dinged his!

“Is Gene free tonight?” Pop asked my surprised mother. Then he explained, “One of my workers quit this morning. Can Gene fill in for him tonight?”

Pop had no idea how much his request thrilled me. I was just 14 at the time, but I’d already held half a dozen jobs and loved all of them. Now here was a paying job in our new town. Wow!

It didn’t take me long that night to catch on to the specialized skill of filling ice-covered heavy glass mugs with root beer. I filled dozens of mugs for the carhops, and funneled their burger orders to the cook, and made change for them to give to their drive-in customers.

We stayed busy. Every minute. All evening long. And everything seemed to go smoothly until Pop switched off the outside lights and tallied up the cash drawer. On the first count, it was $20 short. So he sorted through the cash again. Still short.

As we drove back to our neighborhood late that night, Pop was in sour mood. The opposite of his usual jolly-elf persona. He never accused me outright, but it was obvious that he thought his new worker — like so many before me — had tapped the till that night.

Pop never asked me to work for him again. But one afternoon several months later, he showed up again on our front porch. Mom answered the doorbell, and Pop told her, “I need to talk to Gene.” She summoned me from my bedroom/hang-out.

“I owe you an apology,” Pop said rather sheepishly. “That night when you worked for me and we came up short in the cash drawer, you knew that I blamed you. But I was wrong. Today when we tore out that old order shelf, stuck to the root beer dribbled behind the cash drawer we found that $20 bill.”

I never saw a finer example of humility or honesty than when Pop Klaus stood there with regret etched on his face and told me, a kid, “I had to come tell you that.” He didn’t have to, but he did.

 

Gene Shelburne is minister of the Anna Street Church of Christ, 2310 Anna Street, Amarillo, Texas. Contact him at GeneShel@aol.com, or get his books and magazines at www.annastreetchurch.com. His column has run on the Faith page for three decades.