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The man with the silver dollar

Every once in a while as we travel through life, we come across a person who brings a smile to our face, whether we get to know them well or not.

Let me say it another way. We cross paths with so many people as we go through life, but only a few cause us to stop for a moment, look back and say, yes, there’s the real deal, an ordinary, but yet a very extraordinary person. Ed Olson was one of those people to me.

I knew Ed for less than one year. I met him and his wife of 63 years, Lorelee, as they were contemplating selling their beautiful home. Another realtor and I partnered to list their well-groomed acreage with a curved driveway, mature trees and water on three sides. As we talked around their dining room table, what I noticed about Ed very quickly was a speech pattern influenced by a difficulty to inhale enough breath to complete some sentences. In so doing, it caused me to listen very intently to what he was saying. And the more I heard, the more I liked what I heard. I quickly noticed that he was a very detailed man. It was obvious by the notes he took of our discussions, and even more noticeable as he gave us a tour of the property. He cared about the small things as well as the large. And in his caring, he was not so much into controlling every detail, as he was just plain interested, feeling that nearly everything was worthy of his attention. Perhaps some of that stemmed from his military training early in life; but I think, more, it was a simple enjoyment of life and the details that make a good life worth living.

Those who knew Ed longer and better than I did could say this much better, but it was quite evident to us realtors that the sale of their home at this stage in their lives was motivated by Ed’s concern for Lorelee’s future without him. Though unspoken, the acceptance of his own forthcoming death inspired his desire to do the best thing for her while he still had the chance. After 63 years of commitment to her, there was yet one more thing he could do: get her moved to a less demanding home. That selfless attitude will speak volumes to his children and grandchildren, as it becomes part of his lasting legacy.

On nearly every visit to the Olson’s place, what caused me to leave with a smile on my face were Ed’s stories. There was a story connected to countless possessions he had collected throughout his long life. Every rifle had a hunting story. The lawn mower, the toolbox, and the picture on the wall – each had a purpose and a story. But the story that topped them all was the one Lorelee told at his funeral.

It seems that back in 1946, the summer after Ed graduated from high school, a carnival came to town. One of the attractions was one of these kiosks with a glass box of prizes and a little crane, which, for a dime, you could manipulate by turning a little wheel. Whatever you could hook with the crane and drop off at the side was your prize. In my experience, these are pretty much a rip-off in that the crane is not exactly predictable in how it moves to your turning of the wheel, and that the prizes usually are not easily snagged – which makes the endeavor rather like scooping water with a fork. But somehow Ed got hold of a silver dollar and safely delivered it to the chute on the side. The carnival employee offered him a paper dollar in lieu of the silver dollar, but Ed insisted on getting the real deal. So off he went with a silver dollar in his pocket – a nearly new silver dollar, which, over many years, would become the subject of a remarkable story.

Ed carried it in his pocket everywhere, all the time. It was like his good luck charm, a prized possession. As he and Lorelee were dating, she became well aware of the silver dollar and how much it meant to Ed. He was never without it. But one day, early in their married life, and long before credit cards, he found himself at the grocery store counter without enough money to pay for his purchases. Reluctantly, he reached deep into his pocket. We can just see him, glancing at the silver dollar one last time before flicking it onto the counter. The clerk scooped it up, probably made some change, and dropped it into the cash register. At home that evening, Ed mentioned the sad episode to Lorelee, and they thought that would be that. A deep sigh, and life would go on. But there would be more to the story.

It seems Lorelee had a job as a cashier at the local bank. The next morning the proprietor of the grocery store came in with his deposit from the previous day’s business. As luck would have it, he chose to come to Lorelee’s window. As he spilled the cash out onto the counter, guess what immediately caught her eye? Yup, Ed’s silver dollar. She coolly processed the pile of cash and handed the man his deposit slip. But as soon as he was out of sight, Lorelee snatched a paper dollar bill from her purse and swapped it for the somewhat worn silver dollar. At dinner that night she said, “Have I got a surprise for you!” We can just imagine Ed’s smile as she handed it to him.

A few years later it seems Ed and Lorelee went swimming at Diamond Lake. At the public access swimming area there were separate but open changing facilities for men and women. Now this was long before keyed lockers, steel gates and cell phones. People just hung their clothes on a nail in a row along the wall, along with everyone else’s clothing. But that is not to say that everyone in this earlier time was entirely trustworthy. It seems that when Ed came back from swimming, his pants pockets were bare. Guess what was missing. On a whim, he drove into town to the little general store and asked the store owner if any kids had been in that day to buy candy, and did they perhaps buy it with a silver dollar? An odd question, for sure, but upon reflection, perhaps they did, he said. Yup. There was the prized dollar again, by now a little more worn for wear. Back into Ed’s pocket it went.

Years went by. Ed worked at a farm implement dealership for quite a few years, but eventually found himself the postmaster at a local post office. Every day he would faithfully take the dollar to work and lay it on the dresser at home that evening. On weekend hunting trips he would have it in his pocket as he trekked through woods and across swamps and prairie. Never would he make a big thing about it. Many of his closest friends did not even know about it, but the dollar was always with him, work or play.

On one particular hunting trip, after walking for a whole day, the party set up camp in a suitable spot. As they settled in for the night, Ed made a regretful discovery. A hole had worn in his pants pocket, and all of its contents had dribbled out, including…the silver dollar. So distressed was he, that while his buddies were planning the next day’s hunt, all he could think of was the silver dollar, possibly abandoned to the ages. And that disturbed him. So the next day, while the others went on, he retraced his steps from the previous day. Can we say, “Needle in a haystack?” Through woods, across swamps and prairie grass, Ed retraced his footsteps from the day before. A small encouragement sprung up in the form of a small coin found on the trail. A dime. So on he went. Then a nickel. OK, to keep a short story short, yup, next he found his silver dollar. One hunt over, the other resumed with the by-now well-worn silver dollar back in Ed’s pocket.

With a twinkle in his eye he would recite the story of his silver dollar to anyone who would listen, “I spent it, lost it and had it stolen, but I still have it!” He got as much of a kick out of telling the story as we do hearing it.

In truth, the coin is not worth much now. All the engraving is gone – no date, no borders, no printing at all remains. It is just a flat, round piece of silver. Its value is in its story, the story of one man’s life well lived and the symbolism of his character. A story of commitment and loyalty in all things throughout the 68 years he carried it. A story of doing the right thing for those around him, whether military buddies, civilian friends, God and family. That was the Ed I got to know in the year before his passing.

The coin? Well Lorelee still has it. Ed had left it tucked in a bedroom drawer, nearly invisible under another newer silver dollar. We wonder if he might have left it there intentionally, as if to feign another loss and glorious rediscovery. We will never know; he took the secret with him. Lorelee says she thought of putting it in the casket with him but thought better of it, and we agree. It is better now displayed openly to remind his loved ones of his life and laughter. This time, he won’t be back for it.

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