I’ll admit it. I bought a lottery ticket yesterday. And in honor of my dad, I bought one for my daughter, too.
My mom would not approve. She detested gambling in any form.
But my dad would nod his head and laugh. He once won $20,000 in a high stakes Bingo game that he paid $200 to enter. Mom scowled at him each time he boarded a bus with a group of other retired people and traveled to North Carolina for a weekend of Bingo. He always hoped he would win in spite of the odds, and he did.
Mom still disapproved, but she never again said anything when Dad bought us lottery tickets every now and then for our birthdays or Christmas.
That $20,000 was more money than my parents had ever possessed at one time up to that point in their lives. It was over six times as much as they had paid for the only home they ever owned—a home paid for with a high interest mortgage that took years for them to pay off. And though Mom tempered her enthusiasm in front of her children, both my parents were ecstatic.
That year at Christmas, their gifts to us were a little more lavish, but they put most of the money into a savings account so they would have a cushion they had never before had. And as long as Dad lived, his eyes lit up when he told the story of winning that money and reminded us how much interest it had earned.
As my daughter and I bought our tickets, a county policeman stood behind us in line, waiting patiently to buy a bottle of water and a snack. He laughed and said, “There’s no point in wasting your money on those. I already bought the winning ticket yesterday.”
“Well,” I said as we walked out the door of the convenience store, “if we don’t win, I hope you do.”
My husband grinned when we got home and showed him our tickets. And my daughter promised him she would share with him if she wins. He asked her what she would do with her share, and she told him she would buy her first house.
For us, buying the tickets was a lark. We all have jobs that keep us comfortable, though they will never make us rich.
Until this afternoon, I hadn’t given the tickets another thought. I did a workshop for teachers at a school near the Beltway and got a late start home in heavy rush hour traffic. The commute took an hour, and I trudged wearily into the house, groaning to my husband, “Well that was certainly a long day.”
He empathized and teased me that perhaps I could retire if I won the lottery.
“You know,” he said, “I heard today that you and I—you, who aren’t even Catholic—stand a better chance of being canonized as a saint than of winning that money.”
I laughed. He sounded a little like my mom, though she said such things without any trace of humor.
This evening I’ve thought about what a luxury it is to laugh about purchasing a lottery ticket. And then I think about all the people who have spent money they can scarcely afford, desperate for any chance at changing their circumstances. And I find myself imagining what it would be like if, instead of one person or a few people getting all that money, each of those desperate people would win $20,000. Seeing a sea of faces that remind me of my father’s smile might even be better than winning the lottery myself.
So tell me, if you or someone you know can’t win the lottery, what is the story you would write instead?