Sam and the Lucky Money, text copyright © 1995 by Karen Chinn. Permission arranged with Lee and Low Books, Inc., New York, NY 10016.
Sam could hardly wait to get going. He zipped up his jacket and patted his pockets. It was time to go to Chinatown for New Year’s Day!
Sam thought about sweet oranges and “lucky money”: Crisp dollar bills tucked in small red envelopes called leisees [pronounced “lay-sees”].
Sam’s grandparents gave him leisees every New Year. Each envelope was decorated with a symbol of luck. Sam’s leisees were embossed in gold.
Sam counted out four dollars. Boy, did he feel rich! His parents said he didn’t have to buy a notebook or socks as usual. This year he could spend his lucky money his way.
The streets hummed with the thump of drums and the clang of cymbals.
It seemed like everyone was shopping for New Year’s meals. There were so many people crowded around the overflowing vegetable bins that Sam had to look out for elbows and shopping bags.
Right next to the vegetable stand were two huge red-paper mounds. Sam kicked the piles with his right foot, and then with his left foot, until he created a small blizzard. On his third kick he felt his foot land on something strange.
“Aiya!” someone cried out in pain.
Startled, he looked up to find an old man sitting against the wall. The stranger was rubbing his foot. Bare feet in winter! Sam thought. Where are his shoes?
Sam stared at the man’s dirty clothes as he backed away. For once, Sam was glad to follow his mother.
In the bakery window, Sam eyed a gleaming row of fresh char siu bao, his favorite honey-topped buns. Sam wondered how many sweets he could buy with four dollars.
Sam was about to ask for buns when he noticed a full tray of New Year’s cookies. They were shaped like fish, with fat, pleated tails that looked like little toes. He couldn’t help but think about the old man again. Sam decided he wasn’t hungry after all. Suddenly, he heard a noise from outside that sounded like a thousand leaves rustling.
“Look!” he yelled. Bundles of firecrackers were exploding in the street. Rounding the corner was the festival lion, followed by a band of cymbals and drums. Sam pulled his mother outside.
The colorful lion wove down the street like a giant centipede. It came to a halt in front of a meat market, and sniffed a giant leisee that hung in the doorway. With loud fanfare, the band urged the lion toward its prize.
“Take the food! Take the money! Bring us good luck for the New Year!” Sam shouted along with the others. His heart pounded in time with the drum’s beat. With a sudden lunge, the lion devoured the leisee all in an eye-blink and continued down the street.
A large “Grand Opening” sign caught Sam’s eye. A new toy store! Just the place to spend his lucky money!
Sam ran down one aisle, then another. Then, he spotted the basketballs.
A new basketball was the perfect way to spend his lucky money. But when he saw the price tag, he got angry.
“I only have four dollars,” he shouted. “I can’t buy this.”
“What is four dollars good for?” he complained, stamping his feet.
Sam couldn’t help it. Even with all the shiny gold on them, the leisees seemed worthless.
“Sam, when someone gives you something, you should appreciate it,” his mother said as she marched him along. Sam stuffed his leisees back in his pockets. The sun had disappeared behind some clouds, and he was starting to feel the chill. He dragged his feet along the sidewalk.
Suddenly, Sam saw a pair of bare feet, and instantly recognized them. They belonged to the old man he had seen earlier. The man also remembered him, and smiled. Sam froze in his steps, staring at the man’s feet.
His mother kept walking. When she turned back to check on Sam, she noticed the old man. “Oh,” she said. “Sorry—I only have a quarter.” The man bowed his head several times in thanks.
He acts like it’s a million bucks, Sam thought, shaking his head. As they started to walk away, Sam looked down at this own feet, warm and dry in his boots.
“Can I really do anything I want with my lucky money?” he asked.
“Yes, of course,” his mother answered.
Sam pulled his leisees from his pockets. The golden dragon looked shinier than ever. He ran back and thrust his lucky money into the surprised man’s hands.
“You can’t buy shoes with this,” he told the man, “but I know you can buy some socks.” The stranger laughed, and so did Sam’s mother.
Sam walked back to his mother and took her warm hand. She smiled and gave a gentle squeeze. And as they headed home for more New Year’s celebration, Sam knew he was the lucky one.