For good or bad, children learn from their parents behavior

At a Thanksgiving luncheon, I was holding my 18-month-old nephew, Tripp, as I visited tables, speaking to folks. I stopped and greeted a friend, patting him on the back. Tripp watched quietly, then leaned down, stretching out his little arm and patting Billy in that awkward, uncoordinated way that babies have.

I chuckled, realizing that Tripp had simply emulated what he had seen me do. Children are like that. They, more often than not, simply grow up imitating those they watch. Good or bad.

My heart always warms at thoughts of Daddy's many generosities. Each Christmas, I think often of a financially bleak year when he gave away part of his property tax money because he found someone who needed it more than he did.

As much as I love that story from my childhood, there is another that still moves me as deeply as it did the December afternoon when I was 5.

Remember dime stores? Mama and I were shopping a few days before Christmas in an old-fashioned one with ancient, unvarnished hardwood floors. While Mama shopped for Christmas odds and ends, I wandered around the magical, dimly lit store until she called, "C'mon. I'm ready to check out."

Running my fingers across the edge of the display tables, I trailed behind her to the check-out counter. A young man, perhaps 17 or 18 years old, was handing his merchandise to the clerk. There were a couple of costume baubles, a bottle of cologne and a scarf of which he seemed particularly proud as he tenderly handed it to the clerk. It was obvious, even to a child, that he was doing his Christmas shopping.

I folded my arms, placed them on the counter and rested my chin there as I watched him. Excited, he waited as she rang it up.

"That'll be $4.87."

Carefully, he counted out dollar bills and change. Suddenly, panic sprang across his face. He didn't have enough.

"Oh no," he whispered. "That's all I've got."

The clerk shrugged. "Well, you'll just have to put somethin' back."

Tears welled in his eyes. He dropped his head.

"How much does he need?" Mama asked.

"Thirty-seven cents."

Wordlessly, she counted out the coins into the clerk's hand. The young man swung his head around with pure, heartfelt gratitude in his eyes. A million dollars would not have meant more.

"Thank you," he said softly, sincerely. Mama smiled and nodded silently. Bag in hand, he walked to the old wooden doors and pushed one open. He turned around and took one last smiling look at Mama, his angel. And then he was gone.

Mama didn't see that last look. But I did. And I have never forgotten it.

Just as Tripp reminded me, children learn by watching.

Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of "What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should)" and "The Town That Came A-Courtin'."