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The man looked nervously at me. I' did not envy him. The people around us had started to grin and nudge one another. I looked at John. Like most parents, I am continually astonished by the facets of character and temperament that my children turn up almost daily for my uneasy inspection. I did not know precisely what was going on in John's mind. But I know John.
He is not afraid of new experiences. But he likes to tackle them in his own way. This way is not always comprehensible to others. I could see that being taken to his first football game, and overhearing his first discussion of betting odds, had catapulted him into a hitherto unsuspected area of life.
And I was certain that in John's mind, which is a good one, he had once again worked out his own method of exploring the new terrain. I saw no reason for confusing him by insisting his method was wrong before he had an opportunity to try it.
"If that's the way he wants it," I said to the man in the camel's hair coat, "I guess that's the way it will have to be."
The man shrugged. I could see that he regretted having become involved in what had started as a cute interlude with a small boy and, somewhat to his irritated astonishment, had mushroomed into something quite different.
"Okay with me, mister," he said. There was a slight edge in his voice. "But you know what's going to happen."
On the drive home, during which John sat in happy silence, clutching his two one dollar bills, I thought it my duty as a parent to point out to him a hard fact that, while it might dim his present pleasure, would be useful to him later.
"If you had taken the odds that man wanted to give you, and to which you were entitled, you would have won three times as much," I said. "Instead of two dollars, you would now have four."
"I know," John said in the untroubled voice that belongs only to the very young, "but all I wanted to win was one dollar."