Christmas may only come once a year but the joy of giving can brighten any day. Former Monett businessman J.D. Pilkenton had one of those experiences the other day on the way to Shell Knob.
Pilkenton and his business partner John Jones bought Modern Variety in Monett from Charles and Edna Main in 1968. Pilkenton bought full ownership of the business in 1986 and retired himself in 1996, leaving his son, Ben, to run the Monett store and his son, Scott, in charge of the Aurora store. The senior Pilkenton still hauls freight for the two stores and plays regularly at the Monett golf course.
On this occasion, Pilkenton and his wife, Carol Ann, both of whom live in Aurora, were making their regular Friday drive to Shell Knob to play bridge with friends at the community center. Around 10 a.m. they crossed the Flat Creek bridge and were approaching the Cato store.
"I just observed something that looked like a dollar bill of some kind in the road. I was just sure of it. There wasn't a good place to stop so I pulled into the Cato store and told my wife I was going back. She said it was too dangerous but I was convinced."
Pilkenton jogged the 100 yards back down the road, which was quite busy with traffic at the time. He got to the spot and was startled at his discovery.
"There, to my amazement, was a $100 bill in the middle of the road. I didn't expect that at all," he said.
Instinctively Pilkenton picked up the bill and a Russell Stover candy box lying nearby which he used to hide the money. His mind was racing.
"I didn't know if it was a set-up or what to think," Pilkenton said. "I looked the ditch and saw hundred dollar bills scattered in the weeds. It wasn't a windy day. The breeze from the passing cars had blown the money there. Some Angus heifers in a nearby field came up to see what I was doing. They would have gobbled the bills up if it had been a breezy day. I saw an Arvest Bank envelope and picked it up. I started hiding the bills under the candy box.
"I was pretty frightened, finding that kind of money," Pilkenton said. "I gathered it all and jogged back to our car."
At that point, another car drove up from the north and pulled into the store as well. A woman got out looking worried and anxious.
"She said, 'I just threw a bunch of money out the window,' " Pilkenton said, "She said she was eating candy 'real fast,' needed to get rid of the box and threw it out her car. The money had been in the lid of the candy box. 'Sir, I do not lie,' she said.
"I told her my name and asked what denomination was the money in. She said hundred dollar bills. I asked her how much. She said $1,000. I told her I'd just picked up money from the road and suggested, 'Let's count it.' "
There were 10 bills, confirming the woman's story in Pilkenton's mind, candy box and all. He turned the money over to woman, who said she was from Shell Knob. She accepted it gratefully and left.
"I was just glad to get the money back to its proper owner," Pilkenton said. "I was going to call the sheriff or put a notice in the paper. My sole intention was to return it. I was happy. She was happy."
Pilkenton came out of the experience with a story to tell his bridge partners, who knew the woman in question, and his golf partners, who found the tale unbelievable. Unlike many a golf game, this story had a happy ending. That made the telling all the more satisfying, especially at Christmastime.