Many happy returnables

WITH the summer's accumulation of sody-pop bottles I went to the redemption center to get my nickels back, and found the place busy. Ahead of me at the cashier's counter was a young man with a seasonal sea captain's cap who was turning in the take from a windjammer cruise. These schooners that take people out on vacation voyages are not really windjammers in terms of merchant sail of a century ago, but it's good to have the word retained. Some folks along the Maine coast call them dude boats, but the fishermen prefer ''skinboats,'' because of the sun bathing that goes on. After each voyage, and while the boat is made ready for the next batch, somebody removes the bottles and cans for redemption, and it takes quite a time for the cashier to sort and count and make payment. Behind me were a number of folks with bags and cartons who were showing impatience, and the young man in the nautical cap was still handing up more. Right behind me was a tot, supported by his mother, who would get 35 cents for his bag of bottles if he might live long enough to reach the counter.

Maine not only wisely enacted a bottle law but wisely retained it when a referendum tried to defeat it. It has rather much stopped the heaving of containers along the roads.

So here we were waiting while the windjammer total was determined, and I turned to pat the tot on the head and see if a word mightn't calm him down. His mother didn't say anything, and I turned back to wait. And when at last the windjammer fellow got his money and turned to go, I said to the mother, ''Please ,'' and made a gesture for her and her tot to pass ahead of me. I confess, this was not so much to offer manly courtesy to a female but more to keep her eager son from climbing my back with his bag of bottles.

''Oh,'' says she, ''but you were ahead of me!''

''Quite so,'' I replied with a bow, ''but I defer to you and take pleasure in offering you my place.''

''Thank you,'' she comes back at me, ''and aren't you nice!''

''Yes,'' I said, ''I am.''

Well now - you better appreciate, that did it.

The young man with the sea captain's cap was folding his money in his wallet and hadn't yet left, so he turned to look at me with a grin. The mother pushed the lad ahead and turned to thank me again, this time with a tinkly laugh that repaid me a thousandfold. And the folks in the line behind us joined in the good feeling and I could sense that the impatience of waiting in line had been eased. We were no strangers now, but good friends brought together by a laugh. The mother boosted the boy up to the counter so he could get his seven bottles counted, and, shedding her commercial indifference, the cashier chucked him under the chin and said, ''Now, young man, what are you going to do with all this money?''

Everybody up and down the line was listening for his answer, but his mother said, ''He's money mad. Every cent he gets goes in his pig. He'll be a lemonade millionaire before he's in school.''

He had his 35 cents clutched in a fist as his mother set him to the floor and started to lead him away by the other hand. She paused by the doorway to turn with a smile and say, '' 'Bye, now!'' The cashier said, '' 'Bye, and have a good day!''

A man far back in the line made as good an answer to that threadbare remark as I have ever heard. He said, ''We just did.''

The cashier ticked off my total and paid me in an affable manner I had never expected there, and continued to banter with the next in line. I was pleased that I had engendered some amusement. Instead of coming home by the numbered highway, I turned and drove the winding road that follows the coves and passes the summer homes. It is a pleasant ride, and just before I came to Maplejuice Cove I saw a shine in the roadside grass. It was a root beer can, and I will get 5 cents for it the next time I go to the redemption center. The bottle law is a good thing, and I speak highly of it.

And, if you believe me, I really am nice.

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