My Grandmother Hattie was a frugal person who seldom threw anything away. She was born in the late 1800’s and lived through the Great Depression. On her kitchen stove she kept a used Crisco can to store bacon drippings and other leftover cooking fats. When the can was full, she packed her wooden picnic basket with homemade jam, canned peaches, bread, other staples, and that can full of what I considered gross stuff.
She invited me to ride along to deliver this gift basket to the “Goat Lady’s” home. I called her the Goat Lady because she raised a few goats that lived with her in a rundown shack, but her real name was Carrie. After a few honks of our car’s horn, Carrie appeared. Clad in mismatched layers of shabby clothing, she was a rather shocking sight to my seven-year-old eyes.
Grandma seemed unaffected as she comfortably chatted with her friend. We shared the contents of the basket with Carrie, who carefully put each item into an old cloth flour sack. Her gnarled, dirty hands held the Crisco can separately, as if to protect an expensive treasure. Then she exclaimed, “Thank you for your kindness! I especially enjoy this!” as she pointed to the Crisco can with a huge grin. “It’s really delicious on bread and pancakes.”
Over the years numerous individuals benefitted from my Grandmother’s kindheartedness. She was as comfortable with the rich as she was with the poor, and she inspired me to find simple ways to be kind to others, no matter their status.
My mother also modeled kindness. She, too, lived through the Great Depression and learned to live on limited means. One of the most beautiful acts of kindness I ever received from Mom involved a Christmas gift. Each Christmas season our family received a special holiday edition of the Sear’s catalogue. Pictures of beautiful dolls and other wonderful toys covered the pages of this magnificent edition. It was the early 50s, and I saw a play kitchen I desperately wanted. Not realizing my parents couldn’t afford to purchase this for me, I listed it as the number one item on my Christmas list.
Mom must have found the idea for my dream kitchen in one of her ladies’ magazines. Dad found some discarded wooden crates, which Mom fastened together to form a small stove with an oven, a refrigerator, and a cupboard. She covered each with shiny white oil cloth. They fastened metal tin can lids were on top of the stove as burners, and red wooden knobs adorned each piece. That Christmas morning was my most memorable one!
Years later as a young mother, I began to understand the “cost” of my mother’s kindness. Exhausted after long days of caring for her family, with few of the conveniences we enjoy today, she gave up some much needed sleep for weeks to show her love in such a generous way. I am so thankful for a thoughtful mother who taught me that sometimes kindness involves sacrificing my needs for others.
Dad was a WWII hero when he returned home to Watkins Glen, New York, and married my mother. He knew most everyone in our small village because he worked as a butcher at Teemley’s Market, and was friendly and courteous to all his customers. Dad also knew several destitute men that lived in dilapidated sheds near the railroad tracks. Sometimes he invited one of them for a home cooked meal. Mom never knew when that might happen, but we always had plenty of hearty food to share.
As young kids, we watched in astonishment the first time Dad arrived home from work, announced the arrival of his last-minute guest, and seated him at our dinner table. I distinctly remember Acey sitting there with the biggest smile on his filthy face, enjoying a delicious meal. Dad conversed with him as naturally as he did with any other guest. Just as his mother Hattie had treated Carrie, Dad treated Acey with kindness, overlooking his unkempt and smelly condition.
How blessed I am to have sketches of kindness from my childhood indelibly engraved in my memory! It reminds me of a quote: “Kindness is like snow- It beautifies everything it covers.” Kahlil Gibran
Karen Wasiczko writes from the Pacific Northwest.
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