This year, World Kindness Day falls on Nov. 13 and World Kindness Week was from Feb. 9 to 15. It’s an unofficial holiday celebrated around the world by organizations or localities, to encourage people to do unexpected things for others without expecting something in return.
I thought about the many people in my own life who have contributed random acts of kindness to me. Maybe it’s time to go to my memory bank and honor these people through my “random words of kindness.”
When I was nine through 11 years old, I had to walk a long country road to the school bus alone. I especially hated winter months when I had to drag my small body through high snow drifts to get home. I couldn’t begin to tell you how many times, in winter, as I was walking to the front of the bus, I heard Oscar, the driver, say, “Carole, do you want to sleep at our house tonight?” I always said “yes.”
I had another angel looking after me during the winter. An elderly lady, who lived in Siegfriedsdale near the bus stop, invited me to stand in her foyer while waiting for the bus.
As a child, I loved to read, but living in the country on the farm in the 50s, my parents couldn’t afford to have reading books in the house. We did have a small bookcase at the one-room school, but I had read those books over and over already. Then one Christmas my brother, Lester, and his wife arrived with presents for all of us kids. My gift was an illustrated encyclopedia. I was elated to have a book to call my very own that year!
Later in Lester’s marriage, they moved to Pennsylvania. One year, when they were going to Florida to visit his wife’s family, they invited me along. Pop wasn’t one to travel, so this was a great treat for me. I had never been out of Pennsylvania before, nor had I ever seen the ocean.
My mother never drove a car. In those days, most mothers didn’t work outside the home. Once I was a teenager, I think Mom was determined to have her own spending money. She found herself a cleaning job in the city and went there via the bus. There were times she’d shop before she came home and surprise me with a new outfit. I always liked the clothes she bought me, even though I was a teen. I’m sure she could have used her “cleaning money” for herself, but on a few occasions she bought me clothes.
Mom always had a cake for us kids when it was our birthday, but we never had a party. When I turned 16, my sister, Dorothy, now married, surprised me with a Sweet Sixteen party. Although I very much appreciated the party and my girlfriends, she forgot one thing... The boys! I forgave her.
When I was a young mother in the hospital giving birth, my sister, Mary Alice, came to our home. She went through all the rooms and gathered the dirty laundry. She’d bundle it up, take it to her home, wash and fold it and bring it back in a few days. On one occasion, it was false labor and she had already done the laundry until I arrived home unexpectedly the same day. When the baby finally arrived, she came again and did the laundry. At this time, I had a wringer washer, so it was a real treat to have the laundry done the first week home.
When my daughter, Kim, was 13 years old, she did some baby sitting for a couple who had a gift shop. That Christmas, instead of spending all her earnings on herself, I received a large framed painting of a farm scene, which hung on the wall in the living room many years.
When I was divorced and on my own, I took the kids to Fleetwood, the town we had lived in, for the Halloween Parade. When it was time to go home, my car wouldn’t start. My ex-son-in-law, Dale, was nearby and came over to help. He, too, couldn’t start my car. He then said, “Take my car and get the kids home. I’ll get over for it tomorrow and you can figure out what to do about your car.” Isn’t it nice when exes help you out without any concern about the past?
It was in my late 30s, I became a working girl, after my divorce. I was quite happy to have a great job, but I didn’t have much of a wardrobe at the time. One day, my sister, Jannetta, arrived at my door with three different colored slacks she sewed up for me. The colors were all plain and would go with most any colored blouse. I was grateful for a seamstress in the family who went out of her way to help her “baby sister.”
Once winter arrived in my new job, I couldn’t afford a new winter coat. One day, my supervisor, Mrs. Gilbert, came to my office with a large bag and said, “Carole, I just bought myself a new winter coat. Could you use my tan wool coat? I’m sure it will fit you.” That was the nicest, most expensive coat I ever had.
My husband and I married in our 40s. It was my second marriage and my husband’s first. I had children, but my husband didn’t. Later, my daughter, Tina, and her husband, had their first child. Both of them had a father that died when they were 15, so the children wouldn’t have a grandpa. Then one day Tina asked my husband, “Could the children call you Pop Pop?” He was delighted and has been a great Pop Pop to the children.
About a year ago, I had my first article in the Kutztown Patriot. I told my husband, “I know it’s on the computer web site, but I’d like to see it in the newspaper the first time.” He acknowledged he understood, but it was a waste of gas to drive to Kutztown to pick up a paper. I agreed.
The next day, he asked me to go along to the store. I did. When we went by the turn off to the store I yelled, “You forgot the turn off!” He said, “Oh great, well I’ll turn around at the diner instead.” Again, he missed the turn off and I said, “Where on earth are you going?”
He smiled, but didn’t answer. Eventually, I realized we were heading for Kutztown to pick up the Patriot for my first article in print.
My daughter, Mande, after becoming a widow after only one year of marriage, decided to put herself through college. One of her essays was about someone she admired and why. She wrote about my husband and myself and how we work out a marriage with siblings, children and finances etc. She presented this essay to us after having received an A. We were honored she chose us.
When my son, Kevin, was going through a traumatic experience in his marriage, I stopped by when I could to clean a bit, do some dishes or do chore he couldn’t keep up with. On the last visit, when I was ready to leave, he yelled, “Wait!” He ran into the garage and soon came out with a black vintage iron for me. I do love old things and it was the perfect, thank you.
When I was the church secretary in Easton, Linda, a parishioner, came to the office to chat. I told her this year my class reunion is near Kutztown and I dreaded the drive home. She said, “I have a bungalow up that way. You and Harry can have the keys and stay there instead of driving home!”
My sisters and I had been to visit our brother in a nursing home. After our visit, we decided to stop for lunch at the Clinton Hotel. As usual, while eating we gabbed and had lots of laughs. At some point, I noticed a middle-aged man by himself, two tables away, and taking glances at us. I told the girls to take notice of him when they can and teased, “I think he has his eye on Jannetta.” When we were ready to leave, we asked the waitress for our bill. She told us, “The gentleman sitting alone, two tables away, paid your bill.” We decided he must like older women, but we were grateful.
Before being published in the Kutztown Patriot, the Kutztown Historical Society published some of my stories, when they had space. But it always bothered me that, only a few times someone left me know they enjoyed my stories. Then in 2008, I received my first fan letter, that I still have, from a Dan Breyfogle. He stated he only visited this area once and his ancestors had a connection to the Kutztown area, which led him to join the society. He said, “I feel family history is such an important study, not just the names, dates, and places, but the stories. Stories such as the one you shared would be lost if others did not take the time to commit to paper. So thank you again, you have touched my heart with a story that began 100 years ago.” He touched my heart too!
My niece, Bev, called to stop by for a visit. When she arrived, she handed me a present saying, “I decided when I see something in a store that I feel someone would like, I’m going to buy it for them. And next time I see the person, birthday or not, I will give them their present.” Inside was a journal book for me, the writer. The book’s cover was special to me; it was a peacock in gorgeous plumage, a remembrance of my mother who raised peafowl on the farm. What a precious gift when least expected.
After our house settlement in Allentown, we stopped by our new home. Upon entering the kitchen, we found the perfect surprise on the kitchen counter. The previous owners had left us two wine glasses, a bottle of wine and a candle.
Just a week ago, when we came home from church, there was a plastic bag hanging on our front door knob. Wrapped inside were two pineapple upside-down cakes with a plastic fork to boot. We brought them in the house, but had no idea who they were from. When I read my e-mail, Sue (the widow of my young nephew who died about a year ago), had written, “I was in Allentown to visit my sister and dropped off the cakes for you and Harry.”
I hope these “random acts of kindness” I’ve written up express the gratitude of knowing “I matter!”
Carole Christman Koch grew up in Berks County and has been published in numerous publications. She has a passion for writing and has many stories from growing up on a farm to everyday stories.