Paying it forward

There was a time in my life where I hit a rough patch to say the least.  It was after my divorce from my first husband.  My son was barely a year old.  We were living in a garage which had been turned into an apartment behind the home where the garage was located, in the northern part of Texas.

The little apartment was just the right size for my son and me.  There was one large room at the front, and a smaller kitchen area in the back on the left and an even smaller bathroom in the back on the right.  It was the Christmas season and in northern Texas during December that meant howling winds and cold temperatures, along with snow and ice.

There was one small space heater in the apartment which barely kept the larger room from freezing.  That large room held not only a couch for the living room portion but also across the room was the bed for the bedroom portion.  As there was no smaller baby bed for my son, and I couldn’t afford to buy one, we slept in the bed together and kept each other warm during those winter months.

Food was skimpy and there were absolutely no luxuries to be had at all.  During the winter I had cans of soup on the days I could afford it and nothing on the days I couldn’t.  My son had milk and baby food.  Any money I had always went for his wellbeing.

At that time, I was going to college on the GI Bill (from my days in the USAF).  I got a hundred dollars a month to pay tuition and expenses.  Fifty of that went for rent and the remainder is what paid my tuition, and anything left over was what we lived on which you can probably figure out was very little.

This was our first Christmas by ourselves.  It was not going to be a very merry one for us.  I had just enough money that particular week for milk and baby food.  I had been trying to write and had sent an article to a parents’ magazine.  They bought the article for a whopping $20.  I couldn’t even buy a copy of the magazine.  Once again, I was poor, dirt poor and I needed that $20 to buy food and milk for my son.

So, bundling him up from the cold, I headed out walking to the grocery store in a foot of snow.  The store was five blocks from our little abode.  My son was toasty warm inside the blankets and quilting I had wrapped him in.  However, I was not equipped for the snow.  Couldn’t afford snow boots or a heavy winter jacket so I’m sure by the time we arrived at the grocery store I must have looked a lot worse than Frosty the Snowman ever did.  I placed my son in one of the buggies and walked around the store until I began to thaw a little before gathering the items I needed and heading to the checkout, hoping I’d have enough to pay for everything.

While standing in line, I did glance at the magazine rack and found the magazine and looked through it until I found my article.  WOW!  My name in print.  In a magazine!  I don’t think it would have been any more thrilling to me if it had been in flashing lights on a theater marquee.  I just stood there for a long time with tears in my eyes. 

While we were standing in line to pay, I was also watching a store employee hanging sparkly Christmas decorations from the ceiling.  I talked to my son, pointing out the sparklies and he, of course, was excited over the bright decorations.  My son and I smiled and laughed together as he enjoyed the brightly colored decorations the employee would hold up for us to see before he hung it.

I have a feeling, I looked like the ragamuffin I felt like, as it wasn’t long before the gentleman climbed down off the ladder with several decorations in hand.  Walking over to me he said, “You know, if you’d take these off my hands, it’d save me having to hang them.”  And with that, he smiled and handed me the decorations.  Needless to say, his gesture of kindness brought tears to my twenty-year-old eyes.

We walked back home that day with a little more pep in our step than we had when we started out that day.

A few days later was Christmas.  So, not wanting my son to get up on Christmas morning and not find anything under the make-do Christmas tree (an abandoned, what had been a live, Christmas tree thrown into the trash by a tree lot who no longer could sell it), I waited until he was sound asleep before I took several of his toys (little plastic cowboys and Indians) and wrapped them in brown paper from the grocery bag, and placed them under the tree for him to find.

I went to bed on Christmas Eve thinking to myself what an awful mom I was.  Couldn’t even afford to buy my son a real Christmas present.  I was in the midst of a huge pity party for myself when I heard a loud cracking sound and then water running.  Jumping out from under the warm blankets, I ran to the bathroom and found the water in the toilet had frozen.  The porcelain cracked and the remaining unfrozen water was spilling all over the bathroom floor.  All I could do was cry.  Add to that the fact that the washing machine had broken that same day with a load of clothes still in it, you could say Murphy’s Law was well intact.

Now, I still have those sparkly decorations given to me by the grocery store employee.  I’m sure he never knew what that single act of kindness meant to a young girl and her baby boy.  If I could find him now, I’d certainly tell him what a beautiful gesture it was.

So, as a result of his one gesture, from that day forward I have always paid it forward.  He is the reason I do that.  Without that one act of kindness, I don’t know if I would have been the kind of person who did random acts of kindness for other people or not.  But, because he showed me a little kindness when I so desperately needed it most, I have passed it on in his name (although I have no idea what the gentleman’s name was) ever since.

So, as I take my Christmas decorations out of the boxes and begin to place them around the house, those brightly colored decorations given to me those many years ago hang in the window of the house I now own as a reminder of how far I have come and how that one gentleman’s simple act of kindness created a ripple that has continued to flow throughout the years.

This holiday season let’s all practice paying it forward with those little random acts of kindness wherever we can.  I know I will.

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