A Touch Of Kindness Gives Life Meaning

Updated on February 8, 2018
PAINTDRIPS profile image

As a Baby-Boomer, Denise and millions of others are becoming senior citizens. She explores what it means to be over 60 today.

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The Gift Of Flowers

It was a cold foggy morning as I walked a couple houses down the road to wait for the high school bus to pick me up. The golden hairy pug dog I referred to as the lion rushed toward me grunting and growling to protect his driveway property. I was properly rebuffed and stayed my distance. I was lonely. I was the invisible girl too shy to speak even if anyone noticed my presence. Shuddering in the chill misty morning, I noticed an elderly man across the street working in his garden patch. Mr Long was the only one I knew who had flowers growing even in late January. His mums were huge; the size of a child’s head. Looking down, I stomped my feet to keep warm. I looked down a lot. Shy kids do, you know. That’s when I heard the footsteps. Mr Long was walking toward me. I froze. Maybe if I keep still he will walk by; after all I am invisible. But he didn’t walk by me. He stepped up to me and lifted a large white mum to eye level and said he had picked this for me. His elderly eye’s sparkled and the smile wiped at least 30 years from his lined face. I mouthed “thank you” and he left me bewildered with a giant mum as the bus pulled up and concealed his retreat.

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I Am Worthy

That was the first time a man gave me a flower. I was a short pimply faced freshman in high school, so who knows what made him do it. I spent the whole day thinking of the incident, sniffing the mum, which still had a misty waxy smell from the morning fog. The next day the same thing happened, and the next, and the next. I began looking forward to my daily mums and his friendly smile. He made my day. He made me stronger. He made me think maybe there was something worthy about me that I couldn’t see. That’s why it broke my heart when I learned he passed away that summer. No more early morning foggy rendezvous.

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Volunteered

At 13 and 14, young people are only beginning to notice anyone or anything beyond their small circle of family and friends. That’s the year I began noticing neighbors and people with their own stories and struggles. The Longs lived there on the street just two houses from us for longer than we had lived there. It was a strange house, placed far from the street with a large front yard and trees placed in a circle around a grassy raised section. The house was shaped oddly and the front seemed to be in the back. The bathroom had two levels and the kitchen and dining room were really one thin long room.

I found all this out when my mother called my sister and I down from a leisurely Spring Saturday of planned nothing. My mother said our neighbor Mrs. Long needed help with her Spring cleaning because she couldn’t climb the ladder to get things down to wash and she volunteered us. I was livid. Wow. Without even asking if I wanted to spend the day with an elderly lady I was committed. I got THE lecture about helping others and selfishness and so was sent over to help Mrs. Long clean. I would never be the same.

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My sisters, brother, and I singing.  I'm wearing glasses at 13.
My sisters, brother, and I singing. I'm wearing glasses at 13. | Source

Things We Have In Common

She was a very large but sweet elderly lady. Her size made climbing the ladder to get down her precious keepsakes difficult. So I was up on a ladder when I noticed the well placed framed black and white photo of two children in front of a white house I didn’t recognize. Mrs. Long enjoyed the company and talked on and on about the importance of cleanliness and told stories of each of her precious knick-knacks as she washed each lovingly and had us replace them on the shelves. She told of her ongoing battle with weight and how she had a thyroid condition that made it near impossible for her to loose weight even though she tried every diet known to woman. This struck a chord with me because even as a preteen I was struggling with excess weight. I didn’t want to diet but realized that it was going to be something I would fight all my life too.

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What Happened To Them

Later as she served us cake and tea, I asked about the photo. I assumed they were her children who were grown and gone raising families of their own by now. She got a misty look and a sad smile as she gazed at the revered photo. “They were my children,” she said. “Where are they,” I wondered. “They died when the house burned down,” she calmly answered. That statement seemed to suck the air from the room. I had never before met anyone who had suffered such a tragedy. Those are things you hear about on TV or read in books. You don’t usually meet someone who had face real loss like that. I finally managed to ask what happened and she told us the story. She pointed out to the mound of raised grassy section of lawn and said that was where the house was. Her precious boy and girl, age 4 and 5 were napping up stairs when she went next door to borrow a couple eggs. She wanted to make a birthday cake while they were asleep so it would be ready when they awoke. She swore she was only gone 5 minutes but the house was engulfed in flames by the time she got back. The fire chief told her later it was an electrical short that caused the fire. There was no one at fault.

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The Garage Home

She and Mr. Long couldn’t bring themselves to rebuild the house over the ashes of their children and so they moved into the garage in the back. He slowly, over the years, converted the garage to a home. Sure, the rooms were oddly shaped and the floor was in several levels, but they made it cozy enough. I suddenly realized that the sweet man who brought me flowers noticed me out of his own pain and loss. I had a new respect for them both and didn’t mind when I got volunteered to help again and again.

Another elderly lady on our street, Mrs. Haywood.
Another elderly lady on our street, Mrs. Haywood. | Source

Acts Of Kindness Give Back

This wasn’t the first time that I learned giving kindness to others almost always returns more to me than I ever gave. I dreamed of them again last night. The Longs have long ago gone to Glory, but their memory lives on in me, if no one else. I still see those giant mums, larger than a fist, and smell the waxy freshness in my dreams. I can still see his youthful smile and crinkled eyes through the mist of time. The first man to give me a flower. The first man to treat me like someone worth of chivalry and respect. The first man to teach me the importance of small acts of kindness meaning big things in the life of a kid.

Questions & Answers

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      • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

        Denise McGill 

        7 months ago from Fresno CA

        Larry W Fish,

        Thank you Larry. What a dear you are. I think I've always had nightmares about my bedroom on fire also and I always seem to wake up as the flames get closer to me. Maybe it's a fear we all share. Still for Mrs. Long to be so transparent to us little teenagers was something that has always moved me. I think of them often and it brings tears to my eyes also. I'm honored that I told it well enough for you to be touched.

        Blessings,

        Denise

      • Larry Fish profile image

        Larry W Fish 

        7 months ago from Raleigh

        That is a tear jerking story, Denise. The fact of you being so shy in school made me think back to when I was in school. I rarely talked to a girl and having a date was something I was afraid to ask. The story you wrote about the Long family filled me with tears. I have always been deathly afraid of fire. It must be the most horrible way to die. Loosing two small children that way must be the most terrible feeling in the world. Thank you for sharing this story. It really touched me.

      • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

        Denise McGill 

        8 months ago from Fresno CA

        Denise W Anderson,

        How profound! That's true. Thank you for the wise words.

        Blessings,

        Denise

      • denise.w.anderson profile image

        Denise W Anderson 

        8 months ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

        It is the gifts that we receive out of the tragedy of others that are worth the most to us!

      • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

        Denise McGill 

        8 months ago from Fresno CA

        Mary Wickison,

        Thank you, Mary, I appreciate the encouragement. I'm so glad you liked it. Thanks for commenting.

        Blessings,

        Denise

      • Blond Logic profile image

        Mary Wickison 

        8 months ago from Brazil

        That was a touching memory.

        We never know what struggles and pain life has bestowed on others. Now his actions would be seen differently by people, which is a shame.

        I too was shy, always looking at the ground and it only takes the kindness of one person to help us break free from that black cloud.

        A moving piece of writing.

      • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

        Denise McGill 

        8 months ago from Fresno CA

        Devika Primić,

        I think so too. I hope I never forget what it meant to me and could mean for some other girl if I remember to pass on the kindness. Thanks for commenting.

        Blessings,

        Denise

      • DDE profile image

        Devika Primić 

        8 months ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

        Sometimes one ignores what matters the most. A simple gesture can make a difference to someones' life. Interesting and so powerful.

      • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

        Denise McGill 

        8 months ago from Fresno CA

        Jackie,

        You may be right but I hope not. Surely some young people still have empathy and compassion even for the elderly. We can only hope. Thanks for commenting.

        Blessings,

        Denise

      • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

        Denise McGill 

        8 months ago from Fresno CA

        Larry,

        That's very astute of you. Sometimes actions speak louder than words. Thanks for commenting.

        Blessings,

        Denise

      • Jackie Lynnley profile image

        Jackie Lynnley 

        8 months ago from The Beautiful South

        You pulled out such a touching story. It would no doubt be near impossible for that to happen today. I can just imagine what a kid would say or act toward the kind old man and then his wife.

        Thanks for taking us back to better times, even if sad memories.

      • Larry Rankin profile image

        Larry Rankin 

        8 months ago from Oklahoma

        When I have a friend going through a rough patch, I focus on actions more than words to help.

        Interesting read.

      • Bede le Venerable profile image

        Bede 

        8 months ago from Minnesota

        This story was sad but beautiful. As a shy child also, I can still vividly recall small acts of kindness from years ago… a single smile, a pat on the back. These things help us grow, like sunlight on flowers. It makes me think of something St. John of the Cross said, “Where you find no love, put love, and you will draw love out.”

      • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

        Denise McGill 

        8 months ago from Fresno CA

        So true, Bill. So true. Thanks for commenting.

        Blessings,

        Denise

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 

        8 months ago from Olympia, WA

        The thing is, Denise, it takes such little effort to be kind...to do acts of kindness...it makes one wonder why we all don't do it more often. Thank you for the reminder.

      • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

        Denise McGill 

        8 months ago from Fresno CA

        Jill Spencer,

        That's very kind of you. Thanks for commenting.

        Blessings,

        Denise

      • The Dirt Farmer profile image

        Jill Spencer 

        8 months ago from United States

        If we could still share hubs with our followers, I would share this one.

      • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

        Denise McGill 

        8 months ago from Fresno CA

        Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon,

        Yes, it's so true. I'm sure he had no idea the gesture of a flower would help pull me out of my shell. I'll never forget him. I'm not really sure why I woke up today thinking of them both but it was a lovely thought.

        Blessings,

        Denise

      • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

        Denise McGill 

        8 months ago from Fresno CA

        Sally Gulbrandsen,

        That's a beautiful thought. Thanks so much for commenting.

        Blessings,

        Denise

      • phoenix2327 profile image

        Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 

        8 months ago from United Kingdom

        This was sad and lovely at the same time. Isn't it funny how a simple act of kindness can mean so much to someone?

      • sallybea profile image

        Sally Gulbrandsen 

        8 months ago from Norfolk

        This hub warms the cockles of my heart. I loved reading about the characters and how much they influenced your life. In a way, they will enhance my own. Thank you.

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