A Nugget of Kindness

I took a final gurgling slurp through my straw, balled up the empty hamburger wrapper and gathered trash as I stood to leave. That’s when I heard the little boy at the next table.

“No more chicken nuggets? I’m still hungry.”

As he asked, he and his little sister opened and shut the empty containers several times as if to verify their mother’s response when she answered “All gone.” The sight of two hungry kids looking earnestly between empty containers and their mother’s face almost made me ill. Memories have power. Even mine, some twenty years later.

My kids, then four and five, had just finished their own chicken nuggets. They were happily playing with the meal’s tiny toy when my daughter stopped and looked at me.

“No more chicken nuggets?”

Those were bleak years for me. A divorce, a lay-off, rent payment, car payment, and everyday bills made life challenging. Unfortunately, maybe fortunately, the kids and I frequented this fast food restaurant once a week. They occasionally saw friends there and always wanted chicken nuggets. They had stopped asking for sundaes. I was glad. I’d run out of excuses as to why they couldn’t have them. Never mentioning what they’d not have understood – money was tight. They looked forward to this outing and the same elderly cashier greeted us each time, always playfully interacting with them.

“No more chicken nuggets?” I heard her little voice repeat.

I had absolutely no cash and no other way to pay, but I remembered spare change in the car. Out we went. The kids stood behind me as I leaned inside to gather coins. There were fewer than I remembered, but was thrilled to find a total of fifty-six cents. Two quarters, a nickel, and a penny impossibly stuck to an old gummy bear. Money just the same.

Back at the table, I left the kids to their sodas while I went to the counter. Embarrassing! But my feelings of shame were overpowered by the desire to hand my kids more nuggets after watching them peer longingly into empty boxes. I guess it was symbolic. They wanted something. I should be able to give it to them.

The same elderly cashier greeted me. I pointed to the kids and told her they wanted more nuggets. My face turned red as I confessed I only had fifty-six cents, but would be happy to take what she could give me for that amount. If I went back to the table with at least one nugget each they might be happy. Next time I’d get sundaes too, I thought, trying to feel better about my parental failure.

I handed over the coins, apologized for the gummy bear remains I couldn’t totally pick off, and waited for her ridicule.

Instead, she took my offering, said nothing, but walked to the back behind large stainless steel shelves. In seconds she returned, smiled, and handed me a small bag. Relief! When I took the bag, something seemed odd. I opened it.

I had hoped for two chicken nuggets. What I got was a container crammed full of at least a dozen. No words came to me as I looked at the kindly cashier. I was stuttering a lame explanation for my situation when she shook her head and held up one hand to stop me.

She shrugged it off. “Sometimes it be like that.” She said, and went on her way.

Back at the table I opened the bag, spread out a dozen nuggets, and heard my kids squeal. At the bottom of the bag were two quarters, a nickel, and a penny miraculously freed from the remnants of an old gummy bear.

That entire memory was a sad, happy, emotional one of times and circumstances now long gone.

The elderly cashier knew nuggets wouldn’t solve everything for me, but she also seemed to know from experience how a small gesture with a large meaning might help me through a very low moment.

I snapped back to reality hearing the little boy’s voice at the next table.

 “No more chicken nuggets? I’m still hungry.” He and his little sister continued to open and shut the empty containers as if to will a few more to appear.

I don’t remember every detail of my bleak times decades ago, but I do remember the helpless feeling and silent frantic search for a few more pennies when your kids ask for something as simple as a chicken nugget and you just can’t do it. That silent frantic search was going on at the next table as the mother poked and prodded every nook and cranny of her purse.

I knew what she was feeling.

Tossing my trash into the can, I stopped at the counter and spoke with the young girl at the register.

“When I leave, can you take two orders of chicken nuggets to that table?” I motioned behind me at the mother who had moved on to pants pockets in her search. The cashier nodded yes.

“Oh, and three sundaes too.” I added.

Puzzled, she rang up my order and handed me the receipt, her expression clearly asking what was going on with the woman at the table.

I shrugged it off. “Sometimes it be like that.” I said, and went on my way.  

I knew nuggets and sundaes wouldn’t solve everything for her, but I also knew from experience how a small gesture with a large meaning might help her through a very low moment.

On a related note: The few times in life I’ve felt I did a “good deed” I think of and give credit to my grandmother, Nannie. She always said “When you see a need, fill it, and don’t worry about who gets the credit.” In conversation she’d go on to say if you can’t do a lot, do a little, because to someone else your little could be a lot.

Stuart M. Perkins

204 Comments

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204 responses to “A Nugget of Kindness

  1. A valuable lesson for us all. Thanks for sharing Nannie’s wisdom.

  2. Cathleen

    Wonderful story Stuart. Nannie was right, it might be small to you, but BIG to someone else. I wish the rest of the world could hear Nannie’s words. Thx for this memory and for sharing it

  3. This is a wonderful story, beautifully told, very moving; thanks for sharing it.

  4. Lynn Haraldson

    What a lovely story. (I know it’s good because it passed the tears test. It’s hard to type with them in my eyes 🙂 )

  5. Dear Stuart,
    It’s so wonderful to find my way back to your stories after many, many years. I don’t know how I got separated or how I found my way back but I’m just so grateful I did! This story is as beautiful and rich, and overflowing with life and love as I remember all your stories. You’ve always brought tears and smiles. And still do! No surprise there.
    Thank you for your inspiration and big wonderful heart—
    Deb

  6. Beautiful!

    Theresa Strickland

    NIKE Global Innovation

    CEO​ Chief Home Design

    Executive Professor of Business

    ​Director &​ Co-Founder​ Women’s Corporate Board

    Board Member

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  7. Lovely story, the sort of thing we could all stand to see more of during these troubled times.

  8. What a heartwarming story.

  9. jasonlikestotravel

    “When you see a need, fill it, and don’t worry about who gets the credit.” – oh I like that!

    Wonderful story too 🙂

  10. Sometimes it be like that. lump in throat

    (I’m thankful I could share this on Twitter and my Facebook page.)

  11. As a single mom whose son is now grown, and knowing how it ‘be like that’, thank you.

  12. A heartwarming story – thank you for sharing!

  13. Garrie Madison Stoutimore

    This made me tear up. I remember super lean times like that too. I would split a hamburger, give my two older kids a half each and have them share a small order of fries and a pint of milk. Thankfully, the youngest was still nursing. Now they are grown, and in many ways they are better adults for having lived through hard times. They are generous and kind and giving. Your Nannie would be proud of them. I know I am.

  14. Heartwarming and soul-touching narration as always! Love it. It really be like that sometimes.

  15. Love it! Brought a tear of joy to my eye.

  16. Barb McLaughlin

    This touched my heart. Thank you.

  17. Nancy O’Donnell

    How lovely. If only everyone operated the same way.

  18. Lovely, there are some good people out there, I’m so glad you passed it one to someone else who needed it
    Well done

  19. That definitely had me in tears. That is what is right with the world. Thank you for sharing.

  20. What a sweet story. I’m glad the cashier was able to treat your kids way back when. I’m also glad that you are now in a financial position, along with your caring heart, to gift that woman and her two kids. One time I was in IHOP for breakfast. On this 9+ years “on the road” journey of mine, money has almost always been tight. So I was stunned and oh so grateful when the waiter informed me that my meal had already been paid for in some surprise way. I looked around and didn’t see anyone I knew and couldn’t figure out how someone had set up to pay my meal but I was grateful all the same.

    • I love that! And I remember the good feeling anytime anyone ever surprised me with a little help, but it’s just as good a feeling to surprise someone ELSE with a little help! Thanks as always for your fun comments!

  21. This is a beautiful essay. We all need to remember that sometimes “It be like that.” And that it’s not because anyone is at fault.

  22. Beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

  23. Touching, inspiring, and so true! God bless you! Yes, Nannie was so wise, “…to someone else your little could be a lot.” ❤

  24. I love it!! And indeed your absolutely right!!

  25. It is nice when you can pay it forward.

  26. Lovely. Just lovely. And just what I needed to read today. Thank you.

  27. Thank you for passing kindness on!

  28. Yes, what seems like a small gift, sacrifice, or thought to us, may mean the whole world to someone else. Beautiful story, Stuart, thank you for sharing 😄

  29. Wonderful post. As often happens, it left me in tears … but tears from a special place in my heart that is positive & good. Sometimes it takes so little to do something that will be unbelievably appreciated & a lovely memory for someone … & maybe, like you, they will later be able to ‘pass it one …’ When that happens, they will feel a special blessing.

    • I felt her anxiety when she searched for money. I hope she felt a little relief – as much as a few chicken nuggets could provide, anyway! I know I felt it back in the day…. Thanks as always!

  30. Daily Poetry

    Beautiful story. It’s a bummer when you are on a tight budget and your kids ask you for a small thing but you just aren’t able to afford it. The kindness of strangers can be heartwarming. And to help out yourself feels pretty good. Thanks for sharing and have a nice day!

  31. Fantastic Stuart ~the evolution of rhythm in your narrator’s voice is inspiring.

  32. Vicki Grenier

    I liked your Nannie saying no matter how small the deed seems to us how large it could be for the recipient. She was a wise woman. You, sir, are a wise man. I look forward to seeing another story from you. Keep up the good work.

  33. À beautifully crafted touching story!

  34. A heartwarming story wonderfully told!

  35. Your Nannie had her finger on the pulse. Good story.

  36. I love this story. So simple and poignant. Thank you for sharing. ☺️

  37. Simply lovely, Stuart, as usual!

  38. Another great story. Love when written words bring tears to the eyes.

  39. Way to pay it forward. Most of us have been there and sometimes, a small gesture of compassion and care is all we need to make a lasting impression on us. Bravo for yours!

  40. Gcroft

    What a wonderful deed, paying it forward.

  41. What a great story and lesson for all of us, Stuart. Thanks for sharing it.

  42. Beautiful story! Thank you for sharing, and I love the design of your site. Wonderful! Have a lot to learn from you.

  43. Great story and excellent philosophy!

  44. Ohhh wow..so beautiful..Had tears in my eyes😍😍

  45. A remarkable story indeed. An epic struggle of which everyone who is anyone that has struggles financially would know the feeling. Thank you for a good story. It reminded me of when my late grandpa waa alive, he loves to tell me of his tales. I missed him. Yet, I know he is in a better place .

  46. Stuart, this parable provides us all with such valuable lessons: “but for the grace of God, there go I”; remember past struggles and kindnesses done to you; judge not and do. Thank you. This one, like so many of your other stories, is beautiful and evokes strong emotional responses.

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