A little announcement:
I’m excited to let you know that an essay of mine has been published again in the Chicken Soup series!
“Weeding Baby Wendell” was first published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Volunteering and Giving Back (2015).
Now, the Chicken Soup folks have picked stories from past publications to form their latest, Chicken Soup for the Soul: Your 10 Keys to Happiness.
I was pleased to learn “Weeding Baby Wendell” was one of their choices!
Below is the original essay as first posted on my blog in 2013.
My grandmother, Nannie, could never have imagined how far her words would spread the day she casually told us kids, “If you see a need, fill it, and don’t worry about who gets the credit.”
Weeding Baby Wendell
I walk nearly every evening, rain or shine. Although the area where I live has sidewalks, ball fields, and open spaces where most people do their walking, I prefer to walk in the cemetery across the street. It’s nearly forty acres of rolling land full of mature trees and all manner of wildlife. It’s filled too, with many, many graves. Towards a back corner, just a few feet from a rusted section of chain link fence choked by honeysuckle, is baby Wendell’s grave.
On my daily walks I began to stop now and then to upright a vase, pull a weed, or pick up trash. I don’t always take the same route so I never focused on any grave in particular, just did what little thing needed to be done if I noticed, and kept walking. It was obvious when family or friends would tidy up around a grave and it became clear that some graves never got attention. No one ever visited baby Wendell and the little granite urn on his tombstone would fill with old leaves, grass clippings, and spider webs. The day I noticed wiregrass smothering his tiny tombstone, I decided to make baby Wendell a routine stop.
My daily walks also meant that the many visitors who came regularly on Sunday afternoons or holidays would see me at one place or another on the grounds. I’d often be mistaken for an employee as they stopped to ask, for instance, where section L was, which gate exited where, or the location of the main office.
One Sunday evening two elderly women, who I later realized had seen me many times, drove up as I was bent over picking a dead wasp out of baby Wendell’s urn. Not wanting them to think I was up to no good, I stood and walked towards them to say hello. They were all smiles and I was surprised when they began to thank me.
“We see you out here real often. How long have you worked here?” the first woman asked as she adjusted the bouquet of artificial flowers she held in her hand.
The second woman added “Yes, and after that last storm you were the first one we saw picking up sticks. It’s so good you work here.”
I watched the first woman struggle with her bouquet and said “Oh no Ma’am. I don’t work here, I just walk here.”
As it turned out, they were sisters who routinely came to put flowers on their brother’s grave. His is located just a few sites over from baby Wendell, between a dogwood tree and a very old azalea.
“But you’re here just about every time we come.” the first woman said, still fighting to get a grip on the bouquet in her hand, and looking puzzled that I didn’t work there.
“And looks to me like every time we’ve seen you, you’ve been working.” the sister added again.
I explained how I might randomly pick up a stick, or put some wind blown trash back in the can, but that they only saw me so often because I had one day noticed wiregrass smothering the tiny tombstone near their brother’s.
“I’m just weeding baby Wendell.” I said.
“Why? And you don’t work here?” the first woman asked as she lost her grip on part of the bouquet.
I’d never given it much thought. I walk there nearly every day and it was just part of my walk to upright a geranium now and then. I had occasionally remembered what Nannie, my grandmother, used to tell us kids back home. “If you see a need, fill it, and don’t worry about who gets the credit.”
“Well, we can’t thank you enough for all you do.” the first woman said as a tiny piece of her bouquet fell to the ground.
“It’s wonderful you would help for no reason.” the sister added.
They seemed about to tear up as they walked away. I never thought about getting credit for any of the random things I only sporadically did as I walked, but these two women had noticed and they had thanked me. Those tiny efforts took so little on my part, but to them they meant a lot. They noticed and they appreciated.
I suppose we all do the random nice things that we do because we know it’s right, and it’s kind. Baby Wendell could never thank me, and none of us imagine we’ll ever be thanked for the tiny things we do, and we may not believe anyone even notices. But out there for each of us is the equivalent of those two old ladies, noticing and appreciating.
I reached down and picked up the tiny piece of bouquet the woman dropped as she thanked me. When I finished pulling wiregrass I put those fallen flowers in the little urn.
“No need to thank me baby Wendell. You’re welcome.” I said.
Stuart M. Perkins