Tag Archives: deed

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

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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 other than the general maintenance by the owners. No one ever visited baby Wendell. 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 exits where, or the location of the main office.

One Sunday evening two elderly women, who I later realized had seen me there 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 as 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 out here picking up sticks. It’s just so good that 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 had come 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 by.” 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 to them how I might randomly pick up a stick now and then, or put some wind blown trash back in the can, but that they only saw me so often because I had one day noticed the wiregrass that nearly covered the tiny tombstone near their brother’s.

“I’m just weeding baby Wendell.” I said.

“Why? All that 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 that 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.” she would say.

“Well we can’t thank you enough for all we’ve seen you do.” the first woman said as a tiny piece of her bouquet fell to the ground.

“Oh it’s just wonderful that you would help for no reason.” the sister added.

They both seemed about to tear up as they walked away. I never thought about needing or 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 had dropped as she thanked me. I finished weeding baby Wendell and put those flowers in his little urn.

“No need to thank me baby Wendell. You’re welcome.” I said.

Stuart M. Perkins

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