Tag Archives: kindness

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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Alexandria Living Magazine – Something Small Is Big Enough

Just a little announcement:

I’m excited to let you know I have an essay appearing in the current issue of Alexandria Living magazine!

It was a thrill to work with the kind folks at the magazine and as an Alexandria, Virginia resident it was especially fun to contribute.

Below is the link to my piece in the online version of Alexandria Living.  Check it out, and if you like, please comment on the magazine website in the space just below the essay. We would love to hear your feedback!

https://alexandrialivingmagazine.com/stuart-perkins-something-small-is-big-enough/

Thanks to all those who’ve asked what I’ve been up to lately. Blogging continues to be great fun and has proven to be an exciting pathway to opportunities like this. As their newest columnist I’ll be writing a piece for each issue of Alexandria Living. Exciting!

Stuart M. Perkins

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Raker Man!

This is a repost of a piece I wrote after vacationing in the Dominican Republic. It’s been a good while since this was posted, but interestingly, two followers asked me about it within the last week or so. Both mentioned how it’s nice to be reminded that a kindness offered to another doesn’t have to be grand to have meaning. Sometimes a small effort can still make a big difference.

Raker Man

The tropical sun was intense, but from the shade we sipped Pina Coladas and stared at the blue Caribbean. A vacation in the Dominican Republic! We staked claim to our favorite cabana and by afternoon were chatting with beachside neighbors. Diane in the next cabana knew a lot about the area and in the balmy breeze we compared notes on favorite restaurants as we enjoyed the beach.

The next hot day while eating lusciously ripe strawberries I caught sight of the trio working in the sun. We’d noticed the daily routine of these three whose job it was, apparently, to clear the beach each day of seaweed washed up during the night. They were a motley band in ragged clothes. Locals in need of work I supposed, and hard work it was. Each day they scoured the beach, raking and hauling debris. An older worker lagged behind. The effort it took to push a loaded wheelbarrow through soft sand slowed him down. He usually raked alone, stopping often to wipe sandy sweat from his face. He has to be thirsty I thought, as I sipped ice-cold coconut water.

On the following morning, just as I devoured a heaping bowl of chilled watermelon, I saw the old raker man diligently working over the beach. Mere yards from chattering sunbathers, clattering dishes filled with tropical delights, and Mimosas clanking toasts to vacations, this old barefoot man in torn pants worked silently. Unnoticed. Head down as he worked, I waited for him to look up.

He looked up. I waved.

Puzzled, he stared at me and returned to his work. He has to be hot I thought, as the waiter served our Pina Coladas.

I took a sip of mine. It tasted like guilt.

“How much do you think he’s paid?” I asked Francisco and nodded towards the raker. Before he could answer I heard a groan from the next cabana.

“Well, don’t you give him money.” Diane yelled. “He’ll get lazy. Anyway he’ll never even thank you.” With that, she told the waiter to hand her a magazine, brush away the sand stuck to her back, and bring lunch to the cabana so she wouldn’t have to get up.

Judging me over her magazine, Diane said nothing.

“That’s hard work he’s doing.” I continued with Francisco.

“Well, don’t tell him.” Diane yelled again. “He’ll whine about having to do it and he’ll never even thank you for noticing.” With that, she told us she was staying on vacation an extra week because she was sick and tired of the rigors of her job.

Staring at me over her vacation calendar, Diane said nothing.

I watched the raker struggle with another load of seaweed. He sometimes tripped and fell as he shoved the heavy load down the beach. The ceviche and slices of fruit the waiter set down in front of me looked nice, but I couldn’t eat them.

Days passed and I continued to wave to the raker each morning. He eventually waved back and towards the end of our vacation he even waved first. I never saw interaction of any kind between him and anyone else on the beach. Was this man invisible?

“Is it ok to give him some money?” I asked Francisco. I’d hesitated to do so, less from Diane’s comments and more for fear I would offend the man.

“It could be a tip. How much would a little cash mean to him?” I continued.

“It would mean the world.” Francisco responded.

Diane yelled to us. “Well, he’ll become a beggar if you give him money. Like I said, he’d never even thank you!”

On the morning of our final day I saw the raker as usual, head down, combing the sand.  I’d still not given him a tip and I was sorry about that. I mentioned my regret to Francisco, but it was our last day on the beach and I had no cash with me.

“I have cash!” Francisco said, and instantly rifled through his bag to see what he might find.

As the raker’s work brought him nearer the cabana, he and I waved. This time Francisco stood too and motioned the man to come over. Clearly perplexed by this new routine the raker slowly left his wheelbarrow and approached us. We quickly realized he spoke absolutely no English but in an awkward conversation consisting at various points of Spanish and then French, we learned he was Haitian and had come to the Dominican Republic in search of work. He was in the middle of a rough and miserable time.

Francisco held cash towards the raker and pointed at me. “He wants to thank you for working so hard to keep the beach clean.”

The raker stared at the cash. I waited for him to smile. Instead, he stepped back and threw his hands over his head. Oh no. We’d insulted him.

He looked back and forth at us, his eyes filling with tears as he stepped forward to shake our hands. He shook our hands for several minutes before even touching the money which he took very slowly from Francisco’s hand. He spoke rapidly the entire time. I don’t know what his mouth said but his face said thank you. He wiped his tears and returned to the wheelbarrow. We sat back down fighting tears of our own.

“Well, now you’ve done it.” Diane yelled over the heaping plate of lobster on her lap. Butter dripped from her chin. “He’ll be back. He’ll be back ten times today begging for more! Did he even say thank you?”

I just shrugged my shoulders at her. I was sure the man was thankful but I had no idea what he said.

With a disapproving look, Diane said nothing.

Francisco and I returned to our Pina Coladas. I sipped mine, a bit tastier now, and watched for the raker. If he did return for more I just hoped Diane wouldn’t notice. It was the end of the day before she got the chance to say she told us so.

“I knew it!” Diane yelled.

I looked in the direction of the half-eaten drumstick she pointed down the beach and saw the raker running towards our cabana.

“He’s going to ask for more and never even say thanks. Not once.” Diane said smugly.

The raker stopped in front of us and leaned down. Knowing he knew no English we waited for him to say something, anything. From the next cabana, Diane waited too.

The raker leaned down so that we were face to face. He was clearly concentrating as his lips slowly began to move. “Thank you.” he said in English.

Before we could respond, he smiled and ran back down the beach.

Diane said nothing.

Stuart M. Perkins

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A Cousin with a Casserole

I washed the last casserole dish and stacked it with others on the kitchen counter. What a genuine kindness each represented and the many meals provided to my family this week sincerely helped ease some distress. Daddy died one week ago today. His heart issues had recently worsened and at almost 81 years old he could handle no more. This past week is a dismal blur and a void that can’t be filled has become brutally obvious. I could write volumes on Daddy and maybe at some point I will. With emotions still so close to the surface I wouldn’t do him justice right now with an attempt.

It was a wee hour of the morning when Daddy died, so friends and extended family didn’t learn of his death until some hours later. As early afternoon arrived, so did the first wave of cousins bringing food. They weren’t asked to, they did so because that’s what you kindly do. They quietly appeared with bags of drinks, casseroles, containers of this or that, and even an entire baked ham. There was no fanfare, just a solemn presentation of the tangible evidence of their caring.  Mama, distraught over Daddy’s death and drained by her own health issues said more than once that she was overwhelmed by the instant show of support.

The number of tasks to attend to following a death saps everyone of everything and attention to meals gets lost in priorities. The gifts of food that flowed into Mama’s kitchen were appreciated more than anyone can know. Each day this past week saw yet another meal supplied by cousins, aunts and uncles, or one of many family friends. It seemed that every person who dropped by to express sympathy did so as they handed us a gift of food. With so many of us staying at Mama’s house, what a blessing that really was!

Often over the years I saw Mama leave the house with food she’d made for other grieving families, but I’m astounded by what I’ve seen come into her house this week. The meals thankfully filled a basic need for our family, but every dish was also a sincere expression of love. We had many things to worry about and still do, of course, but whether we had enough food in the house was never one of them. To come home to waiting meals after talking to the funeral director for hours or spending a long evening at the funeral home was a true comfort.

I would imagine that taking food to a grieving family preoccupied by sorrow and the business of death is probably ages old, all over the world. On a personal level there was something so encouraging about seeing people, many were friends of Daddy’s the rest of us didn’t even personally know, come through the back door with food and condolences. The act of providing meals to a grieving family is such a basic and purely kind way to help.

All who stopped by have their own lives to manage, their own issues to deal with, but they stopped by just the same. Among the many people who so kindly looked out for us I saw elderly women who had difficulty walking but who walked anyway just to bring us a meal. An elderly man Daddy knew for decades brought a cake to Mama. He tried to speak but his crying prevented it so he simply handed her the cake and walked away. Yesterday I saw Daddy’s older brother, arms full, struggling to open the door to the porch. Before I could get there to help he had quietly slipped a watermelon into the extra refrigerator and gone on his way. At the funeral home, a high school friend I hadn’t seen in years handed me a wrapped platter full of brownies as she hugged me. Maybe something extra is communicated when condolences are accompanied by food?

I wish I could properly articulate how much it helped my family to see the parade of familiar faces come through the back door during such a strange, sad week. It was wonderful, beautiful, awesome, and all of those other words we tend to overuse but which in this case are completely appropriate.

During such a stressful, gloomy time, I was reminded that the kindness, caring, and love I have seen my family and friends give to others over the years is still very much there. They rose to this occasion and their generosity and presence this week helped us deal with the sorrow, no question about it.

We never expected more than the “I’m sorry.” which we heard many times, but there was something innately sweet and comfortingly familiar about a tentative tap on the back door followed by a cousin with a casserole.

Whether family or friend, what each person held between two pot holders was more than just supper. It was an extension of their caring, an expression of their love, and a show of support that no one in my family will soon forget.

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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