The Kindnesses We Give Each Other

Mary Popham - Louisville, Kentucky
Entered on March 14, 2005

Kindness is the cornerstone of my belief. When I give time, attention, or more tangible things to relieve someone’s pain or just make their day a little better, then kindnesses are returned to me, magnified and guaranteed. I profit in multiple ways since the things we give away are the very things that remain with us.

Until I was four years old, my parents lived off 31-E, the main highway in Nelson County, Kentucky. Our neighbors across the knob had a daughter named Dorothy, who was four years older than I was. She had a heart condition that prevented her from running and playing like the rest of us. One afternoon, though, Dorothy surprised my siblings and me by offering us piggyback rides, a game we called “horsie.” After I watched my younger sister and then my brother trot down the lane and back, Dorothy said to me, “I can’t give you a ride. You’re too big.”

I had eagerly waited for my turn, too young to know that Dorothy had a rheumatic heart and shouldn’t have been carrying children on her back. I cried so with heartache that my Aunt Lula, who we called “Ouie,” comforted me. “Come into my room. I’m gonna give you a pretty,” she said.

Ouie opened a dresser drawer where she kept a box of her favorite things, and from it gave me a little set of plastic bells. The cluster was glued together and had a pin on the back to attach it to a coat or a dress. The set gleamed with bright colors: red, blue, green, and yellow. My disappointment vanished, and I was mesmerized by this gift. I called them my “jingle bells,” and I carried them in a special cigar box along with other highly valued items from my childhood: butterfly wings, broken glass in swirling shapes, and unusually colored rocks.

One day, years later, our fifth-grade teacher told the class that a schoolmate’s house was on fire. It was the home of Bernadette, the daughter of one of the ladies who cooked in our new lunchroom. When Bernadette began to cry, a wave of sympathy moved me to slip up the aisle to her desk and give her my beloved jingle bells. I wanted her to feel better, but Bernadette didn’t even stop crying. As soon as I got back to my desk, I regretted giving away my most precious belonging.

As the years pass, my mind returns occasionally to those two events, the receiving and the giving away of my best treasure. Because my Aunt Lula gave me the jingle bells to soothe my disappointment, and then I gave them to Bernadette to ease her pain, my “little pretty” had taken on magical properties. That feeling of magic remains in my heart today whenever I’m able to give or receive a kindness.

Since earliest childhood, my belief begins and ends with the conviction that we should help each other get through this life, and the method I prefer is by kindness.

After thirty years of mostly customer service with the GE Company, Mary Popham retired and obtained an MFA in creative writing from Spalding University. She has published a novel, Back Home in Landing Run, and writes book reviews for the Courier-Journal. Popham lives with her husband, Ronnie, in Louisville, Kentucky.