Sunday, August 31, 2014
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.” ― Plato (479 B.C.)
I wanted to write about random acts of kindness and was researching on the internet through the thousands of acts of kindness, some with music and video looking for a good one. Many are true, many are not, but all are inspirational. Then it hit me that one of the best of these kinds of acts of kindness had happened to my father back during the depression in the early 30’s. He was taking the train (without a ticket—see picture at the right) from Florida to Little Rock, Arkansas, where he planned to marry my mother. In the end, they eloped to Lonoke, Arkansas, but that’s another story. At the time, my mom was living in Little Rock where she ran the food counter at the F.W. Woolworth’s store. Dad was making good time till he got to a wide spot in the road called Dufee, Mississippi, around seven in the morning. A yard bull (railroad security man) threw him off the train while it was still moving. He rolled over a few times before coming to a stop. All his belongings were still on the box car. He got up, dusted himself off, and took stock of his situation. He had no money, no clothes other than the ones on his back which were pretty dirty, he hadn’t had a bath or shaved in several days, and didn’t smell very good. An older African-American woman was watching him over her back fence. She said he looked “quite a sight” and asked if he would like a bath and breakfast. Remember, this was in the thirties and dad was a white man in the deep south. —Dad was telling this story late one night with only Karen and I listening. He almost never talked about his past and we were sure wishing we had had a tape recorder, but we didn’t even want to interrupt to get a pen and paper, so rare were these glimpses into his past.— Well, he said he didn’t even hesitate but accepted her offer right away. On the way into her little shotgun shack by the railroad, he introduced himself and she said just to call her Miss Tillie. She was about sixty years old but strong. Dad said he didn’t know if she was pretty or not, but she was an angel to him. While he was bathing, she washed his clothes, and let him wear some of her dead husband’s things while his dried. After a big breakfast, she announced that everyone in her house went to church on Sunday and this was Sunday. Dad said that would be fine with him and so he accompanied Miss Tillie in her husband’s clothes to the Antioch Baptist Church (all black) in Dufee, Mississippi. He fell in love with one of the hymns, “Oh Happy Day” and it was a favorite of his the rest of his life. During the service, Miss Tillie introduced her guest and explained how he had gotten thrown off the freight train. The little congregation put what little they had together and bought him a bus ticket all the way to Little Rock. He had a fried chicken lunch with Miss Tillie (our family had chicken for Sunday lunch as long as I can remember—maybe because of that day) and then in his own clean clothes, with a paper sack full of sandwiches and pickles for his trip, he boarded the bus that would take him to Little Rock and the lady who would become his wife. That’s a pretty good random act of kindness right there, but that’s not the end of the story. About fifty years later, after he retired from 40 years with Sears, Roebuck, Dad took $5,000 in cash and made the trip by car back to Dufee, Mississippi, to look for Miss Tillie. She had passed on many years earlier, but the Antioch Baptist Church was still there. It was a Tuesday, but the parsonage was next door to the church and Dad found the young man who was now its pastor. He explained what had happened all those years ago and gave the pastor the $5,000. The pastor called his wife in and told her to get the special paper in his desk. While Dad waited nervously, she returned with the mortgage to the church. They owed $4,400 to pay it off. With the money left over, they would fix the roof and put up a little plaque for Miss Tillie thanking her for her act of kindness during the depression that helped a poor white man get to Little Rock. A few days after he told us this story, I asked him about it, and he said never to talk about it again. Well, he’s with God, so he’ll have to wait to get on me for telling it, but I don’t think it will come up. Plato, over 2,000 years ago, knew his stuff. Be kind, all the time.