Friday, February 02, 2007

Paying Interest

Good news appears to be the order of the day for me today. Without being able to go into specifics, let me admit that I am tickled pink. It's nice when things unfold as expected.

Whenever good things happen in quick succession, I can't help but reflect back when things weren't so rosy. I don't live in the past, in fact quite the contrary, but I do have some 'benchmark' occasions that help me understand how much things have changed for me over the years.

One example, is an occasion in 1968 or so, when my brother and I operated a couple of service stations to help us pay the bills for our fledgling courier company. We worked sixteen hours a day, for virtually no money, just trying to make ends meet. A doctor, a customer of ours, pulled in one day, took one look at me, handed me a five-dollar bill, and said: "Go buy yourself a meal."

I'm a very proud person. I don't like to accept anything from anyone. Maybe that is why I don't recall accepting the money. My brother, however, insists that I did take it. If I did, that would indicate to me how bad things really were. I would rather starve than take a handout from anyone.

Years earlier, in 1962, I had left home at age 17 to 'find myself.' I worked two eight-hour shifts daily, in a country club in Stratford, Ontario. During the day I was a janitor's helper, at night I washed dishes. Weekends, I would drive home to St. Catharines to visit friends and family.

One weekend, I was absolutely broke. I couldn't afford food, or the gasoline (at about 38 cents per gallon) to drive to my parents' home, so I sat dejectedly on a picnic table in a public park in the centre of Stratford. I was lost in thought, didn't notice that someone had approached me, and was startled when a girl of about my age spoke to me. I re-played her words in my head and realized that she had asked me if something was wrong. A supporting clue was the two-dollar bill (yes, we really did have them in Canada at that time) that she was holding out to me. I can only imagine how pathetic I must have looked in order for a stranger to feel compelled to offer me money. I was embarrassed, but hungry enough so that I made the girl give me her name and address so that I could return her money after I got my next paycheck. She was pretty, friendly, and very nice, but I was so ashamed that I had accepted her money that, aside from visiting her home to pay her back, I never saw her again. What can I say? I was an idiot.

Sometimes, we have to remember the kindnesses of strangers. Something compelled these people to approach me, unbidden, and to offer me money when I was down and out. I try to remember these things when I am asked for money. It is easy to be judgemental and simply to say no all the time, as I do if I think someone is merely going to spend the money on a bottle of rotgut wine. Sometimes though, the need is genuine and our paltry offerings actually help in a significant way.

Sometimes, because I do have a sense of humour, even as far as charlatans and grifters are concerned, I hand over money even when I know full well where it will be spent. A case in point was one day in Chapleau, Ontario, when a drunk approached me on the street, and asked me if he could have a dollar to be used as a down payment on a liquor store. I laughed and handed him his dollar.

So, I'm in a really good mood today. It's too bad I don't know anymore who that girl in Stratford, Ontario was. I would like to pay her interest on the money she extended to me that day. Do you think a heartfelt "Thank you!" and a big hug would qualify?

Or, maybe by some strange co-incidence, she will chance on this blog post, recognize herself, and know how much her kindness was appreciated.


  1. Having been 16 in 1962 and remembering two dollar bills I thought I should let you know that it wasn't me!

  2. LOL... You would certainly have been about the right age. You also would have been a long way from home!

  3. In 1962, I was only ten years old. Definitely means I would not have approached you ~ not unless you were wandering around by chance in Los Angeles! :)

    Anyway, yes.. it is amazing how much those small kindnesses can mean. Far more important than pride, eh?



  4. I believe that sometimes we "entertain angels unawares." I love how her goodness was not forgotten, and like to think that the good we do also continues on (even if we don't know it).

  5. I was 4 in 1962 and living in Montana, so I'm pretty sure it wasn't me. Your post reminded me of a family story I had forgotten, though, so thank you.

  6. Bellezza: My mom and dad certainly would have used the 'angel' explanation, not just on that occasion but many others.

    Laurie: Welcome! It is always nice to see someone new. Yes, Montana is a long way from here, and it is one place I have yet to visit. I have dropped in to see your blog and have added you to my blogroll.

  7. Your post actually made me cry. Having been broke and hungry at the same time a few times.

    When I was twenty, I worked two jobs. One of which was in a high-end grocery market and they used to throw out the bruised vegetables. Once it hits the curb, it's public property, or so it is said. I never purposely threw anything out. And, my staple diet was often a lot of only-slightly damaged green peppers at midnight. lol

    Oh. And, twice, a few pieces of trimmings from the raw tenderloin. I needed the iron.

    I love the 'downpayment on a liquore store'. That was awesome! I think I may have actually run into the same man, but I can't be sure.

    One panhandler used to have a sign up on which was written, "Kick a bum for a buck." I didn't like that one.

    In 1962, I was negative-ten. So, it wasn't me. But, it would have been nice to meet you on a park picnic table, I am sure.

    There is nothing wrong with allowing someone to help. A few times I have wanted to help and let my fear of embarrassing the individual or my fear of being rebuked stop me. Only a few times. But, I haven't ever forgotten them.

    I love your life story. I love it when you 'live in the past' a little. It's fantastic reading.

    Oee asked yesterday, "Are angels invwisaboh?"

    Only sometimes.

    God Bless, Atavist. Your trials and tribulations and triumphs have obviously served you and your family well and they to serve us, too.

  8. Penny, not too long into the future, you will be thinking back at the trials you face these days and you will see them, as I did in my case, as stepping stones to a brighter future. You have always struck me as a half-full sort of person (rather than half-empty) and it is that overall optimism and indomitable spirit that will get you where you want to (and deserve to) go.

    Thanks for your kind words, I always appreciate your insights.