Paying It Forward
For many years I have written volumes about the dysfunction that was rampant in my family as I was growing up. Today I want to write about the positive legacy that I inherited from both my mother and my father.
Since the tragic shootings at Newtown, I’ve been thinking quite a bit the idea of the 26 acts of kindness in honor of the people who were slaughtered that day. I think it’s a wonderful idea, but why stop at 26? Why can’t we all just pay it forward every day?
My earliest memories are of my parents helping people out. As I was growing up, it seemed we always had one of my cousins from my mother’s side of the family living with us. They were the children of my mother’s oldest brother, who was married with five children. He did not take care of his family. I know that my folks kept them from going hungry quite often. They also paid for his oldest child to have orthodontic work done. His teeth came in widely spaced and nearly pointed at a right angle out of his mouth. He ended up with one of the most beautiful smiles I’ve ever seen. Every time I looked at him, I remembered all those trips we made from Connersville to Indianapolis and how much they changed his life. He went from a very shy self-conscious guy to a confident, handsome young man.
One of my favorite memories revolved around my mother making candy and iced Christmas cookies every year. She worked in a factory full time, so she would start right after Thanksgiving and work in the evenings or on weekends until she had dozens of beautifully decorated tins filled with her delicious black walnut fudge, peppermint fondant (this was light and fluffy & pink), milk chocolate fudge with English walnuts, peanut brittle and her amazing iced sugar cookies. These were my favorite. She had tin cookie cutters of a Santa face, reindeer, Christmas trees, wreaths and a sleigh. The cookies were always the special treat we left for Santa with some milk. There were only crumbs left next to the empty milk glass on Christmas morning.
When all of the tins were ready, Mother and Dad would pile my little brother and me in the back seat with the Christmas bounty. Then we would drive all over Connersville delivering the treats. There was one elderly couple I remember quite well. They had been neighbors of my late Grandma Riebsomer. I was fascinated with their names. Tillie and Diesel. They had no children and were shut-ins. I can still see the looks on their shining faces when we showed up with our tin of Christmas goodwill for them. Sometimes I would hear them thank Dad for the groceries, so I learned that they gave all year round, not just as Christmas. I remember feeling so warm inside and realized how good it felt to give, just to be giving, no strings attached.
This was a powerful platform for a little girl who lived on an ever-shifting landscape. It was something I could do all by myself, no matter what was going on around me. I think that was the beginning of my longing to teach, to help brighten someone’s day or to just make a difference in some small way.
When I got married my husband and I continued the tradition of helping because it was the right thing to do. For a lot of our married life we had members from both of our families living with us when they needed help or were transitioning. On Christmas day we invited people who didn’t have families living locally to spend the day with us, lots of food, lots of games, lots of fun.
This semester I’m in the leadership training program. The Writing for a Change Foundation of Bloomington is supporting this training so that we can begin more outreach programs and help enrich our current program for women in the Monroe County Jail. For me, it is a way to honor my parents who modeled paying it forward before it was fashionable to call it that. I hope I’m making them proud.
Rebekah for the Poplar Grove Muse