August 21, 2014

LITTLE DETAILS: A simple yet profound kindness

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By Katherine Bielawa Stamper

“My father died when I was very young,” Mary said. “Dad’s former co-worker, Jimmy, started sending a pair of winter gloves to my siblings and me every Christmas.”

This story, told by a member of St. Mark’s Unitarian Church in Edinburgh, was a response to the minister’s invitation to share a memory of a character—fictional or real—who inspired us. A small candle was lit to honor each of those mentioned. The table placed at the front of the sanctuary soon filled with flickering candlelight on that chilled Sunday morning.

A young girl, guided gently by her parents, stepped forward to speak the name of her best friend, “Rosie.” Winnie the Pooh was cited by a preschooler hoisted to the microphone by his father. An older woman expressed gratitude for the wonderful friendship and inspiration she receives from her daughter. A young mother, a transplant from Chicago, spoke of the very real inspiration she received from Anne, the protagonist in Lucy Maud Montgomery’s story, “Anne of Green Gables.”

Some reflections were humorous; others were powerfully poignant. Mary’s story stood out, moving me to tears. I decided to approach her during the coffee hour immediately following the service.

Mary, a woman in her fifties, was born in Scotland. Her father, like many Scotsmen, moved the family down “south,” to England, where he found employment.

As transplanted Scots, the family strove to plant roots in their new home. This may have involved Mary’s dad going out “for a pint” with Jimmy after his workday. Maybe the two men shared conversations at their lockers or while on 15-minute coffee breaks.

Mary’s father’s death came suddenly and cruelly. Her mother, a young widow with five children, moved back to Scotland to raise her family alone.

Jimmy sent a small package with a pair of winter gloves for each of the children that very first and lonely Christmas back in Scotland. He sent gloves for each child, each and every Christmas thereafter. The fatherless children benefitted from a bit of English warmth. The gift also served as a testament that someone back in England remembered and honored their dad. This became increasingly important as memories of their father dimmed with time.

I told Mary how moved I was by her story. It reminded me of the power of simple yet profound kindnesses. She and her siblings made the journey to England a few years ago to visit Jimmy and help him celebrate his 80th birthday with his family. We both teared up as she recounted the significance of this link to her deceased dad. It turned out Mary and I work in the same field with at-risk youth, including those in foster care.

In my work on this side of the Atlantic, I administer a small grant fund graciously supported by a church in Lamoille County. It’s designed to pay for basic needs for youth in our program that might otherwise be unmet. With the weather turning cold and snowflakes flying, the most frequent request I receive this time of year is for funds to purchase winter clothing. I’ve been parceling out grants for kids who need winter jackets, boots, hats, scarves and gloves to weather Vermont’s coldest and harshest season.

Twenty-one percent of children in the United States live in poverty, according to the National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University (www.nccp.org).  That’s a figure worth pondering as we are chided to buy, Buy, BUY this holiday season.

Mary’s story reminds us of the significance of a pair of gloves, graciously given. May the spirit of Jimmy—and so many like him—warm your heart this holiday season.

Katherine Bielawa Stamper lives in Williston.  Reader comments are welcome at [email protected] or [email protected].

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