My wife and I love to eat out at a certain hamburger place that lets you “dress” your own hamburger. How can you complain when everything but the meat and bun are put there by you?
I was busy making the rounds between the lettuce, pickles and mayo when I saw a youngster, about six years old or so, having fits with the ketchup dispenser. He had more ketchup on him, the counter and the floor than he had in the little paper container. I told him that, since I had one free hand, I would pump the ketchup out for him if he would hold his container under the spigot.
Mission accomplished, as I returned to fixing my burger. But as the boy turned to walk away, he looked back at me and smiled.
“Thank you!” he said softly.
I got to tell you, his thanks trumped the heck out of a little ketchup in the cup. I almost felt guilty that I hadn’t done even more for the lad. In fact, this little 30-second scenario caused me to remember something my grandmother taught me when I was about the same age as the ketchup boy.
Winters in Texas
One of my greatest thrills as a youngster came in the winter when my grandmother would stay with us in south Texas. Her husband, my mother’s father, died when I was an infant. Consequently, loneliness and the more difficult Oklahoma winters convinced Grandma to go south by train to stay with us through the coldest months.
I always cherished our time together, albeit those opportunities slackened a bit as my sister and cousins came along. On one occasion, however, it was just Grandma and me. We had the whole house to ourselves and a grand plan on what to do with the opportunity: We were going to make a batch of cookies.
A Cookie Problem
Now, Grandma’s sugar cookies were legendary. With a bit of pleading, I convinced her to quadruple the recipe. As cookies came out of the oven, I soon realized there were not enough jars in the house to hold them all.
True to her sensible ways, Grandma solved the cookie problem. She had me put the excess cookies into sandwich bags while she cleaned the kitchen and grabbed her sweater. We then called on neighbors up and down the block, sharing our bounty with them. It was an exercise in kind giving and appreciative receiving that has remained with me all these years.
Never Out of Style
In reading this, I’m sure there are those that would say this sort of kindness has gone out of style, that it would no longer work. Who would dare take those cookies from a semi-stranger at their door today? And, even if they took them, would they actually eat them? Who’s to say?
Still, if she were with us today, I believe my grandmother, by example, would be teaching her grandkids, great-grandkids and great-great grandkids that any kindness, however small, still counts.
Perhaps that even includes a couple of squirts of ketchup.
A semi-retired child and adolescent psychologist and speaker, Dr. James Sutton is the author of The Changing Behavior Book: A Fresh Approach to the Difficult Child, as well as other books and articles. He also founded The Changing Behavior Network, an early internet podcast and blog supporting young people and their families. You can visit his blog at Itsaboutthem.wordpress.com.