“Small kindnesses often, unintentionally, produce the biggest payoffs.”
― Richard Paul Evans
Sometimes people give us gifts that they don’t even realize they are giving us. Here’s my memory of one such gift, an intangible expression of an all-too-unusual kind of love.
Because my father has always been a good sport about being teased, all four of his children have indulged in making fun of him about various things over the years. I think Daddy is able to take this kidding because he senses the enormous respect that lies beneath the affectionate joking. But once in awhile, he will scold us for being out of line if our teasing touches on another person.
When I was in my twenties, about the time I began to think I knew everything better than anybody else did, my father pulled out his wallet to pick up the tab for everyone at a restaurant. This was his typical practice, but on this occasion I happened to notice that his wallet was literally falling apart at the seams. “Daddy,” I chided him, “for a man of your means, that is one sorry-looking wallet. Why don’t you buy yourself a new one?”
With tears in his eyes, Daddy reprimanded me, “Jewel gave me this wallet.” I was instantly mortified at my words. Seeing my abrupt silence, and perhaps feeling the need to suppress his own emotional reaction, he added, “She always gave me something I could use.”
Jewel was our generous and sweet Granny, his mother-in-law, my mother’s mother, who had died years earlier. I have no idea how long ago she had given him the wallet, but it brought to mind a similarly tearful reprimand I had witnessed as a very young child, this one coming from Jewel herself, in defense of Daddy.
We were all at Granny and PaPa’s home on one of our relatively rare visits, and Granny heard Mom giving Daddy a hard time about something. “You be good to Carlyle!” she snapped. My mother, already feeling impatient, snapped right back. “I’m so sick of you taking Carlyle’s side all the time!”
Granny got tears in her eyes and said “Others only gave me their dirty laundry to wash today. Carlyle gave me twenty dollars.”
Twenty dollars was a lot of money in the early 60’s, but that wasn’t the memorable part of this exchange. Like my father’s response to my laughter at his broken-down wallet, Granny’s words to my mother were a rare rebuttal sparked by a true affection that was always apparent between my father and his mother-in-law.
In my lifetime, I’ve observed with no small amount of chagrin the endless jokes about mothers-in-law, and the pervasive reality that so often lies behind such cruel humor. Any in-law relationship, it would seem, is one that is fraught with peril, a psychological minefield that is best traversed with care. Even when appropriate care is taken, the inherent risks often take their toll, leaving wounded people limping along with real or imagined slights nurtured over the years into longstanding grudges.
The treasured gift my Granny and my Daddy gave me is the memory of at least one giant exception to what seems a very sad rule. As with most such gifts, it was given with no awareness, unintentionally made manifest because of a mutual respect that brooked no insults. While I can identify with my mother’s frustration (like her, my temperament has more of her father’s plain-spoken Scots Irish volatility) I also appreciate having that frustration trumped by reasonable defense when needed. And I will always cherish the knowledge that my Granny and her eldest child’s husband remained each other’s champions insofar as such defense was ever needed.
In this season of giving objects as gifts, let’s take a few minutes to focus on giving each other the intangibles that last far longer; the memory of loving words, compassionate actions, and enduring examples of life well lived. I wish you many such gifts, this year and every year!
One year ago today: