I know in our society it is much easer to give then receive. We want to pay back, be even and not in debt to anyone. And while we want to give, we refuse to allow anyone to give to us. In some strange way it diminishes us as a people. When people are kind to us and generous, we allow them to be a giver. This takes a bit of humility on our part as we must relinquish our rights on the level playing field. In my life many people have been kind to me. Sometimes they may not have even realize they were doing so. I have learned to stifle the urge to shove something in their face so we are even. This has nothing to do with always being the person who gets their lunch paid for by others. We all know about those people.
My Mother In Law use to say I was the kindest person she knew. Poor woman, she had a rough life. Early on, maybe even before I was married I realized I had a lot more going on inside my head then she did. Violet (I am not going to keep typing MIL)had been forged in a horrid family life and a more then difficult marriage. She pinned all her hopes on being the good wife and good mother and having the cleanest home in Brooklyn. She had the kind of household schedule that could have run D-Day. None of these things rewarded her. Her family found her constant cleaning stupid and pointless. Her husband would rather sit in a bar get drunk and gamble away the weeks wages and her children grew quickly and expanded out of her world. They were there, but their hopes and dreams had nothing to do with surgically clean floors.
Everyone loved my Father In Law. At least those who didn't live with him did. Good ole Charlie. Life of the party give you the shirt off his back etc. No problem giving you the shirt off his back. He had more home and if there was no money for the rent, well Violet would have to deal with the landlord. And so she did. All the while trying to present the appearance of a "normal" home. It was overall a futile effort. But she never ever gave up trying. At one point my FIL was a bag man for some minor mafia dude. He put his hand in the bag and got caught. After which he went into hiding someplace in the wilds of Long Island. Bad enough. But he came home when he knew his family would be out and robbed the place of anything that could be sold. The children's insurance odd bits of stuff. A radio that had been a wedding gift. And poor Violet's last $2.00. When Violet came in with the children, they were both very young she found the place gutted. No food no money nothing and the rent due. She told me once over a cup of tea that she just sat on the floor and cried. Her husband was gone and she was truly dead broke with hungry children. Dear husband had eaten the last of the bread she had in the house. There was nothing for it, she took the kids to her own MIL who live in the next apartment building and begged for dinner. The next morning the children went to school with lunches from their grandma and Violet went looking for a job. She found a job in a dine store. And worked hard. Worked out a deal with the landlord and didn't get evicted. Her husband was gone for more then 6 months. He would return periodically to see what pickings there were. I told her once I would have changed the locks. She was shocked. A wife can't lock her husband out. What and idea. She also had to deal with the goons who showed up from time to time looking for their money and the missing husband. In the end her uncle paid them off. Uncle Ed was a brick. He was kind and he told her he would like to see her smile again. You can see in pictures how her face changed. The pictures of Violet and my husband when he was baby, she has a soft rounded smiling face. After her face became pinched and she became as thin as a stick. Rather like she was trying to be as small and compact as she could be. The husband returned after his debts were settled and things went back to as they were. He treated the bars like home and his home like it was a nothing. But Violet had had some earth shattering change. She was earning her own money. Not much but her own. Over the years she furnished the apartment bought food and did the things most women do with the help of a partner.
I met Violet when she was still working in the dime store. I didn't know her or my husband. I had a friend who had gotten and after school job there. Years later when I met her again, she remembered I use to walk Rosemary home from work. (what innocent occupations we use to have) I went to school with her daughter and was dating her son. The Golden Child :-} More then likely I was not the DIL she would have picked out. I was Catholic and from a mixed marriage. I went to college and got arrested. This is not what a mother hopes for. I know in many ways I annoyed the shit out of her. I was not domestic and to smart for my own good. I read books for gawds sake. I was clever (a very nasty attribute) And not above using my sense of humor and brains to inflict pain. A nasty bit of work all together. But immature and inexperienced girls will behave like pigs. They tend to think their sensuality allows them to get away with anything.
So what does this have to do with kindness. Years after I was married and living in Virginia my in laws use to trek down here a couple of times a year. This was always a job. My MIL would inspect my total lack of homemaking skills and my FIL would encourage rampant drinking. Fun times fun times. Then one visit I watch Violet cut shelf paper and lovingly wash and put away the glasses and cups. I realize she was in 7th heaven. We will not go into mid century women and shelf paper. But there is a serious paper yet to be written about that! After the kitchen she asked me if we could organize the linen closet. Her face glowed. All those towels folded just so and lined up. Sheets pillowcases put in properly. Right another good job done. It was like watching aliens going to work. I realized Violet was burning to tidy me up. But she was also afraid that I might get angry and send a zinger her way. It was like the heavens opening up. I could do something for her. Something no one else could do. My sister in law was too neat to need help. But I am a total slob. So I made a cup of tea and explained that with Dawn in a body cast I just didn't have time for all these "jobs" And I really really appreciated her help. Would she help me clean the pit up. We both knew this was a lie. The pit was a pit because I didn't give a shit. But still. Her heart swelled and she was filled with that beatific light that people who get to be kind have. We went and got more shelf paper new kitchen curtains and a few other things. And went to work. After that we never looked back. We shared cups of tea, crocheted together and discussed the perfidity of man. We both made afghans, lots of them. Out of genuine Red Heart. (She loved VA the yarn was cheaper then NYC)
It was a double barreled gift. She got to clean (which she loved) and then she got to go home and tell everyone just how badly I kept house. It was no skin off my nose and gave her pleasure. And of course I got a clean house.
Years went on and in time she was too ill to clean for me. When we went to NYC to visit I would tidy up for her. She loved it. And supervised. It drove my own Mother to distraction. And even her son was annoyed by it. But WE understood just where we stood. After my FIL died her life became sadly contracted. Illness and a firm refusal to leave the house made her life very very small. I called her a couple of times a week. She had by this time driven her daughter to madness and they were less and less inclined to spend time with her. The last time I saw her before she died she clasped my hands with those paper thin hands that I am starting to develop and asked that when she got sick I would take care of her. Because I never yelled at her.
Recently my friends at Elann chat have been more kind to me that they can imagine. And their kindness has touched me deeply and warmed me and filled me with a sort of glow.
Thank all of you.