Opinion: Small gestures teach lesson of thoughtfulness

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Not everything I have done in my life would serve to qualify me as a role model for my sons. I am human and I am flawed. But age and experience have also taught me a few lessons that I hope might prove useful to them. Among those lessons are small acts of thoughtfulness toward other human beings.

Some years ago I lived for a period of time in Schaumburg. My principal residence remained my home in Northwest Indiana and the Schaumburg residence a home away from home.

A weekly ritual for those years was carrying my shirts and other laundry to a nearby cleaner owned by an amiable citizen of Greek ancestry. During my visits I noticed in the open area behind the front counter two young women working a pair of large pressing machines. Having labored on those ponderous machines as a young man, I knew how exhausting hours of work on them could be. Since the young women were dark-haired with dark complexions, I asked the owner if they were of Greek descent. He told me that both young women, hardworking and reliable employees of his for a decade, were of Puerto Rican descent.

That visit was in February, a few days before St. Valentine’s Day. Visiting the Schaumburg mall, buying a card and a box of candy for my wife for the Valentine’s holiday, I bought two small boxes of Mrs. Field’s cookies nicely wrapped for $5 a package. I signed a small card to attach to each box, offering my thanks to the young women for their diligent service.

On my next visit to the cleaners, I dropped off the boxes of cookies and the cards. A week passed until I returned to pick up my laundry. When they saw me entering, both young women came to the counter to thank me. One of them, her eyes moistened by tears told me, “We’ve been pressing clothes here now for 10 years. In that time no one has ever given us a card or any kind of gift before.”

In that same area of Schaumburg was a gas station that I regularly frequented for gas, oil changes and any needed repairs. One of the station mechanics was a genial, curly-haired young man named Chuck. At times while he was changing the oil on my car we chatted. He was newly married and he and his wife had just learned they were going to have a baby.

For the following months on those occasions when my car was being serviced or when I stopped in the station for gas, Chuck kept me informed on his wife’s condition. One October morning, a glowing and jubilant Chuck informed me that his wife had given birth to an eight pound three ounce baby boy they were going to name Alex.

Following that day on one of my visits, I gave Chuck a card of congratulations on their son’s birth. I also enclosed a $50 U.S. Savings bond in the name of their son for which I paid $37.50. Chuck’s gratitude was overwhelming.

Not one among the scores of other customers whose cars he had serviced for years had thought of offering his new-born son a gift.

From a selfish viewpoint, there was also an unexpected bounty for me. From that day, if there were a pileup of cars needing repairs, mine went automatically to the head of the line.

Moving forward some years and to our home in Northwest Indiana. Living as we do on a sand dune overlooking Lake Michigan, winters can inundate us in snow. Since a precipitously steep driveway ascends from the street to our house, what becomes essential after a snowstorm is a good plowing service.

The plowing company we used has serviced us for a number of years. For most of this span of time the owner has done the plowing and salting. For the last few years his son, a high school senior, has replaced him on the plow. Both father and son had proven efficient and reliable.

During last year’s first heavy snow, my wife and I were abruptly shocked out of sleep at 6 a.m. by the thunderous clatter of the plow in our driveway.

Benumbed by the pills we both take for sleep, it was as if an earthquake had shaken our bedroom.

Later that morning I called the plowing office and indignantly lodged my complaint. I was told later that the son had been on the plow and that he had been properly tongue-lashed for his blunder.

Thinking about the young man working diligently through the night while other youths his age slept, I felt vestiges of remorse. I wrote him a letter commending his labor through the night and expressing my regrets for getting him into trouble with his father. While still observing the error of plowing much too early I thanked him again for the exemplary service he had provided us during the previous winters. I also enclosed a $50 dollar check for the youth to take a friend to dinner, adding that if he chose that dinner at Pizza Hut or Burger King, the sum I enclosed might also be extended to include a movie.

All of these episodes were small almost effortless gestures with a minimal expense. But each note and each small gift incurred gratitude and an appreciation far exceeding any time and expense I had expended. In addition, each experience provided a lesson in thoughtfulness toward others that I hope my sons and their children will carry on in their lives.

Find more information on novelist Harry Mark Petrakis at harrymarkpetrakis.com.

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