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  • Melissa Westemeier


Acts of kindness that I still reflect on:

When I was sixteen I was riding my bike to the public library on a very rainy day. Somehow (I was badly concussed and have no memory of the accident) I wound up in the gutter, my bike, face, knuckles and knees mangled. While the ambulance arrived to haul me to the hospital, a stranger picked up my bicycle and brought it to his repair shop. I spent a few days in the hospital. The stranger fixed up my bike and returned it to my parents, no charge. I still have the physical scars from my injuries but I mostly remember this kindness of a person I never met and never thanked. Sometimes when I ride my bike I think of how I must have flown ass over teakettle across my handlebars and skidded along the road. Did my bike tip over behind me? Did anyone see this person pull over and load my bike into their vehicle? Did they mention it to anyone? What were the odds that someone who knew how to fix bicycles passed by the scene of my limp body and my wrecked bike? I've learned to keep my eyes open for when my skill set can help someone else in a jam.

When I was twenty I was driving home at night on Highway 10. It was snowy, like blizzard snowy. I was returning from dance rehearsal, so I wore tights and sweats, but no socks, just beat-up Tretorns. My car suddenly banked to the right and began shuddering. A flat tire. I pulled over to the shoulder and got out of my car to examine the damage. Sleet pelted me as hard as the despair in my chest. I knew what to do, of course, back then everyone took Driver's Ed as a class in school and basic car maintenance was part of the curriculum. But it was cold and dark and ... I popped the trunk and retrieved the jack. Kneeling in the snow, I began the steps of positioning the jack beneath the rear bumper. Headlights pulled up behind my vehicle and an elderly man in a tan overcoat stepped out. "Get in my car, young lady!" He instructed me to sit beside his wife in comfort while heat blasted from the vents across my numb feet. I watched through his windshield as the man (Was he old? I was so young. He could have been fifty or seventy-eight for all I knew at the time.) changed my tire for me. His wife was kind, even as she gently admonished me for dressing so inappropriately for the weather. I was grateful for their help, a broke college kid with nothing to offer them but words. I don't think they would have taken anything else, though. They were true Good Samaritans.

I felt as miserable as this robin on our driveway yesterday.

I was probably twenty when my windshield cracked all the way across, a ding from a kicked-up stone spreads fast when the temperature fluctuates as it does in Wisconsin. I was working at the Bridge in Fremont back then, and I asked the father and son who owned Sunset Curve, a salvage yard, if they had a windshield I could buy. A poor college student, I couldn't afford a new windshield (or new anything else, for that matter), but I needed a replacement. "Of course. Stop on over some afternoon," the father told me. I remember how he'd sit at the bar for lunch, his upper arm tucked tight against his torso. I always wondered how he lost part of his limb, his hand and forearm. Was it an accident? Was he born without it? I drove to Sunset Curve the following week and walked behind him on a path between rows of rusting vehicles. I watched while tools were expertly placed on the windshield of another, less fortunate, Pontiac LeMans, and the large curved window came free. I followed the father into the shop after the windshield transplant was complete. Pulling out my wallet, I braced myself for the pain of hearing the cost of this repair. He waved me away with his good hand, saying, "You're just a kid in college. You can't afford to pay for this. You pay for your education. Someday you can help somebody else." His generosity still floors me when I recall it. I mean, he gave me a gift worth over $400 back then. A big break can make a big difference for someone with very little.

We were living on Taylor Street in Little Chute, our house was at the T of the intersection with St. Charles. It was our starter home, a fixed-upper that we were still fixing as we could afford the improvements. A man showed up on our front porch one day and asked if we wanted a storm door. He owned the hardware store in town and lived down the street. His wife had ordered a new storm door for their house and the one they were replacing was perfectly fine, just not to her taste. "It's the right size, I noticed. I drive past your house every day and it would look good here. Would you like it?" "What do you want for it?" I asked, hesitating because we didn't have much extra in the monthly budget at the time. "No charge," he said. "I don't need it." A storm door! A little extra warmth, a bit of extra sunshine, a screen in the summer to let in the breeze! Such a thoughtful donation from a man we didn't know, a man who paid attention to details and had the courage to walk up to a stranger's house to offer the gift of a perfectly good door.

I stood in the teacher's lounge on one of those rare days when I needed a Coke. (I almost never drink soda, so it must have been a day.) I scrabbled through my wallet and came up a dime short. I glanced up at the vending machine with despair. Fifty freaking cents. I dropped my coins back into my wallet and bowed my head, ready to head upstairs to teach without the refreshing crisp taste of a Coca Cola to improve my day. Had I said something? I must have, but I don't remember. What I do remember is the kind and soft-spoken Business Ed teacher, his eyes that crinkled when he smiled at people, digging into his pocket and dropping fifty cents in the machine, reaching down for the can of soda, and handing it to me without a word. I hadn't asked him. I didn't know him well enough to ask for a loan, and I never would have. But he noticed. In his quiet, observant way, he just gave me what I wanted in that singular moment and walked away, brushing off my promise to pay him back tomorrow.

Spill it, reader. What's a kindness you've never forgotten?

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