Congratulations to the winners of the 2010 Almanac Essay contest! Below are the submitted essays and names of the winners.
Topic: The Kindest Thing Anyone Ever Did for Me
In 1966, a friend and I completed Navy boot camp. Our first duty was to go to New York City and board our ship. We were to fly out of [Chicago’s] Midway Airport that day, so we never received any pay for food or lodging. The weather got bad and the airport was shut down, so our flight was routed to Rochester, New York. We were rebooked on a 9:30 A.M. flight the next day. We couldn’t stay at the airport, so we hitchhiked into town and found a bowling alley that was open 24/7. We had only a few cents between us—enough for one hamburger and a soda. When the lady working the counter brought our order, she noticed that we split it. She asked what a couple of sailors were doing in Rochester. We told her and asked if we could spend the night at the bowling alley. She talked with her husband, and then they invited us home with them. They fed us and put us in their son’s room. Her husband brought us to the airport in the morning. We couldn’t thank them enough. Both said that if their son was in our situation, they hoped someone would do the same for him. I don’t remember their names but I’ll never forget their kindness.
–Bob Dowell, Terre Haute, Indiana
As a youth growing up in northeast Texas, this son of a twice-divorced single mother of seven and an alcoholic, stay-away dad had a life that wasn’t always pine trees and sunshine. Random acts of kindness were few and far between. Little did I know that I was on someone’s radar to receive an act of kindness. A bicycle had always been out of reach. One quiet night, days before Christmas, I heard a rap, rap, rap at the front door and opened it to a middle-age man looking for my mother. Calling my mother’s attention, I slipped back. Silently, I gathered information from their whispers: This man was Santa’s helper, disguised as my teacher’s husband. He was there to surprise yours truly with a brand-new bike. Happily, my mother accepted. Kindness is contagious. When he left, we all owned smiles. I owned a smile and a bike that I couldn’t ride until Christmas day.
–Matthew Sparks, Henderson, Texas
Editor’s note: Mr. Sparks is passing his prize money forward to his aunt, in further demonstration that “kindness is contagious.”
Sixty-five years ago, I was 5 years old and had recently arrived in Atlantic City from Baltimore with my older sister and younger brother. Our mother had traveled by train with us and then walked out of our lives, leaving us in our father’s care. My sister boarded with a family, and my brother and I spent our days and nights in a garage where my father worked as a mechanic. Come the end of a day, father would leave until the next morning. One night, as he was about to go, a friend of his who happened to be there said, “Let me take your boys home. It’s awfully cold tonight.” We were given a warm place to sleep and a bowlful of oatmeal with a delicious cinnamon bun the next morning by this stranger. That simple act of caring opened my eyes to the meaning of human kindness.
–Daniel Walters, Margate City, New Jersey
Thanks to all of our readers who submitted stories of kindness. Here are a few more:
One Saturday in 1943, while I was driving in the family truck to my cello lesson, the cello bounced out of the back of the truck and was run over by a bunch of teenage boys in a station wagon. I sobbed uncontrollably while my mother told them that it hadn’t been their fault. On Monday, there was a loud knock on the door. It was the six boys with a new cello. They had each given $35 to buy it for me. Today, I still play that cello. –Patricia Gibbs Scoggin, Rochester, Minnesota
In the summer of 2006, I was unable to pay my college tuition—about $2,000. On the last day to pay it, I was substitute teaching. One of the office personnel came into the room and handed me a receipt. I looked at it twice before I realized what it said: Someone had paid my bill, in one of the kindest acts I could imagine. –Fonda Bean, Russellville, Alabama
One day in 2009, when the cashier subtotaled my grocery order, I realized that I didn’t have enough money. I removed the items I could not afford and paid my bill. As I was putting my groceries into my car, a young girl and her mom came over and handed me two grocery bags. They had overheard my conversation with the cashier and paid for the items I had left behind. –Irene Freni, Flanders, New Jersey