Winners of the 2021 Almanac Essay Contest

September 29, 2021
Helping Hands

The 2021 Old Farmer’s Almanac Essay Contest topic was “A Kindness I Will Always Remember.” We received hundreds of entries for the 2021 contest—possibly the most ever! Thank you to all who entered and shared a heartfelt tribute on the topic. Here are the winning essays.

“A Kindness I Will Always Remember”

Winners from the 2022 U.S. Edition:

First Prize

When I was in second grade in the late 1950s, the school principal’s wife invited me to her home for an afternoon. My mother had passed away the year before, so I welcomed the extra attention. Soon after I stepped into her cheery kitchen, she suggested that we play “beauty shop.” I stood on my tiptoes, my head bent over her gleaming sink, as she washed my hair with her very special shampoo. Then, while I sat perched on a stool with a fluffy towel wrapped around my head, she polished my fingernails and rubbed my hands and arms with a creamy lotion that smelled of lilacs. After she rinsed my hair one more time, we sat on her front porch swing enjoying cookies and milk, my feet dangling while my hair dried in the sun. I felt like a princess that afternoon as she carefully combed and styled my hair. Many years later, I found out that the very special shampoo was a treatment for head lice, but this kind and compassionate woman spared me the stigma and embarrassment by never letting on that I was anything but a princess in need of a little pampering.

–Susan Yarrington, Puposky, Minnesota

Second Prize

My youngest son died in a car accident on December 25, 1998. In the hospital, I made the decision to donate his organs so that others could be helped by our tragedy. It was my experience with the donor agency that the survivors were celebrated, not the donors. A few years later, I was sitting in an airport when I struck up a conversation with an attractive, much younger man. The conversation flowed easily between us as we were waiting for our flights. He mentioned that he was the recipient of a donor kidney. When I shared with him my son’s story, he leaned in, stood me up, looked me in the eyes, and said, “I never thanked the person who donated their kidney to me, so I want to thank you and your son with all of my heart.” He gave me the warmest, sweetest, hug that lasted long enough so that we were both in tears when we separated. It was one of the most magical moments in my life and replaced all of the negativity that I was feeling toward the organ donation agency. We then said “Good-bye” and boarded our flights.

–Monica Clark, New Orleans, Louisiana

Third Prize

When I was a young woman living in Miami, I walked to work. At one corner, there was a handicapped man who sat on a tattered blanket, trying to sell pencils. I was always in a hurry and never stopped to help him. One day, I was having coffee in a restaurant nearby. While I was there, the “pencil man” came in and sat two seats away from me at the counter. When I wanted to pay for the coffee, I found that I was penniless. I had left my wallet at home. Highly embarrassed, I told the waitress and just sat there. I saw the young man struggle to open the worn change purse in his hand. With great difficulty, he took out two quarters and slid them haltingly along the counter saying, “Take these.” Even speech was a struggle for him. Thanking him profusely, I took them and paid … and then I left and cried. The next morning, I rushed to the corner to buy all of the pencils and more. He wasn’t there. He was never there again. It was as if an angel had come down to Earth to test my generosity. It changed my life. Since then, I’ve often been accused of being “too generous.”

–Sonja Karlsen, Tryon, North Carolina

Honorable Mention

I will never forget how when I was a child (probably around 7 or so) growing up in Virginia, I heard a tragic story on the news about a child who had accidentally drowned. They announced that the burial would be held later in Pennsylvania. A couple of days later, my dad and I were on the highway and ran out of gas. A gentleman stopped and offered to take us to get some gas and take it back to the car. While talking, we discovered that he was getting ready to head up to Pennsylvania for a funeral. It turned out that this stranger who stopped to help a man and his young daughter on the side of the road was the same man who had just lost his own child earlier that week. Even at what had to have been his lowest point, this kind man took the time out of all that he must have been going through to stop and help someone else in need. I am in my mid-50s now, and this extraordinary act of kindness can still bring tears to my eyes.

M. J. Dawley, Pewaukee, Wisconsin

Winners from the 2022 Canadian Edition:

First Prize

My husband and I were expecting our first baby. We were young, naïve, and poor as can be. Close to the birth of our daughter, with not a single item of baby “anything” having been purchased, a guardian angel introduced us to a local church group. After attending a few Sundays, we found the acceptance heartwarming. One Sunday, the pastor and his wife invited us to supper. When it was done, they “remembered” a couple of chores at the church and asked if we would be willing to lend a hand. We folded pamphlets, updated the calendar, had a tour, and then proceeded to the basement. Pastor led the way, opened the door, and turned on the light, where almost everyone in the congregation cheered, “Surprise!” There before us was everything needed for a newborn: clothes, bath and personal care items, a crib, a high chair, and a buggy. I was overwhelmed. The following day, they delivered everything to our door, plus a rocking chair for us to relax in while holding our precious new arrival.

–Vicki Thome, Medicine Hat, Alberta

Second Prize

It was May 1982, and two smalltown girls had arrived in New York City for a fun-filled weekend! Upon our arrival at the Hotel Edison on 47th, we met Johnny, our bellman, who had a big, genuine smile. He said that if we had any trouble, we should call the hotel and he would be there to help us. Long story short: We did need to borrow $20 from him to get back to the airport. Fast-forward to June 2010. I was back in NYC with my teenage daughter and determined to find Johnny, as I never forgot him and his kindness. At the Hotel Edison, I was advised that Johnny was retired. The staff thought that I was a bit crazy but also was rather intrigued and said that they would help. I wrote him a letter on hotel stationery explaining that I had never forgotten him and enclosed the $20. Two weeks later, Johnny called! His voice was breaking as he said that this was the nicest thank-you gesture that he had ever received. Johnny and his kindness live on forever through this story, which is just one of many about him, I am sure.

–Suzanne Cascanette, Halifax, Nova Scotia

Third Prize

I was an only child, and my mother always tried her best to fill my absent father’s shoes. When I was 8 years old, my Cub Scout pack was having their annual “Father and Son Dinner.” This was one time when my mom could not step in, and I remember feeling both sad and embarrassed that I did not have a father to go with. Unbeknownst to me, the Cub leaders had made arrangements with an older gentleman to be my “standin” father for the dinner. I remember how good it felt to have a man around me, and I felt incredibly special when he asked me about school and my hobbies. When dessert arrived, there were two flavors of pie: apple and cherry. I told the gentleman that I couldn’t decide what kind of pie to have—I liked them both. To my surprise, he said, “Why don’t you have both?,” and he got up and returned with two plates of pie! I may not have been the only boy with two slices of pie that night, but I sure felt special. Sixty years later, I have never forgotten this act of kindness from my “father for a night.”

–Joe Hargitt, Powell River, British Columbia

Honorable Mention

I was feeling lonely in a world where everyone seemed to be my opponent. “People are cruel—I do not trust them anymore,” I told him. “No, sweetheart: There is kindness in this world,” he replied. I looked at him with disbelief. “Look!” he continued. “I’ve been through many situations. When I was about your age, I felt invincible. I owned a car and felt like the ‘boss’ of the road. However, God decided to change my mind. It was early in the morning after I had finished my night shift and fallen asleep while driving. A vehicle coming from the opposite side crashed into me. I fainted. The car driver who crashed into me came closer when he realized that I was not moving. He dragged me out of the open window, and a few seconds later, my car exploded. My life was saved. Remember that when you feel alone, there will always be a hand to drag you out of the window.” “Grandpa, what if there is nobody there for me?” I asked. “Then be that somebody,” he smiled.

–Eirini Giantsi, Regina, Saskatchewan

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