A Home for the Marys?

The sound of breaking glass might have been heard beyond our garage walls. An hour of cleaning had yielded a large bag of stuff for Goodwill and a number of items that had no second use. The noise was the crash of an engraved mixed drink carafe with a matching stirring stick and two small engraved glasses. These were wedding presents that were very personalized and never used. The thought that there might be bad jokes in a stranger’s home because our name lends itself to humorous pronunciations didn’t feel okay.

Like many Boomers, our cabinets are crowded with generations of glassware, quilts, boxes of photos and family Bibles. As our parents passed, their treasures became ours to maintain.  Anyone want a few sets of 50thanniversary champagne glasses with my parents’ names? Again, their last name has a few quirky pronunciations that are better kept out of strangers’ parties.

A crystal statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary we received one Christmas has a sister that my mother owned. They both stand, hands folded, behind wine bottles on a top shelf in the pantry. Taking more shelf space was a beautiful glass Christmas ornament on its own pedestal that was once the most valuable useless item we owned. Add two clear glass platters decorated with horses and sleds to carry dozens of holiday cookies. Plus one that has a lobster engraving, a total mystery. And the green platter with Thanksgiving in a lovely scroll that I never saw used at my parents but came to rest in my home.

That ornament will hang on our tree this year and later fend for itself in a box of its peers. The pedestal is gone. Someone will be thrilled with the glass platters. Maybe even use the Thanksgiving one. Three orphan wine glasses wait to be used on Thanksgiving before starting the next purge. They are lovely, but we already have dozens of lovely glasses. Let a bride-to-be furnish her wedding table with these things instead of throw away items and benefit Goodwill in the process.

But those statues are another story like a box of rosaries upstairs. Is there a Goodwill equivalent for Catholic stuff? The Marys don’t really deserve to be mistreated or become white elephant gifts.IMG_5858






The Gift of Randomness

Monster Dolls

Monster Dolls

I used to tease Crystel that I was going to give her seven American Girl dolls to the nursing  home. But, it really wasn’t teasing. “Why do you need so many dolls?” I’d ask.

One of my first jobs was as a nurse’s aide in a nursing home. I recall women lovingly stroking a doll’s hair, cradling the doll, and putting the doll to sleep. The doll was like her baby. I thought, what better home for these 18 inch life-sized dolls of Crystel’s?

When the children were young, their giving amounted to them filling up a paper bag with toys to give away before they could get a new toy. “We have to make room,” I’d tell them. From there we moved on to going through their closets and dressers to give away clothes they had outgrown.

Antonio and Crystel are 13 now.

Recently, Crystel joined me at the police station. She was assisting me with maintenance on police cars. This amounts to going through a check sheet to make sure all the bells, whistles and lights work on the cars and that there is a teddy bear in the trunk. Teddy bears help police officers relate to youngsters after car accidents, domestic violence, and abuse. I had explained this to Crystel. She decided that she’d add one of her Monster Dolls to each teddy bear. It intrigued her that some random person would get her doll.

F3646_styling_chair_1[1]A couple of weeks after that Crystel decided that we could give away a doll crib and American Girl doll hair salon chair. I walked the items over to our neighbor. She had a visitor. The visitor’s eyes lit up when she saw them. “I might have an American Girl doll to go with these,” I told her. “I’ll have to check with Crystel.”

Crystel brought out Molly. She sat on the floor and carefully changed Molly’s clothes. She wanted her to be dressed in the same clothes that she had come to her in from the American Girl doll store. I couldn’t help but think how similar this looked to Jody and I bringing Crystel home from Guatemala. Crystel and I talked about that as she was straightening out the pleats of Molly’s dress and picking out an extra outfit for her.

After brushing Molly’s bangs, she straightened out the red ribbons that held her braids tight.

“Ready?” I asked.

We walked across the street and knocked on the door.



Crystel handed her doll to the lady that neither of us knew. The woman wiped away tears. She said that she hadn’t worked for a few months because she had been caring for her sick mother. In doing so, she didn’t get paid and was worried about what she was going to give her granddaughter for her 5th birthday and for Christmas. That was until Crystel gifted her.

The following week Crystel went to the Mall Of America with Jody. I was shocked when she came home with new outfits from the American Girl doll store bought with her own money. I thought we were giving away American Girl dolls and their clothes, not buying more. Then Crystel explained, “I’m going to take a doll to Guatemala on our next trip to give to some random person,” she said. “I want the doll to look nice.”

The Unintended Consequences of Random Acts of Kindness

My 91-year-old Mom has an old green bomber jacket she wears for quick trips to the store.  The color is scuffed off of the elbows, and the knit cuffs and waist are pilled. The jacket isn’t good enough to wear to church, but it’s too good to throw away. And she likes it, or at least she did until the other day.

She was checking out at the grocery store and the clerk had bagged two small sacks, when Mom realized she didn’t have much cash with her. Even though Mom had several credit cards in her wallet, she didn’t think to use one of them—to Mom, grocery shopping is a cash operation. Flustered, she told the clerk to put back one of the bags. She didn’t have the money for both.

As she was walking out, the woman who’d been standing behind Mom in the checkout line caught up with her and handed Mom the second bag of groceries. This generous middle-aged stranger had paid for them. Mom managed to thank the woman, but she was mortified.

Mom’s convinced that the well-intentioned stranger saw an old woman wearing a ratty coat and concluded that Mom couldn’t afford to buy groceries. Mom has a comfortable income, so the idea that she might seem in need of charity was profoundly embarrassing to her. Mom gives generously to charities—she’s accustomed to being the giver. She’s not supposed to be the receiver. She’s proud of being in good shape financially.

My sister and I suggested other possibilities: Maybe the stranger was just being nice—everyone’s had the experience of coming up short at the checkout. Maybe the stranger was just trying to spare Mom the hassle of a return trip to the store.  Maybe Mom reminded the woman of her own mother.

Mom was unmoved by our explanations. She doesn’t want anyone thinking she’s poor and feeling sorry for her. She’s shopping for a new winter coat she can wear to the store.

* * *

I had a similar experience when I was shopping at the farmer’s market. I was debating whether or not to buy my collie a smoked dog bone. I’d picked up and put back several bones while the vendor was selling me on the merits of his smoking process. I concluded that the bones might be too splintery for my dog and decided not to buy any.

I felt a little bad about wasting the vendor’s time, so I stupidly said I didn’t have that much money with me, and the dog didn’t really need the bone. I wanted to move on and figured the vendor couldn’t argue with that explanation. But another shopper overheard the conversation and insisted on buying the $2 bone for me. I tried to refuse, but she said she wanted to treat my dog. So I let her give me the bone. I didn’t want to squelch her generous impulse. Better to be gracious. I’d get over my embarrassment.

Those random acts of kindness—moments of pure generosity—had surprising consequences. Instead of being pleased and grateful, Mom and I felt stupid. Embarrassed to be seen as needy. Guilty that we’d contributed to the perception. We’d expected to be the givers, not the receivers.

However, when I’ve truly needed help—say when a stranger helps me jump a dead battery—I am grateful and delighted that the world has such good-hearted people in it.

I still like the idea of random acts of kindness and want to be more open and accepting of what the world sends my way.

cosmic smooch

cosmic smooch