OPINION | BRENDA LOOPER: Legacy of kindness

So many thoughts have crowded my head over the past week that it's been hard to settle on a topic for this week's column. But because I want to avoid politics if at all possible, I'll stick with my family.

Today would have been my Nanny Opal's 107th birthday. Friday would have been Mama's 82nd. They're both sorely missed, but their legacies live on.

In our family, birthdays tend to be grouped fairly close together which, when you're trying to save money, comes in handy since you only need one party for several birthdays at once ... if you have a party at all (we didn't much, really, growing up; that was for more well-off families than ours). For Mama and Nanny, we would often just get together for dinner and cake (always chocolate of some sort; I came upon my chocoholic ways quite honestly), tell stories, and laugh.

It might be about the time Grandpa decided to make muscadine wine in a bucket, but unfortunately had stored it near where the slop bucket for the hogs was kept. Nanny grabbed that bucket one day to feed the hogs and didn't think anymore of it till later that day when her dad (my great-grandpa Lester) came by the house and was confronted by several inebriated swine.

Or maybe it would be about a million other things that might mean very little to anyone but us and would always make us smile.

We didn't always have the easiest time of things, but we learned that if you could make someone else's day a little better, it never hurt to try. Being kind didn't cost a thing, but being purposefully mean could cost you everything.

Few people around Dayton didn't have a crocheted potholder or five from Nanny, or a pincushion or a dozen other things she made just to give away because it made her happy to do so. If you were on her radar, you were likely to be the recipient of bags of pecans, beans, peas or corn, or jars of tomato sauce, preserves or anything else she might have had too much of when the garden was going strong. She believed in sharing her bounty, and others around her did the same.

Neighbors supported each other, with no concern about politics or religion or anything else that divides us now. What I wouldn't give for just a touch of that.

Mama was just like Nanny in that she was kind and welcoming. Even if she didn't have much, she was always willing to share what she had with whoever needed it. She "adopted" more than a few people, taking one suit-shopping when he needed it, feeding a college student/encyclopedia salesman one summer whenever he was coming through, and serving as an extra mom to more than a few of my friends and my brothers' friends.

That was the overarching theme to Mama and Nanny's lives, I think, more than keeping a good sense of humor because you never know when you're going to need it for sanity's sake. Being kind made them loved.

But that doesn't mean that they were milksops; they would fight when needed. Their default was kindness, but the more interactions you had with them, the more you'd build on your reputation. You'd probably get more chances than you deserved, but if you proved yourself through your actions to be unreliable or untrustworthy, you'd have a tough row to hoe with them. As long as you treated others with respect and kindness, you were worthy of the same.

I try to live my life according to how Mama and Nanny did, but I know I fall short in many ways. I could never be the social butterfly either of them could be; I'm far more of a homebody. Plus, I sometimes hold on to grudges far longer than I should. Still, I try.

More of us should have kindness as our default setting rather than suspicion or hostility. There are not only physical and mental benefits to that (living longer, clearer thinking), but it also might keep you from being a miserable sod no one wants to be around (who'll probably then make everyone else miserable by being an Internet troll since that seems to be the way things go now).

Kindness is intentional and voluntary and often anonymous. It doesn't seek praise, and it's sometimes hard if you think too much about it. But when practiced every day, it's second nature and creates ripple effects; one kind deed can spark another, and another.

Be wary when warranted, sure, but what does it hurt to go into a situation assuming the best of others rather than thinking everyone is an adversary? Give that unknown someone the benefit of the doubt; you might find you have a lot in common (hey, does anyone else have a drunken-farm-animal story?).

I firmly believe that there are still more inherently kind people out there than jerks; the jerks are just louder and have burned too many of the kind people too many times before, so the kind people retreat into themselves to avoid being hurt again.

We can't let the jerks kill that spark of kindness that makes us human.

I'd rather go to my grave knowing I tried my best to be kind than knowing I got the best of that person who crossed me once. If you sow kindness, that's what you'll reap.

And maybe a few bags of pecans too.

Assistant Editor Brenda Looper is editor of the Voices page. Email her at [email protected]. Read her blog at blooper0223.wordpress.com.

Upcoming Events