70: A Certain Samaritan

70: A Certain Samaritan

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tough Times, Tough People

A Certain Samaritan

Have you had a kindness shown?
Pass it on!
Let it travel down the years,
Let it wipe another’s tears,
Till in heaven the deed appears—
Pass it on!

~Henry Burton

My parents divorced in 1963, when I was eleven years old. One year later, my father stopped providing any type of financial support for my three sisters and me. My mother was on her own, working to provide for her family of girls, one of whom had severe developmental delays.

Times were definitely challenging then. I remember the threatening calls from bill collectors, the sound of my mother crying late at night, and those few evenings when flour and water pancakes made for a very meager dinner. But the memory that surfaces much more strongly than all of the others is one in which I learned a dear lesson about caring and sharing.

To support our family, my mother worked during the day in a local newspaper office. In addition, several nights a week, she sold women’s clothing at home-based parties.

Driving home late one night, she sat stopped at a red light. Weary from her work, she did not see the speeding car racing up behind her, its driver oblivious to the stoplight. The other car crashed into the back of my mother’s car at sixty miles per hour.

It may have been her weariness that saved her life that night. Her limp, tired body was propelled from her seat into the back of her station wagon. The car was crushed into an accordion of metal around her.

Amazingly, my mother survived with only bumps and bruises, cushioned by the clothes she had hoped to sell. But her car did not survive, and the driver of the other car was a young man with no insurance. I remember the look of anguish on my mother’s face as she worried about how she was going to get the money for another vehicle.

The next day, I saw our neighbors, the Claytons, walking down the hill from their home. They handed my mother an envelope with $500 tucked inside. I remember my proud, tough mother protesting that she couldn’t take their money. There was no way she could possibly pay them back.

Mr. Clayton smiled at her protests and then gave her a powerful admonition. “Don’t worry about paying us back. When times are better, just help someone else who is in need. That will be payment enough.”

My mother took his counsel to heart. A year later, she returned from a long bus trip to a neighboring town where she had been selling advertising for a local publication. As she walked through the door, huddled close beside her was a young woman holding a crying baby. My mother ushered them into our kitchen and proceeded to put together a few simple things for a dinner for our guests.

As the night wore on, the young woman’s story unfolded. She had run away from an abusive husband, taking only her young child and a handful of possessions. She had only enough money to get as far as our city. When my mother met them on the bus, she knew what she had to do.

My mother made them a makeshift bed on our living room couch. Later, I saw her open her purse and hand the young woman enough money for the remaining bus trip to the distant city. I knew that was all the money she had, yet I saw such a look of determination and joy upon her face as she handed it freely to the girl. I listened as the young mother tearfully called her parents, telling them she was coming home.

Through the years, times continued to be tough for my mother and our family. In spite of this, again and again, I saw her reach out to help others however she could, whether it was with money, time, or another form of service.

It has been several decades since our neighbors came down the hill with their gift. I try to follow their and my mother’s example, helping a little here and there. I’m hoping that my own children will in turn learn the sweet lesson that I did all those years ago from a dear neighbor and mother. I hope that they will see that even when times are tough, acts of kindness and generosity can make such a difference.

~Jeannie Lancaster

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