Thursday, August 25, 2011

Why Wouldn't I?

As far back as I can remember, I noticed my dad being friendly and nice to other people.  It was obvious that not only did he not judge people based on their income bracket, size, shape, education level, skin color, religion, or anything else, but he didn’t even consider it.  As evidence by his actions and his words, in his eyes, anyone and everyone was deserving of kindness.

He once had an employee whose name was Pat-a-Cake.  The first time that Dad needed to do the payroll after he’d hired the guy, he asked his new employee what his last name was.  Pat-a-Cake’s response was that he didn’t know; he couldn’t read or write and didn’t have any legal records to show his official name due to a house fire when he was a young child.  Dad came home from work that day talking about how he needed to figure out a way to pay the guy.  He ended up just writing the check to Cash, driving Pat-a-Cake to the bank, showing him how to endorse the check on the back with an “X,” and then driving him home on Friday afternoons each week. 

During the summer before I started fifth grade, my dad wanted to introduce me to competitive running.  He felt it would be better for me to be coached by someone other than himself.  The track program in our town was an AAU Program called the Alcorn Track Team and was headed by a man named Coach McCoy.  Dad signed me up for it, and I spent my summer hanging out at the track and getting to know the other kids on the team.

Me, trying to keep up with my teammate, Neesie
These kids were from low-or very-low income families; some of them showed up at the cinder track where we ran every day barefooted and wearing jean cut-off shorts because they didn’t have money to buy running shoes or running shorts.  Some of them ran to practice because they didn’t have transportation; Coach McCoy drove an old cargo van, and he gave rides to any kids on the team who asked him so they could make it to practice.

Our team went to several out-of-town track meets that summer; kids rode with Coach McCoy and the few parents who had cars, including mine, to get to the towns where the meets were held.  Dad paid for a lot of hotel rooms, and we all piled in, sleeping three or four to a bed and some in sleeping bags on the floor.  It was great fun.  I got faster and tougher as a runner under Coach McCoy’s direction, and, even more importantly, I gained some valuable perspective as a result of being on this team.

Late in the month of May before Dad got sick, he and I had registered to run a race together.  When we went to pick up our race packets the afternoon before the race, there was a long line of people ahead of us.  One woman very obviously cut in line several people in front of us, and I was itching to call her out on it.  I thought Dad was going to say something to her about it when we got up to the registration table and the woman was there, but he instead smiled at her and wished her luck in the race.
I watched the expression on her face go from a scowl to a grin in return, and, after she had walked off, I said to Dad, “I should try to be nicer to people.  It really takes more effort to be nasty to someone else than it does to be kind to them, doesn’t it?”

Dad, who - as usual - didn’t realize that he was the Teacher in an Important Life Lesson, looked at me like I was crazy and said, “Huh?  How does it take any effort at all to be nice to somebody?  It doesn’t cost me anything, and you never know – that person may be in the middle of the worst day of their lives – so I figure, why WOULDN’T I be nice to them?”

"Everybody's beautiful, in their own way" - I remember Dad singing this so often when I was growing up; in fact, until I was a teenager, I thought he'd made up the song.

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