Fast Food, Slow Walks and the Kindness of Strangers

On New Year’s Day, the girls wanted to go for a walk. What they really wanted, actually, was to walk to the nearby Stewart’s for ice cream. Ice cream on January 1—sure, sounds good.

Stanton decided to stay home, so Grace, Anna and I bundled up and headed out. It was about 40 degrees and sunny, a beautiful day for winter. The girls ended up riding their bikes, myself walking a bit behind.

Quite a few people were out on the Rail Trail too, and we all exchanged “Happy New Year’s.” Where I was in the world felt fresh, and crisp, and kind.

Stewart’s is locals’ go-to convenience store in upstate New York, similar to Wawa in the Philadelphia region. The girls left their bikes and helmets in the park next door; we walked inside.

We bumped into some people we knew. Everyone’s wardrobe of choice on New Year’s afternoon seemed to fall into the ever-popular “athleisure” category, and I fit right in with my fleece sweatpants and oversized tunic. #winning 😉

The girls ordered kiddie cones of chocolate-chip cookie dough (Grace) and rainbow sherbet (Anna), and I got coffee, of course.

The three of us sat at a table alongside a window. Not long after, an elderly woman sat nearby. We smiled at each other, chitchatted a bit. “Nice the coffee’s free today, for New Year’s,” she said.

I smiled again and nodded.

Grace tugged at my arm. “Was your coffee free, Mom?”

“I’ll tell you later, honey.”

When we were back outside, my older daughter reminded me that it was “later.” I explained to her that no, the coffee wasn’t free, but I thought the folks working at Stewart’s hadn’t charged the white-haired woman for it.

“Why?” Grace wondered.

“I think they could tell she was older and probably didn’t have as much money as she used to.”

Grace smiled. “That was kind.”

I agreed. Stewart’s had been kind. It hadn’t cost them much at all, but it had made a difference to someone.

Where I was in the world felt fresh, and crisp, and kind.

Bearing witness to acts of kindness, no matter how small, is always encouraging—to me, at least. In this week alone, I’ve seen so many acts of kindness. For example, the girls and I were at Hannaford on Monday before dinnertime, and it started to sleet just as we walked back outside to the parking lot with our groceries.

A manager whom I know appeared out of nowhere and asked, “Do you need help getting to your car?” He was very kind, and I thanked him. Although I didn’t take him up on his offer because I knew we’d be OK.

After loading up the car, I maneuvered to exit the parking lot. I was waiting to make a left-hand turn to get in one of the lanes to turn onto the street, when the car opposite me gestured for me to go ahead. Now, I know this is a little thing, but I so appreciate when other drivers do this because making a left can be tricky.

Within five minutes, two acts of kindness. Kindness is there in the world, if we open ourselves to see it. This is my perspective, anyway.

My whole life, I’ve experienced beautiful acts of kindness. I’ve also experienced ugly acts of unkindness. I try to pay forward the kindnesses and focus on the good things, with the belief (however naive it may be) that everything happens for a reason, and comes full circle in the end.

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One of my favorite parts of my Christmas vacation was sitting with my grandmother the Saturday after Christmas. My Grandma resides in a nursing home. She has a cozy room that my mom has decorated with pictures of our family—mostly my girls.

Half a wall is covered in full-color printouts of Grace and Anna, with a sprinkling of my brothers, sister, our cousins and me thrown in.

To the right of all these pictures, a TV is mounted on the wall. That Saturday, Grandma had the Penn State/Memphis football game turned on when my mom and I arrived. I would never choose to watch sports on TV, but if Stanton or, in this case, Grandma has a game on, I don’t mind sitting there and watching it too. I enjoy simply being there.

I totally enjoyed doing just that, being there, with my Grandma that day. She reclined on her bed; I sat in an armchair to her right. To my right was a table displaying the Christmas cards she had received, as well as a box of chocolates—yum.

“Could I have one of these, Grandma?”

“Oh, sure, have as many as you want. Your mother’s been eating them.”

I laughed and looked at my mom, who may or may not have rolled her eyes. “Thanks, Grandma.”

My grandmother was delighted to share her candy with me, and I loved her for it because she doesn’t have very much at this time in her life. What she has, pretty much, fits in her comfy yet small nursing-home room.

After I hugged Grandma good-bye, I reached over to give her another hug. These days, I’m very conscious that I never know when a good-bye might be the last one.  

My grandmother was delighted to share her candy with me, and I loved her for it…

Stanton, the girls and I cherish the time we spend with both our families during the holidays—Thanksgiving with his, Christmas with mine. The past couple of years, we’ve made New Year’s ours—just him, me and the girls—and we’ve especially appreciated this time together too, just the four of us.

On New Year’s Eve, the girls and I stopped by the library to pick out a DVD to watch later that evening. While we were there, we also got some books.

“This is the nonfiction section,” Grace told Anna, pointing to a stack of shelves. “These are the true stories.”

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been drawn to true stories. Listening to them, reading them and—later—writing them. Discovering meaning in things that really happened.

In telling any true story, though, we need to start somewhere. So we pick a beginning, whether in relaying an anecdote to a friend or drafting an article for a magazine. Beginnings can be arbitrary.

Memory isn’t an exact science either. But we do the best we can with our true stories, in the remembering and the telling.

When I write for my website here, I have two main goals. First, I want to tell a good true story. I want to represent life, combining equal parts honesty, humor and inspiration. If my story makes someone reading it smile or laugh out loud or simply feel, then that’s my biggest joy.

Second…I want to remember. I want to remember that we watched “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” on New Year’s Eve 2019, after eating homemade French-bread pizza on our good china, which we don’t use enough. Not every detail, and not a vanity project of blog posts…but some of the true stories that meant something to me, that I found meaning in and thought others might enjoy too.

“These are the true stories.”

The girls and I took our time heading back home from Stewart’s. I had some coffee left in my cup; it kept my hands warm as I walked.

The girls would ride their bikes a bit, then stop to examine something on the ground, or chase each other around a bench.

“We’re taking forever,” I finally noted.

“Yep,” Grace and Anna agreed. They were in no rush.

A joy everyone experiences when they’re young—the feeling of having all the time in the world.

No matter how young or old we are, we can appreciate the good things that abound, from hot cups of coffee to slow winter walks and unexpected kindnesses. And our stories—the ones we tell at Christmas dinner tables year after year, where everyone gathered knows the punch lines…the ones we write down, in diaries or online posts…the ones yet to come.

May the best be yet to come.

Happy New Year, friends. ❤

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short story, “Backtrack.” An engaging read that’s can’t-put-it-down good.

Favorite Family Movies (or, Why We Just Watched Fletch for the 20th Time)

The week of Christmas, my parents’ house. Both girls had fallen asleep. Stanton and I sat with my two brothers and sister in the family room. The conversation topic at hand: what movie to watch.

We scrolled through the options on Netflix. I had read good things about “Bird Box,” and “Carol.” Jenna and I, halfheartedly, suggested “Love Actually” (predictably, Stanton, Josh and Jared groaned their dissent). None of these options, however, was ever a serious contender. We all knew—all five of us—that we would, in the end, settle on something we’d seen many times before.

That night, we watched “Fletch,” the ’80s cult classic starring Chevy Chase as investigative journalist Irwin M. Fletcher (and multiple aliases).

Chevy Chase once said Fletch was his favorite role. Personally, I prefer him as Clark Griswold. “Christmas Vacation” is another favorite in my family’s (admittedly short) list of beloved motion pictures. Sometimes, my dad and I even have text conversations consisting entirely of “Christmas Vacation” quotes. (“If I woke up tomorrow with my head sewn to the carpet, I wouldn’t be more surprised than I am now.”)

I loved watching “Fletch” once again too, though. I enjoyed seeing Tim Matheson as Alan Stanwyck, before he was John Hoynes. His back-and-forth with Fletch still made me laugh. (“Do you own rubber gloves?” “I rent. I have a lease, with an option to buy.”) And still, I’m not entirely clear on the LAPD/drug trafficking story line, but that doesn’t impede my enjoyment of the film. It doesn’t matter, to me.

Why? Because “Fletch” is familiar—comfort food, in a way. And I would never think to watch it on my own, without my family. It wouldn’t be as fun: no one to quote punch lines with, no one to laugh with. No shared history, or memories, or paper plates of Doritos (a guilty pleasure, a few times a year).

Favorite family movies. We all have them. (What are yours?)

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While we were all together (in addition to rewatching “Fletch”), Stanton, my siblings and I took part in a local pizza place’s Trivia Night. Our team name? I Don’t Know, Margo, in reference to a “Christmas Vacation” quote (and Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s character, pre-“Seinfeld”). Of course our team name referenced a favorite family movie quote.

Trivia Night together was a lot of fun. Mostly because we had my brother Josh on our team, I Don’t Know, Margo, won. As we walked to our car afterward, Jenna led us in singing, “We Are the Champions.”

Yes, we were that family. 😉

That family, friends, similar to so many others. All with their share of joys, disappointments and inside jokes. And still coming together again, holiday after holiday, year after year, despite any distances or differences.

After our own Christmas vacation, Stanton, the girls and I got ready to head home. We all hugged one another goodbye. My sister told Anna, “I’ll miss you so much!”

Anna, 3 years old, smiled, shouted, “I’ll be back!” and ran out the front door. Anna makes me smile all the time, and I smiled then too.

“I’ll be back!”—this sentiment sums up why we watch the same old movies again and again. They take us back. Back in time, to a younger, more innocent, less complicated time. When everyone with whom we started out shared the same family room, the same TV.

Favorite family movies bring us forward and keep us together too. We look forward to the special-occasion and everyday reunions that encourage gathering, reminiscing…and cherished-movie rewatching (critics’ reviews, Rotten Tomatoes ratings and actors’ real lives notwithstanding).

“I’ll be back!”—this sentiment sums up why we watch the same old movies again and again. They take us back.

For all our movie watching (and rewatching), Stanton, the girls and I never actually watched a movie together, as a family of four. Kind of crazy, right? When the girls are watching TV, though, we try to get other things done.

We decided to have a super lazy, super cozy New Year’s Eve at home, doing something we’d never done: finally watch a movie together. I made French bread pizza beforehand, and Stanton built a fire in the fireplace. The four of us got comfy on the couch and watched “Beauty and the Beast” (the animated version). The girls had never seen it before and loved it, and Stanton and I enjoyed seeing it again. It was a really simple, really sweet time together, and maybe the start of our own tradition.

Later, after we tucked the girls into bed, Stanton and I tuned in to some of the Times Square Ball Drop news. The New Year’s Eve countdown was on, and winding down. In that moment, I felt an incredible sense of gratitude for my family.

For Stanton, there with me, and our daughters, upstairs. Both our sets of parents and grandmas, our siblings and their families, and our friends who are like family. We’re so lucky for all this love in our life.

When I think about life, and what it is and what it means, the first thing I think is beautiful. And the second thing is fragile.

I try to take care, then, with life and the people in it. I’ve made lots of mistakes, could always be a better person. I do try, though, to seek good, to give love.

Love is the little things. Watching (or rewatching) a movie with family. Speaking kindly to grocery-store cashiers, rather than checking our phones. Basically, being there for people…those we know and those we don’t. Being present.

Why not be present this New Year? Even if we already know all the punch lines.

“Those are three names I enjoy: Marvin, Velma and Provo.”

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short story, “Backtrack.” An engaging read that’s can’t-put-it-down good.