On the senior pages in my high school yearbook, the quote they chose to put under my picture is: “You can catch more flies with honey than you can with a fly swatter.” It was advice that my mother had always given us and I found that she was right. When kindness is shown, even to those who may not readily seem to deserve it, the reward is always with the giver. So I tried to be nice to everyone and I guess people noticed.
About four years ago, after my husband died, one of the most mundane of household chores became a challenge — taking out the garbage cans. In my town, the City provides new residents with three huge garbage cans — one for trash, one for recyclable items, and one for leaf and lawn clippings. When we first moved into our home on the hillside, we found that no one had delivered the garbage can for leaf and lawn clippings. My husband called the proper department at City Hall and the gentleman on the phone asked for our address. My husband complied and the city worker started to laugh.
“We don’t have lawn clippings pick-up where you live,” he said. “You’re in the woods.”
We had always lived in suburban neighborhoods in the past, so this was a new wrinkle. My husband was a bit surprised at the answer he got, but accepted it. All of our raked leaves and tree clippings would have to be deposited on our own hillside. We had no lawn, so no worries there, just a lot of trees and their seasonal leaves.
For ten years, my husband trudged up our steep driveway and even steeper street every Thursday morning to place the two large garbage cans we were allowed to have out on the curb for the truck to empty. Then he brought them back down the hill to await refill for the next week. It was a task I never had to think about much. He just did it as part of his husbandly duties. I had my wifely duties, too, like cleaning up the kitchen after he cooked dinner or washing and folding our clothes. When my husband became ill, I suddenly had to think about all those tasks that he had done heretofore. For a while, I had family around to help. After my husband’s death, when the family all returned to their respective home states, I had to do everything or it didn’t get done.
The Thursday morning garbage pick-up was suddenly huge. The large, heavy plastic cans with their mega-wheels are tough to maneuver, especially going uphill. I struggled with them the first few weeks. Sometimes I would let a week go by if the can wasn’t full and didn’t bother to take them up to the street, trying to avoid the hassle. I was creating less trash anyway with only me in the house.
When I did roll the oversized cans up the driveway, it was difficult. Even tougher was positioning them properly on the curb. I had to share curb space with my two neighbors and each of them had their own two cans, as well. The City requires three feet between cans for ease of emptying by the garbage truck. If the neighbors beat me to the curb, I had to push my two cans farther up the hill. It was a constant struggle. The cans would sometimes start to tip over if I didn’t turn them just right. Or they would not fit into place properly. It was hard to reposition them once they were set into the curb. The steep hill was a challenge and, when filled, the cans were heavy.
One day, I saw my neighbor at the mailboxes as I drove into our shared driveway. I stopped to say hello and to ask a favor.
“Hi, Michael,” I greeted him. “How are things?”
“Great!,” he replied. “We’re about to go on vacation to Pennsylvania for two weeks.”
“You’ll have a wonderful time, I’m sure,” I said, a little nervous to bring up my question, but I had to ask. “Michael, I wonder if I could ask a favor of you.”
I stammered a little, but finally got it out.
“Would you mind putting your trash cans a little farther up the street on the curb so that I can have the area closest to the driveway for mine? It’s really hard for me to push the cans up the hill. They are very heavy.”
Michael knew that my husband used to manage that task for us. His response was filled with honey.
“No problem,” he said. “In fact, my boys will take your trash cans up onto the street for you.”
I was stunned. I had not expected that small act of kindness at all. Michael’s two sons were pre-teens at the time and very nice boys. Their father had just nominated them for a task they had no idea was coming. Would they even want to take on the assignment?
Every Wednesday afternoon for the past four years, the neighbor boys, now in high school, have been taking my two trash cans up to the street and rolling them back down the hill on Thursday afternoons after school. Their small act of kindness has made life much simpler for me. I am not sure what I did to deserve this wonderful assistance, but I feel lucky. I know the boys’ father taught them a lesson in kindness that day he volunteered their services. I hope the boys learned that honey will get them far in life…much farther than a fly swatter.
By Victoria Emmons, © 2014
(Note: Inspired by Blogging 201 theme: Honey vs Vinegar)