Making a Difference in a Child’s Life
A Thanksgiving story.
Thanksgiving is this week, and I’m preparing (as I’m sure many of you are) to get together with family, and eat lots of food. My wife and I, like most years, are hosting the festivities at our home, and since her side of the family is kind of enormous (in head-count, not girth), it’s always a pretty big production. I’m relaying this information — along with the facts that my wife just got back from a work-trip to Scotland, and I’ve been making steady progress on Sean Coleman #6 (and other writing projects) — for the purpose of excusing myself for not offering up an original piece for this week’s ‘Daly Grind’ newsletter.
Instead, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’m going to share a childhood memory that I’m very thankful for. I wrote the below piece in 2013 for my local newspaper, the Greeley Tribune. It generated a very warm response, and I’ve re-published it a few times over the years… but not here. So, today will be its ‘Daly Grind’ debut.
I hope you all enjoy it.
The old proverb “it takes a village to raise a child” has become a bit of a controversial phrase in recent years. Somewhere along the line, it became infused with political philosophy and the role of government in our society, but I believe its true meaning has little to do with such things.
I think the phrase advocates for a general sense of community and the benefits it lends to a free society. Under that interpretation, I don’t think many people would argue against the idea that while parents are ultimately responsible for raising their kids, there are indeed significant advantages that come with living in a society that is invested in the betterment of all of our children.
Again, I’m not talking about the part that politicians and legislation play. I’m talking about the part that us ordinary citizens play of our own free will, in our everyday lives.
A few weeks ago, I was involved in a book study at my church. My pastor was leading the weekly discussion and he one day asked the group of participants if any of us had ever received a “blessing” from someone outside of a church setting.
The question was certainly subjective because a blessing can come in many forms, but I was caught slightly off-guard by the memory that immediately popped to the forefront of my mind. It was from over 30 years ago, and though I had never spoken nor written about it until that very moment, it’s one that has lingered in my consciousness ever since.
I believe I was in the forth or fifth grade at the time. It was a cold winter day. Snow was on the ground. I was walking home from school by myself, and when I reached the top of the block where I lived, a garbage truck pulled up to a house I was about to stroll past.
Hanging off the back of the truck was a man who was probably in his late twenties. Like many “trash men” I remember from back then, his clothes were filthy and he was bundled up with gloves and a stocking cap to keep himself warm. He was an African American which was sort of a rarity to see in the predominantly white Green Mountain area of Lakewood, Colorado back in the early 1980s. He had large, yellow headphones clamped to his ears with music playing so loudly from a Walkman hidden somewhere in his coat that I could nearly make out which song it was. He was really into the music too, thrusting his head back and forth wildly to the beat, and shouting out a few, sporadic lyrics.
He didn’t see me at first, and I was so taken back by how lost in the music he was that I couldn’t help but form a smile and even laugh a little. I stopped walking for a moment, knowing he was about to leap from the truck, down to the sidewalk in front of me to empty a pair of trashcans.
When he did, he noticed me chuckling at his performance. He smiled back, and turned even more animated for my benefit, busting a couple of quick dance moves to try and broaden my smile (which he did). He quickly emptied the trashcans, returned them to the sidewalk, and then jumped back on to the truck.
Before the truck’s driver stepped on the gas to move down to the next house on their route, the man on the back abruptly ended his music routine, removed his earphones, and said to me, “Stay in school. Stay in school so you don’t have to do what I do when you grow up.”
He kept his eyes trained on mine for a moment, making certain that I’d heard him. I nodded to let him know I had.
He smiled and said, “Good.” The truck then took off down the street and I never saw him again.
For me, the moment really was nothing less than a blessing. This was a complete stranger who didn’t know a thing about me. We likely had very little in common. Yet, he took the opportunity during our chance, brief encounter to use the knowledge he had learned, from what he clearly perceived as a mistake in his own life, to urge me in a better direction. This black man, during an era that was far more racially-tense than today’s, viewed this white kid as someone who had their entire life left to live, and he selflessly took the time to inspire me to succeed in that life.
It had a profound impact on me, and though I don’t attribute the education I worked hard to acquire solely to this man, he certainly played a part in it.
My parents, from a very early age, instilled in me the importance of a good education. But as is probably the case with many kids, the things my parents told me didn’t always seem valuable at the time. We have a tendency in our youth to sometimes diminish our parents’ expressed wisdom as being redundant and rhetorical. After all, did any of us truly ever understand (until we were older) the significance of being told that we should eat all of the food on our plates because children in third-world countries were starving to death? I know I didn’t get it.
It sometimes takes that same message coming from someone else – an outsider who speaks from personal experience and has nothing to gain – before it really sinks in.
I don’t think many of us realize how easy it can be for an individual to make a difference in a child’s life. I don’t think many of us realize that a random act of kindness can embed itself in a child’s mind and heart for the rest of their existence, and help shape the person they ultimately become.
If we all did realize this, and understood that we can give everyday, meaningful blessings to children, just imagine all of the amazing adults our villages would produce.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.
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Obligatory Dog Shot
Cozy is as cozy does.
Obligatory Owl Shot
Even the owls look Scottish in Scotland.
Today, I’m going to take you all on a little music-history journey. Hopefully at least some of you will find this story at least a little interesting. I sure did when I first learned about it.
First, a little background on today’s featured purchase. Last year, when my wife and I were on vacation in Monterey, CA, I was flipping through record bins at a huge secondhand shop near our hotel when I came across this 1977 album and another one by a jazz-funk band named Clover.
My guess is that those two records had been sitting in that bin for quite some time, being that Clover is by no means a well-recognized band, at least not to out-of-towners in the very touristy area.
But I knew of the band, despite not knowing a single song by them. And I bought both albums. Why? It had to do with posterity.
When I look at the above album cover, I’m reminded of the classic Sesame Street tune, “One of Things (is Not Like the Others).” In part, it’s because I know something that probably no one else reading this does. But it also has to do with the photo itself. One of the band-members kind of stands apart from the rest, both literally and figuratively.
I’m talking about this guy:
Do you recognize him — this long-haired hippy-looking fellow? I’m guessing you don’t. Yet, I promise that most of you know who he is.
That’s because a few years later, he would leave Clover and go on to form one of the most successful rock bands of the 1980s. Their accomplishments would include a certified 7× Platinum album called “Sports” and a monster hit-single from one of the most beloved films of the decade, Back to the Future. Also, I has a huge fan.
Yes folks, that hippy above is a young Huey Lewis, back before he and “the News” were hip to be square. An interestingly enough, Huey didn’t do much singing with Clover. He was primarily their harmonica guy.
If you’re curious what the band sounded like, here’s a taste.
That’s all for now. Thanks for reading today’s Daly Grind.
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Take care. And I’ll talk to you soon!
Great story John. The smallest blessings sometimes go unnoticed but can be the greatest ones!
P.S. just finished “From A Dead Sleep” (great read!) and moving on to “Blood Trade” next. Happy Thanksgiving!
Clover is also the band for the first Elvis Costello album called "My Aim is True". Some of them are the band on the first Carlene Carter album. They were friends of Nick Lowe. Lewis played harmonica on a Dave Edmunds album.