Friday, April 14, 2006
That's the thanks I get?!
Two things that happened before I was in my early twenties shaped my attitude toward gratitude. First, my mom and dad became the parents of me while dad was completing college (he first spent four years on a Navy destroyer--during the Korean War) Money was a challenging commodity for them and he finally had to go to one of my great-aunts for a loan (she was a fascinating lady who smoked Kent cigarettes, was a devout Catholic, went for Fish Frys at the Downbeat Restaurant in Bradford, Pa., every Friday where she would also tip back a drink--she knew everything that was going on everywhere and she always was dressed beautifully with perfect hair and makeup...she was 85 when she was pulling all of that off!). Aunt Ruth listened to the situation my father unfolded and when he asked for the loan she said, "How much?" He said the amount and she wrote out the check and said, "this is a gift to you...no strings attached." He was stunned, and grateful, and I heard that story many times. Later, when I was an OWU senior, I worked at a restaurant in Delaware. "Would you like that on white, wheat, rye, or pumpernickel...," was the phrase I repeated daily. The cook was very lean (scary skinny), kind of sweet but seemingly sad. He was a young dad at 18 and his wife and he were really struggling when the holidays came upon them. They had a baby girl and they talked about her so often that I felt compelled to go to the bank, take out a crisp $100 bill, and mail it to them anonymously in an envelope dropped in the post office with no return address. Days later I overheard him saying that he and Ivy had gotten a nice surprise and were planning something special for the holidays as a result. I felt really touched by this; eager to find out what they were planning. Later that day, the call went out to the restaurant staff that the cook and his wife were having a big holiday party that Friday. I was invited and went, hoping to see what they had planned...thinking maybe the baby was going to get something really special. The baby got something special, alright. The party was well underway when the unmistakable smell of pot permeated the air. The cook and his wife celebrated their small windfall with a purchase of a different kind! I felt crushed, at first, and pretty upset that they spent the gift I had given them on something clearly not intended for the baby. A few days passed and I came to the conclusion that whenever I give something (a gift, time, etc), it needs to be given without strings...just like my Aunt Ruth had done. I also made the decision to be a bit more discerning and less mysterious when I give a gift. And, what does all of this have to do with Ohio Wesleyan's Annual Fund? I am not sure. But I do find it interesting that I work in a giving field where I am always trying to anticipate what donors need to feel their gifts make a difference.