A Place at the Table.

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(Harry Holloway and Jane Kurtz wedding picture February 1, 1946)

Harry was born July 9, 1916, one of three sons, to a poor working couple living in a poor working class neighborhood in Pottstown. His parents, Harry and Anna  (Weikel) Holloway had little formal education. Hard work was valued more than education.  His family’s frugal necessity learned during the Great Depression would leave a lasting imprint on him for life. When he finished high school he began his factory working life.

Jane was born November 3, 1922 and had an older brother. They were raised in Lower Pottsgrove Township a rural area outside of the village of Sanatoga and neighboring Pottstown. Her mother, Florence (Shantz), was a housewife and her father, Herbert Kurtz, a self-employed contractor. A strong work ethic and traditional values ruled in this family over any thought of advanced education for a girl. Jane, however, was a free spirit and after graduation from high school she moved to the Poconos to work in the resorts and enjoy her freedom from family.  Eventually pressure from her mother to settle down brought her back to Pottstown after several years.

Harry and Jane married in Las Vegas on February 1, 1946 and had two children, my sister Lynn and me. My parents separated in the summer of 1964 and were divorced in 1966.

After the separation I lived with my mother and my relationship with my father began a slow distancing over the following years. As a teenager I had a strong desire for independence from my parents so he gave me room but never walked away.  He attended my sports events and taught me how to fix and build things. Indeed, there were many ways I could count on him.

Mom had the truly tough job of raising a teenage boy as a single working mother. My behavior was average but even average teenage behavior will give a mother grey hair.  She also gave me room to grow but was quick to pull me back when she thought I ventured too far from the straight and narrow.  Her silent sacrifices spared me from true awareness of our pay-to-pay tight budget.

My parents were not regular church attenders but they made sure that their children were exposed to Christian education in Sunday school and church during our pre-teen years and later in confirmation class.

It was rare to hear either of my parents criticize the other. Even after their divorce my mother invited my father to holiday dinners. There was always a place at the table for him. When he came, she treated him as though he belonged there.

When Hurricane Agnes hit Pottstown in 1972 my mother and I had to leave our apartment due to rising flood waters. My father opened his house to us for days until the water receded.

My parents’ relationship had many flaws and the divorce was hard on both of them but they overcame the hurt and treated each other with respect and, in my eyes, kindness when it mattered most.  They taught me many lessons about living a life that mattered.

My father died on November 17, 1973 at just 57 years old. Thanksgiving that year was only five days later. There was no plate set for him at the table that year but he surely was there with us. My mother died October 23, 1993. Unlike my dad she lived long enough to know and be known by all of her grandchildren so memories of her as mom and Gram still generate laughter.

Each year when Thanksgiving rolls around I often think of my mother’s tradition of offering a place at the holiday table for my father and of the sacrifices both parents made for me. I have been blessed by God, loved by my family and treated well by many people. All of them are invited and will be joining me at my place at the table for the years to come.

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(My dad on the right and mom’s brother Sam Kurtz on the left. Picture taken in 1972 at a holiday dinner in mom’s apartment, one year before my dad died.)

Kindness, Power and Cranberry Juice

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cranberry juice

It was a Thursday morning and when I finished my morning routine I was heading to the Board of Assessment Appeals office to file a tax appeal for our house. The filing fee is $50 so I wrote a check and put it in my pocket. I went downstairs, ate my breakfast and got out the cranberry juice to mix with water for my usual breakfast drink. I shook the juice bottle and out sprayed cranberry juice on my white shirt. I had forgotten to put the cap on the bottle tightly the day before. Ugh! So, I changed shirts and put the wet one in the laundry sink with some detergent to soak. Sadly, that was not the first time I’ve done this. You would think I would remember after the first time. After my little laundry diversion I headed for Norristown with our assessment appeal.

At the Assessment Appeals office I handed the clerk the appeal, she stamped it and asked for the filing fee. I reached in my pants pocket. No check. I paused and thought, I know I put that check in my pocket, what happened to it? Oh, yeah, I put it in my shirt pocket which is now soaking with my shirt. Dumb. I told the clerk my little tale of woe. After a few seconds she said, I’ll keep your appeal stamped as received today since the deadline is only two days away. Just mail the check to me. Wow, what a break. This woman’s kindness just saved me another trip back to Norristown the next day. The trip is about two hours round trip so her gesture was a real time-saver for me. She didn’t need to do this favor for me. For all I knew she was bending the rules by doing this. She had the power to hand back my appeal and tell me to bring it back with the check.  Other filing office clerks have followed the rules strictly in other situations where something I tried to file was just not quite by the book.

Since I had this experience I’ve given some thought about people’s simple acts of kindness. It sure is nice to be on the receiving end of kind acts and words. Reflecing about it makes we aware that I could do better. Give someone my place in line or that parking space, drop a dollar in the bucket, say a kind word to a stranger or a child.  It seems some people spend a good deal of energy trying to gain and keep power over others in relationships, work, government and any situation where people need to interact with each other. A good deal has been written about power. There have also been studies showing how acts of kindness make the doer feel better and prompt some recipients to pass kindness on to others.

When people who have power over me show me some kindness I admire them. That clerk was a person who had the power to make me jump through hoops but instead acted kindly. She gave up some power to help me, a stranger.  Just imagine what the world would look like if, just for a day, everyone gave up a little power and performed one act of kindness for someone.

And some of us need a little more kindness than others.

cranberry juice and shirt