Grandmother’s Manners Never Waivered

My grandmother was big on manners. So much, they once put her in a letter writing exchange with the most powerful man on the planet.

Last week, while going through boxes of old photographs, I ran across a small picture frame with a letter addressed to my grandmother on the inside. The words, pressed into the now faded letterhead of the White House, were typewritten and thanked her for her graciousness and the opportunity to meet.

My grandmother, who only dreamt of one day reaching five-foot tall, never forgot to demonstrate the very best of manners to at every turn.

To know this lady, who immigrated to the United States from Scotland after the age of sixty, guests were to be warmly welcomed and treated as if they were the longest of lost friends. Never did a visit  to her small apartment go by without the obligatory serving of hot tea alongside few small biscuits or cookies.

And so leads to the day she found herself in the arms of the president of the United States.

Gerald Ford, president at the time, was in town to visit my grandmother’s adopted hometown. And as happened in those days, he scheduled a stroll through the streets to meet and visit with people. My grandmother, who had never seen a president before, found it as good a time as any to go see what all the fuss was about.

The day of the event, President Ford, accompanied by a handful of Secret Service agents, began their stroll through the small town. My grandmother, being of very modest stature and mid-seventies at the time, somehow found her way to front of the crowd as the president strolled by.

As the president moved closer the crowd, people naturally jostled for a better chance to see a living president. And it was right then, as the crowd pushed forward, that my diminutive grandmother found herself being knocked forward and down onto the street – only to be caught by the arms of the president. Helping her regain her balance, the two exchanged a few words and he the graciously helped her back to the curb.

I’m sure my grandmother was bit embarrassed by the entire event – the unintended attention surely was not in her plans – but the kindness of the president stayed with her.

The next day my grandmother found a piece of small paper in her apartment and wrote a thank you note to the president – as she would have for anyone who’d demonstrated the least bit of kindness in her direction. And then, putting a stamp to the envelope, she mailed her words to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue – and thought nothing of it afterwards.

It was then, the unusual happened. Soon afterwards a rather unusual envelope arrived in my grandmother’s daily mail. Inside she found a personally signed note from President Gerald Ford thanking her for her kind letter and the pleasure to meet her – albeit – under such unusual circumstances.

We learn many lessons in life – but what my grandmother taught me is you never know where life will lead you when to make sure to do the right thing towards others. And for her, after finding herself in the arms of the most powerful man on the planet, her dedication to such a principle helped her develop a friendship with a most unusual pen pal.

 

– 30 –

 

 

 

 

 

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Trophies Reflect Hollow Acomplishments

Recently, during our move from one house to another, our son stumbled across a black egg crate filled with dozens of small trophies from his days in youth sports

“These are my ‘showing up’ awards,” he said to my wife.

I found his remarks interesting – particularly now as he is a college graduate and out cutting his own pathway in the adult world. At one point in time, each of those trophies represented something to him – a completed season of soccer or baseball. I even remember him proudly displaying them on shelves around his room. But now, as he confesses, they are essentially meaningless to him. To him they symbolize little beyond showing up for team practices, scheduled games, and wearing the same uniform as a dozen or so other people. No single trophy symbolizes winning a national championship, a world record, or some other inarguable achievement for the history books.

And it is just this – the lesson of rewarding people for showing up I question as a misguided intention with unintended consequences by our society. What are we really teaching here?

I’m all for encouraging and helping others to succeed, but somewhere along the line in our quest to build self-confidence we decided everyone should feel as if they are an unmitigated ‘winner’. But the truth is, in the adult world, life does not work that way – therefore creating a rude and uncomfortable awakening for many.

I don’t mean to be disparaging big-hearted intentions, but life is not going to give you a trophy for merely showing up. If you want the ‘trophies’, the accomplishments that really means something to you in life, you’re going to have work harder than you ever imagined, sacrifice more than you ever dreamt possible, and get knocked down to the canvas more times than you can count. And then, instinctively, get back up and go at it again and again and again.

My son, in all of his years of youth sports, never felt that fire. While we tend to think of inserting our kids into sports or other arguably competitive activities as an exercise in getting them ready for the ‘real world’, the practice of giving out trophies for accomplishing the minimum requirements, I argue, can actually make their transition into adult life more difficult. In ways, the participant who goes into the season knowing they will take home a trophy has very little motivation to grow or feel challenged – or even lose.

I’m proud of my son’s observation of now recognizing the trophies were, in essence, a false or watered-down recognition of achievement. In today’s world he is starting at the bottom of the ladder – as he should. And what happens for him is up to him and his abilities, attitude, and resiliency.

Today his trophies sit tucked away in a storage closet with less emotional connection than a t-shirt he purchased on a clearance rack. And for me, therein lies the lesson. We value what we work hard to earn – and the only shine he now sees in his crate of trophies is a superficial reflection of light against a plastic surface.

 

– 30 –

 

Storm Reveals Mettle When Needed Most

Tears well up in the young man’s eyes – his voice fighting to remain steady.

A hotel concierge is telling me about how blessed he is to have a job and to be working for a good man.

“When the hurricane came, we all huddled inside as the storm passed over us,” he said. ‘Guests, employees, all of us.”

The hotel where he works is one of few open along the southernmost coastline of the Mexican Baja Peninsula. Today, six weeks after the storm came ashore, the landscape is dramatically changed since my last visit. Beaches and roadsides are littered with large expanses of multi-level buildings – many with exteriors stripped away by ferocious winds leaving behind gapping teeth where windows and doors once stood.

“Why is this place so different than the others?” I asked, curious why this particular hotel was open and operating at near normal levels.

“When the storm passed,” he said, “the owner came down here, called us all together, and told all us we would rebuild. Everyone would have a job and continue to get paid – only now our job was to put our place back together.”

I see moisture returning to his eyes as his voice agains grows unsteady but proud.

“He made sure we all got paid and no one lost their jobs. The next day he flew to the United States to purchase all the special glass and items we wouldn’t be able to get locally. Even though we were closed for weeks, he made sure we were all taken care of.”

Disasters happen – but many times it is in the aftermath we discover who and what we are made of. To this young man, and the hundreds of employees who worked in the service industry at this hotel, their boss will forever be known as a good man who stepped up for his employees and their families when they needed him most.

He pauses again and smiles. He is proud – not only of where he works, but also to be a part of something special. The president of Mexico, I’m told, came to survey the post-storm damage. Out of pride, the employees worked long hours to make the hotel as beautiful as possible for his visit – not to wallow in the desperation of the moment.

Every now and then you run across something extraordinary. This visit, for me, was one of those moments. The day after the storm, thousands of people found themselves wondering where to go and how their lives would forever be changed. And then, against all odds, out comes someone with the heart, resources, and honor to do the right thing.

Riding back to the airport I again noticed the thousands of rooms waiting vacant – most waiting for insurance checks or government payments. And to each those rooms are a direct link to thousands of service employees who no longer know where or what their future holds. And then I think back to the young concierge why tears so easily come to his eyes.

– 30 –