The Lesson I Learned from a Can of Olives
This month I lost my uncle. He was 81; my uncle for 61 years. When you’re a kid, simple gestures can leave a lasting impression; seemingly every day acts producing life long memories. That was true of my Uncle Harold.
When I was about 8 or 9 years old, my family weaved in and out of financial hardships – my dad being laid off with great regularity. So the “essentials” of the day were what we knew, with little possibility of “extras” or “treats”. In one of the leanest times my family paid a visit to my Uncle Harold and Aunt Joan – then in their late twenties. As the adults visited, my uncle brought out a can of unpitted olives, poured them in a bowl, and set them down in front of me and my two sisters. I don’t remember his exact words, but they went something like this… these are all yours. We were overwhelmed with excitement – we loved olives, and it was a whole can just for us! Feeling rich in that moment, we happily ate every last one. As a young adult my Uncle Harold showed great generosity, a quality that spoke not only to his sensitivity and spirit, but also made a forever imprint on a young girl’s heart.
As the years progressed, my uncle routinely demonstrated great generosity by having me and my sisters babysit his two daughters – always having the refrigerator and cupboards stocked with all sorts of goodies that we were encouraged to enjoy. One time he even asked us to take his girls to the state fair – probably knowing it would be our only opportunity to go ourselves. And his tradition of generosity continued as the number of family nephews and nieces grew – Uncle Harold placing a crisp twenty dollar bill in an envelope for each child at our Christmas Eve celebrations. It was a moment of pure exhilaration when Uncle Harold made his way through the room with the special holiday envelopes in hand.
His generosity not only touched my hope-starved heart as a kid, but it taught me that the simplest kindnesses can have an incredible impact on the path a person may choose in the future. All my life I have remembered the feeling I got from that can of olives, and I’ve developed a desire to share that feeling with others who are working hard at doing life, but might be hope-challenged in the process.
As an adult, if I pass a child’s street corner lemonade stand void of customers, I’ll pull over, ask for a fifty cent cup, take a sip of “the best lemonade I’ve ever had”, and hand the child a five dollar bill. The thrill on their face when they realize they’re accomplishing their goal is priceless.
At a recent lunch with co-workers, I witnessed a young teenager outside the pizza parlor walk briskly to open the door for an older lady trying to exit the restaurant with an armload of take-out pizzas. The lady expressed her appreciation, and the young man, who looked like his spirit was heavy, continued on his way. Realizing that the young man might just need to hear that his good deed “mattered”, I left my table, stepped out the door, and called out to him. As he returned to meet me, I explained that I had seen his kindness and was impressed by his thoughtfulness – consideration not seen much now days. He smiled, surprised and appreciative. Then I pulled a ten dollar bill from my pocket and told him to do something nice for himself. I sensed that he was stunned. But more than the appreciation for the gift, I hope he remembers how that moment felt, and purposes to look for opportunities to pass it on to others.
May we all desire to be influencers in this life, and follow the example of my Uncle Harold – with our hearts aware and our shelves always stocked with cans of olives.
Thanks Uncle Harold for the memories, but more importantly, for the life lesson.