Wednesday, August 4, 2021

WEDNESDAY WISDOM: What Kind of Farewell Party Do You Want?



"Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened." Dr. Seuss

One of my wife’s cousins recently passed away, and we respectfully attended a “celebration of his life.” He was a laid-back but very outgoing kind of fellow who mostly took life in stride. Fittingly, the farewell gathering wasn’t held at a church but instead at a sports bar, one of his favorite hang-outs. Appropriate attire was not jackets and ties, but flowered shirts and shorts or slacks.  There were no hymns and sermons; actually, there was no program of any kind, unless you can call a series of impromptu toasts a “program.” Instead, his friends and family and dozens of old high school buddies met and mingled, shared drinks and stories of him, all to the sound of rock songs on the loudspeakers in a large open room circumscribed with a dozen giant-screen TV showing baseball, soccer, golf, and the Olympics. The conversation was as loud as the music, and everyone seemed to have their favorite memory about the deceased.

In other words, it was HIS kind of party at HIS kind of place.

I’ve begun to think that, besides a religious service for us when we pass, we ought to also leave instructions for the kind of farewell party we want friends and family to attend in our memory. It’s fun to consider the possibilities . . . .

Are you a great cook, or someone who loved wonderful food? Party instructions could say: Everyone bring a special dish (along with copies of the recipe to share); the hosts will provide sampling plates, serving utensils, and appropriate beverages. Perhaps we could put together a little recipe book from the Farewell Party, including several of the best cooking tips from the dearly departed.

Are you an avid fisherman? Party instructions could say: Bring your rod and reel and tackle for a fishing tournament during the day. Equipment provided for those who don’t have their own. That evening we’ll all gather for a fish fry. Everyone will share their favorite fishing stories around the fire. Special prizes for the largest fish caught and the biggest whopper (true or not) told afterwards.

Are you an earnest gardener? Party instructions could say: Bring a trowel or small shovel and your down-and-dirty clothes because we’re going to plant 2,000 daffodil bulbs around the flower garden of the dearly departed. After the planting, we’ll have a picnic in a near-by park. (We actually did this several years ago in honor of one of my wife’s great-aunts.)

Are you a musician, or a lover of music? Party instructions could say: Bring your talent and your instrument (piano provided; piano players, please leave yours home) and let’s jam. Note: the dearly departed’s favorite genre of music should be identified in the invitation so as not to create an awkward clash of styles. Play until your fingers fall off and everyone is hoarse. Singing and dancing are definitely encouraged.  Party food provided by the hosts.

Are you big into barbeque? Party instructions could say: Bring your grills, smokers, and cookers and your favorite types of meat, and get down for some serious BBQ competition. There will be tasting and judging for best BBQ in honor of the deceased. The hosts will provide the side dishes and drinks.

Are you crazy about crafts? Party instructions could say: The dearly departed invites all her family and friends to gather for a crafting celebration with one or more of the following different types of crafts: painting/coloring, jewelry making, cross-stitch, crocheting, embroidery, friendship bracelets, knitting, macrame, needlepoint, quilting, sewing, tie-dye, calligraphy, card making, origami, papier-mâché, scrapbooking, stamping, pottery, stained glass, leatherwork, beadwork, and pressed flower craft. In other words, there will be something for everyone. If there’s any time left after all that, we’ll enjoy a light lunch.

Do you love service projects and philanthropy? Party instructions could say: To honor the dearly departed, we’ll be serving at a soup kitchen, a food pantry, or a children’s cancer hospital. In lieu of flowers, please make a donation to a charity of your choice. We’ll gather later to share why we support the charities we each chose.

Are you a passionate shopper? Party instructions could say: Bring $20 and gather at the outlet mall, regular mall, or thrift shop. Guests will be challenged to buy something that is TOTALLY THEM within an hour. After the shopping spree, each shopper will present their purchases, with prizes awarded to the top three “TOTALLY THEM” purchases that are best reflective of the dearly departed. Heavy refreshments to be provided.

Are you a super sports fan? Party instructions could say: We have a block of tickets for the big game — we sure hope your team wins! Be sure to wear your team colors. Hot dogs, popcorn, pretzels, (cracker jacks?) and your favorite beverages for everyone. Later, let’s gather for a highlight reel of the dearly departed’s favorite sporting moments.

Are you a dead-serious genealogist? Party instructions could say: Bring your pedigree charts, family group sheets, and historic photographs, and let’s figure out how we’re related and who has the most interesting/roguish/distinguished ancestors. A sampling of historic foods will wind up the evening.

Do you love poetry? Party instructions could say: Have you written any poetry, or do you have a favorite piece you can recite or read? Bring to the gathering in the community room of the library, where we’ll celebrate those who have a way with poem, for better or for “verse.” There’s surely someone out there who can still recite The Cremation of Sam Magee or Casey at the Bat. Lemonade and tea cookies afterwards.

* * * * *

I could go on and on, but you get the point. Create a celebration of your life, one that will send you out in style. Let it be an event that will have everyone grateful they knew you, an occasion to remember your stories and personality. As Dr. Seuss said, let’s not cry because it’s over; let’s smile and laugh that it happened at all. Celebrate life!

* * * * *

On second thought, why should the festivities happen after we’re dead? Jeff Goldblum commented: "Amazing tradition. They throw a great party for you on the one day they know you can’t come." Let's turn that around and make it happen while we're still able to attend.  Why should WE miss all the fun? 

We shouldn’t let such a fine occasion go to waste. Garrison Keillor famously said, "They say such nice things about people at their funerals that it makes me sad to realize that I’m going to miss mine by just a few days." Why don’t we plan our own farewell party to suit our own tastes, and then invite our friends and family while we’re still alive? That way, we won’t miss all the nice things people might have to say about US.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Wednesday Wisdom: Eatin' Cherries and Spittin' Seeds



"If you wish to be happy for a year, plant a garden. If you wish to be happy for a lifetime, plant a tree ." Jim Morris

One of my favorite snack foods is cherries. I love their sweetness when they are plump and dark red, almost black. Mmm-good!

I became addicted to cherries early in life. I grew up in a place called Fruitland, New Mexico, on a farm with acres and acres of fruit trees, as well as a small dairy. Apples, peaches, and pears were our cash crops, but we also had several other varieties of fruit, mostly for personal and household consumption: cherries, plums, nectarines, crab apples, etc. Fresh fruit was a big part of our lives then, especially cherries when the season was right.

Cherries get ripe in the middle of summer, long before the apples are ready. In the heat of the day, we boys would sometimes shirk our chores and sneak into the orchard to see if the cherries were sweet enough to eat. When they were, we’d climb up to a tall branch where the ripest fruit was within easy reach, make ourselves a little perch, and spend an hour or so just chilling, eatin’ cherries and spittin’ seeds.

The deep red juice would stain our fingers and our lips, and perhaps the shoulders of our T-shirts where we would wipe our faces without thinking when the juice ran out the sides of our mouths. (When we later arrived home for supper, there would be no hiding where we had been all afternoon.)

As children, we gave no thought to how those cherries — and the cherry trees on which they grew — came to be. 

It never occurred to us to realize that they must have been planted decades earlier by our grandfather when he first bought the farm. It was beyond our comprehension that he, along with our father and our aunts and uncles as youngsters, dug the holes into which the saplings were planted, and gave them fertilizer, and made sure they were irrigated during those hot, dry New Mexico summers. We didn’t recognize that they were strategically hidden deep within the apple orchards, far from the road so those passing by wouldn’t be tempted to stop and snitch a few. 

No, the only thing we thought about was how plump and sweet and juicy and dark red the cherries were as we spent hours perched in the tree, just eatin’ cherries and spittin’ seeds.

* * * * *

As we go through life, how often are we like those little boys, sitting in a cherry tree enjoying the fruits of another’s labors, totally unmindful of the legacy others have left us? How many times have we been unknowingly blessed because of our predecessors’ past service and sacrifice? Warren Buffet said, “Someone's sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”

My brothers and I were able to eat cherries because Grandpa Farnsworth and his children planted and nourished those trees. I grew up in a comfortable home that was built and maintained by my parents. I attended schools established and funded by others. I was taught and mentored and encouraged along the way by a host of others looking to plant seeds in me they hoped would sprout and grow in the future, perhaps even beyond their lifetimes. I was born in a country richly blessed with freedom, opportunity, and abundance because many brave men and women gave their Lives, their Fortunes, and their sacred Honor to build and protect the greatest nation the world has ever known.

When we become aware of how indebted we are to those who came before us, we also recognize how impossible it is to adequately repay their sacrifice and generosity. It is beyond our puny ability, as Abraham Lincoln said, to dedicate, to consecrate, to hallow, what they have done.

But we can do at least two things: We can express our gratitude, both in word and deed. And we can pay it forward

We can thankfully, appreciatively, plant trees and tend them, not for ourselves, but for those who will follow us. We can make sure our children and grandchildren — or even someone else’s children and grandchildren — have the chance, literally or figuratively, to perch themselves in the top branches of a mature fruit tree and spend hours and hours just eatin’ cherries and spittin’ seeds.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

WEDNESDAY WISDOM: That's Unacceptable


"Doing nothing meant leaving things exactly the way they were, and that was unacceptable." Caroline Goode

Marcie and I recently had a staycation in Orlando. We enjoyed a great morning and a lovely lunch, and then we checked in around 3 p.m. at a large, well-known Orlando resort hotel

In making the reservation, I had taken special care to reserve a room with a king-size bed and a no-threshold shower to accommodate Marcie’s wheelchair. I even passed up other desirable hotels because they couldn’t commit to that configuration. A few days before our get-away, wanting to avoid any mix-ups, I made certain to confirm “king bed, roll-in shower” with the hotel’s “Social Media Concierge” IN WRITING.

What a surprise, then, when we got to our room to find a bathtub instead of a no-threshold shower. The tub didn’t even have grab bars.

I immediately called the front desk to let them know of their mistake. A nice employee listened to my concerns, put me on hold, and then came back to report they had a room with a no-threshold shower and two queen-size beds.

I told them that wouldn’t work.

“But that’s all that we have available,” the front-desk person said. 

“No, we need a room with a king-size bed and a roll-in shower. That’s what I reserved, and confirmed in writing, and nothing else is acceptable.”

“I’m sorry, but that’s all there is,” she insisted.

I replied, “This hotel has over 1,500 rooms, and you’re telling me you don’t have a room with a king-size bed and a no-threshold shower? That’s not possible.”

The conversation went nowhere from there.

Once it became obvious that talking with the check-in clerk was fruitless, I asked to speak to her manager. 

The manager listened kindly and patiently, and repeated the earlier proposal of “two queens and a roll-in shower,” because “that’s all we have available.”

I insisted that her answer was unacceptable, whereupon she said “well, let me check.”

She returned to the call a minute or two later to say, “Yes, we have a room with a king-size bed and a roll-in shower, but it needs to be cleaned up. I will have housekeeping expedite the cleaning and let you know when it’s ready.” She took my cell number, but unfortunately, I did not write down her name.

The bellman showed up with our luggage, but we explained the situation and asked him to hold on to it because we didn’t want to schlepp the luggage and our two wheelchairs, etc. when we were reassigned rooms. We were okay just waiting in the mis-assigned room without our luggage. 

Then we waited.

And waited.

And waited.

We never dreamed we’d wait almost two hours without hearing anything from anyone. By then, my patience had expired. I called the front desk, where I continued to get the runaround. I asked again for the manager. The manager picked up and I repeated my story.

She interrupted me and said she was the same person I had spoken with earlier, and that our room was still not ready. I then asked to speak to her manager, because obviously she didn’t have the clout to get an “expeditious” room cleaning after nearly two hours. At that point, she acknowledged she was actually the manager for the whole hotel. 

Flabbergasted, I proceeded to suggest that her hotel’s procedures needed revamping because two hours was clearly too long to keep paying guests waiting for their room, especially with “expedited” room clean-up. I told her my wife was tired of all the nonsense and was ready to find somewhere else to stay, or just go home. I made a passing reference to the Americans with Disabilities Act, since our request was all about accommodating a guest with disabilities, and reiterated that the hotel’s response was UNACCEPTABLE.

She said to give her 10 minutes and she would fix the problem, and asked if she could treat us to dinner at any of the hotel’s fine restaurants? Which one would be your preference?

I said, “Get us into our room and then we can talk about dinner.”

She hung up and within a minute, she called back to say our room was ready, and the bellman would take us and our luggage there momentarily. She recommended their world-class steak restaurant for a complimentary dinner. 

In no time, we were whisked to our new room with a king-size bed and roll-in shower. The bellman gave us the hotel manager’s card, the restaurant manager’s name, and an early reservation where we could order anything on the menu, at their expense.

Our dining experience was exceptional. The food was fantastic and the wait staff swarmed around us the whole time, making sure our every whim was satisfied promptly and cordially. When I asked for the check, our server waived us off. “It’s on the house.”

Nice recovery, hotel manager.

But important questions remain:  Why did it take so long for her to actually address my request, and why did I have to express serious unhappiness before any meaningful response? Why were we sent to the wrong room in the first place, and why did they continue to offer me something (a queen-bed room) when I repeatedly told them that was UNACCEPTABLE? Why was the correct room suddenly available in less than a minute after my second call? Why didn’t they call me when it was first ready, instead of leaving us to cool our heels for nearly two hours?

In the end, their mistake, neglect, inaction, and attempt to smooth things over cost them an expensive dinner, and made us question ever wanting to stay there again. They definitely ruined our plans for the evening.

Five years ago, I wrote a Wednesday Wisdom article summarizing a rule of thumb from Frank Day, the Chairman and CEO of Trustmark National Bank. It seems relevant in this situation.

Back in the 1980s, I was Vice-President and Trust Officer at Trustmark National Bank. The CEO, Frank Day, was a great champion of integrity and attentive customer service. He taught that, given the nature of humans and machines, things will sometimes go awry. But when they do, it’s imperative that we spring into action to address the problem and redress any harm done as soon as possible. Call today, not tomorrow. Go to your customer, tell him the truth, and figure out how to make him whole. Mr. Day’s mantra still rings in my ears: "Mistakes happen. It’s okay to be wrong. JUST DON’T BE WRONG LONG!” 

I hope I can remember his advice when I’m the one who makes the mistake. The old saying that “a stitch in time saves nine” is factually and mathematically correct, especially when it comes to personal and business relationships. Postponing reconciliation increases the infection and allows the wound to fester, making it nine or ten times harder to eventually heal. The sooner we own our mistake, reach out to the person aggrieved, and search for ways to make things right, the easier and less costly it is to patch things up. 

We’re grateful for the complimentary dinner, but we’re sorry it had to come to that. We wish the hotel and their staff lived by Frank Day’s advice: Don’t be wrong long. 


Wednesday, June 9, 2021

WEDNESDAY WISDOM: Allstar Piano Movers - Doing What No One Else Wants to Do



"When you choose your fields of labor, go where nobody else is willing to go ." Mary Lyon

Our son, Evan playing his great-grandmother’s piano in Harmony.

Marcie and I are downsizing and we recently gave our beloved baby grand piano to our son, Evan, who lives in Atlanta. This piano originally belonged to his great-grandmother over a hundred years ago. Back in the 1980s it played a cameo role in a PBS feature film called Courtship that was filmed at Marcie’s grandmother’s home in Brookhaven, Mississippi. It has served four generations of piano players, including my wife and her siblings, and all six of our children. 

It was given to us about 40 years ago. Needless to say, my wife, Marcie, is very fond of the piano. Seeing it leave our house was a bittersweet experience for her, even though she knew it was headed to a wonderful new home. 

That raised the question of moving it to Atlanta.

Anyone who has ever moved a baby grand knows that is no small feat. Not only are they very heavy, but they have an awkward shape. My 69-year-old back was personally dreading playing any part in the project. One wrong move can mean disaster for the piano, the movers, or both, as illustrated here:

Fortunately, Evan decided to call in some professional help. He phoned several movers in the Atlanta and Orlando areas to check on their prices and availability. He and my daughter Kate (who overheard Evan’s calls) both reported that most of the people he talked to were less than enthusiastic about taking on the job. All, that is, except Curtis Harris.

Curtis answered the phone energetically. “Yes, sir,” he said, “we would be happy to help you move that piano. Tell me more about it. Where are we taking it? What is your time frame?”

Since his prices were fair and because of his upbeat attitude, Evan hired him for the job and made an appointment for pickup at our house.

Five minutes before the appointed hour, Curtis Harris rang our doorbell, introduced himself and his brother, and said they were there to move the piano. Marcie and I watched them work their magic, quickly removing the legs and the pedals, carefully wrapping the piano itself and all the parts, and gliding the heavy body out the door and into the truck — seemingly with very little effort.

As they worked, we found out about them and Curtis’ company, Allstar Piano Movers LLC. We learned that the brothers were originally from Connecticut, but moved to Atlanta to take care of their elderly grandmother. Curtis worked for another company for ten years and then started his own business. Moving pianos is all they do. 

From their base in Georgia, they cover 12 states. By all appearances their business is very successful. For example, they were picking up three pianos that morning in Orlando and moving them to Atlanta.

I asked Curtis to tell me his secret. He said his success stems from keeping his word (like showing up on time), being upbeat and cheerful, and, most importantly, doing what others aren’t willing to do. “I found something no one else wanted to do — moving pianos — and worked to become the best around. Now I have virtually more work than I can handle.”

Curtis knows how much other people hate the idea of moving a piano, so he created a niche for himself doing that. His perspective is similar to football great Jerry Rice’s attitude: “Today I will do what others won’t, so tomorrow I can accomplish what others can’t.” 

We’re delighted we found Curtis and Allstar Piano Movers LLC. He made a hard job easy for us. Based on what I learned from Curtis, I now have a new suggestion for anyone thinking of going into business for themselves: Find something no one else wants to do and learn to do it well.

We can happily report that Curtis delivered the hundred-year-old baby grand safely to its new home in Atlanta and set it up for Evan to play, as shown below. Mission accomplished!

Evan playing his piano at his home in Atlanta.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

WEDNESDAY WISDOM: Life on Lake X - Driving Around and Around in Circles

WEDNESDAY WISDOM:  Life on Lake X - Driving Around and Around in Circles

“Walking in circles your whole life just gets scuff marks on your shoes.” Todd Johnson


There is a large lake a few miles from my house called “Lake X.”  It is entirely on private property and lies at the terminus of a long, dead-end road.  It boasts its own private airstrip, and is hidden behind high chain-link and barbed-wire fences.  Back in the 1950s, a squadron of security guards kept outsiders at bay.  When the winds were right, neighbors could hear the sounds of motorboats on the lake at all hours of the day and night. 

Over time, word seeped out that Lake X was a test site for new prototype motors being produced at the Mercury Marine factory in the nearby town of St. Cloud, Florida. The location was designed to be the most secluded marine testing facility in the world with 12,000 acres of land and 1,440 acres of water.

While the testing at Lake X in recent years has shifted to a focus on high-tech racing boats, back in the 1950s the emphasis was on improving the durability of Mercury Marine motors. Young men were hired to drive boats around and around in an 8.3-mile circle to test the engines’ durability and report those results to company engineers. 



To counter criticism of the durability and longevity of the company’s products, Mercury executives conceived a non-stop, "around the world" endurance run using two boats powered by Mercury outboards. Known as “Project Atlas,” drivers working in shifts drove the boats nonstop for more than a month. After 34 days, 11 hours, 47 minutes and 5.4 seconds, the lead boat completed its 4,526th lap of Lake X for a total distance of 25,003 miles. It was followed only minutes later by the second boat.

The achievement of Project Atlas did much to reassure potential customers that the company’s motors were reliable and wouldn’t quit on them in the middle of nowhere.  “Mercury Marine Motors Go Non-Stop Around the World.” Marketing Mission Accomplished!!!

Despite the success of Project Atlas and notwithstanding the allure of working within the mystique of James Bond-type secrecy, real life on Lake X was decidedly unglamorous.  Many of the employees didn’t last long on the job.  Without question, the biggest challenge they faced was the relentless tedium of driving mindlessly around and around, hour after hour. It’s hard to picture motoring in a circle, day after day and night after night, for more than a month.  The apparent glamour of being a Lake X driver was soon undercut by the sheer boredom of cruising in endless circles to nowhere. 

* * * * *

A few weeks ago, I experienced — in a miniscule way — my own “Lake X” episode with my wife’s electric wheelchair.  The batteries were malfunctioning and the expert at the electric wheelchair store told me to ride the chair until it completely ran out of juice. 

Turns out, I had no idea how long the chair could go on a single charge.  I drove around and around in endless circles on our quiet residential street for what seemed like forever, all the time praying that it would soon give up the ghost.  But even when the gauge was blinking empty, the chair behaved like the Energizer Bunny.  It simply wouldn’t quit. 

During the hours during which I was driving around in circles, I was thinking of all the other things I could have been doing on my day off.  I had lots of chores on my to-do list, and lots of fun things I wanted to try.  Instead, there I was, stuck on that wheelchair going nowhere.  Finally, after several hours, it conked out and I was able to push it into the garage for repairs.  What a waste of a lovely spring morning, I thought to myself.  It’s a good thing no one had hired me to work at Lake X back in the 1950s.

* * * * *

Perhaps there are times for all of us when life seems as though we are driving one of those boats on Lake X, on a circular path to nowhere.  There have been occasions over the years when I’ve felt like I was going around and around in circles, living my personal version of a Lake X existence.  I was moving, but I wasn’t sure where I was going and, as a result, it seemed as though I was not getting anywhere. 

Going in circles can leave a harried traveler with a sense of disequilibrium.  Novelist Wallace Stegner wisely observed: “If we don’t know WHERE we are, we don’t know WHO we are.”  I have learned that if I cannot clearly identify the destination to which I am headed, I am probably running in a circle.


When that happens, it’s imperative that I stop and regain my bearings.    It’s important to pull out my compass, my sextant, and my maps, and allow myself a bit of calm and solitude to recalibrate my direction and destination.  I need to get beyond the confines of a Lake X mindset by spending extra time on my knees in PRAYER. 

I must pause and remember who I really am and what I really want from this life. In the journey of mortality, PACE is a poor substitute for PERSPECTIVE and PURPOSE.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

WEDNESDAY WISDOM: Our Favorite Things



"Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens

Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens

Brown paper packages tied up with strings

These are a few of my favorite things."

Rodgers & Hammerstein




I spent a week on vacation recently with a dozen family members of all ages — children, teenagers, adults, and seniors — and along the way we discovered a fun, easy activity to spark conversation and get to know each other better.

The exercise is simple: Someone thinks of a topic requiring them to identify “one of their favorite things” that fits their chosen category. For example:

“What is one of your favorite movies, and why?”
“What is one of your favorite fast-food restaurants, and why?”
“What is one of your favorite animals, and why?”
“What is one of your favorite types of food, and why?”

They answer first and explain why it’s one of their favorites. Follow-up discussion is encouraged. Then the question moves around the circle to the next person.

Once each person in the circle has shared one of their favorite things of that category and told why they picked that, it’s the next person’s turn to initiate a round. They think up the next “favorite thing” topic, they give the answer first, and then around the circle it goes again.

This turned out to be a delightful way to pass long hours on the road with my wife and three teenage granddaughters. Our granddaughters live far away from us and we seldom get to spend much time with them. This activity allowed all of us to get to know each other better, and made the miles go faster.

We revisited this game on the last evening of our week together. Our entire group gathered in a large circle and we used three “favorite thing” questions to recall and appreciate a wonderful vacation:

“What was one of your favorite activities or places we visited this week, and why?"
“What was one of your favorite foods we ate this week, and why?”
“What was one of your favorite things you learned this week, and why?"

Of course, we all thought of different things during our turns, and there were a lot of “Oh, yeah, that was one of mine too,” or “You’re right, I forgot about that.” Whether young, old, or in between, we had no trouble sharing wonderful memories. We found this closing round of favorite things was a sweet and reassuring way to bring our time together to an uplifting close, a delightful reminder of good times shared.

 * * * * *

How about you and your family or friends? Is there an upcoming occasion when you could use this simple activity to share memories, learn more about each other, or put a capstone on a great time spent together? What about Mother’s Day or Memorial Day or a summer afternoon picnic? Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

“What is one of your favorite memories of Mother (or Grandmother), and why?"
“What is something you really appreciate about our country, and why?”
“What is one of your favorite picnic foods, and why?”

 Try it; I’m sure you’ll like it as much as we did.



Wednesday, April 21, 2021

WEDNESDAY WISDOM: Being on the Receiving End of Gratitude



"Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it." William Arthur Ward



I was recently the recipient of an unexpected and generous expression of gratitude, and it felt so wonderful! Here’s what happened:

Fifty years ago, I learned to speak Portuguese while living in Brazil for a couple of years. Upon my return to the United States, I completed my undergraduate degree with a double major in Portuguese and political science. But then I lived for many, many years in places where I had no opportunity to converse in Portuguese. Over time I lost a lot of my vocabulary, my fluency, and especially my confidence in this second language.

A few weeks ago, José and Nara, a recently-immigrated Brazilian couple who speak very little English, retained me to prepare wills and a trust for them. I was forced to dust off my out-of-practice Portuguese in order to understand their wishes for themselves and their sons, and then to draft (in English, thankfully) the appropriate documents. Fortunately, they were very gracious and patient with me and my rusty Portuguese. As we worked together, we developed a genuine friendship and appreciation for each other.

During our last meeting, after I had finished explaining a dozen documents for them to sign, and while Angie, my paralegal, was making copies, the couple excused themselves to go to their car. When they returned to my office, they were carrying an enormous basket (pictured above) for me, and a separate gift bag for Angie. Both were filled with an abundance of Brazilian sweets, treats, and other goodies. Some were delights I remembered from my time years ago in Brazil, while others were new to me. 

This lovely couple’s expression of gratitude caught me totally off guard, and the sheer enormity of the basket completely blew me away. They said what they appreciated most was that I pressed forward in Portuguese as well as I could, notwithstanding my obvious difficulty in speaking in a tongue mostly dormant to me. That, they said, lifted and encouraged them as they struggled to complete their own daunting task of doing their estate planning in English, a language equally difficult for them. 

I took the basket home where my wife and I opened and savored each delicacy, turning our impromptu tasting party into a decadent substitute for supper.

Later, as I reflected on their outrageously wonderful EXPRESSION OF GRATITUDE, I asked myself, how many times have I missed the opportunity to demonstratively express my appreciation to those who have served, sustained, or sacrificed for me? How often have I overlooked occasions when I could have left others with the same level of joy I experienced when I received this huge basket of Brazilian gratitude?

Thank you, José and Nara, for the sweet lesson you taught me. From being the fortunate recipient of your gratitude, I better understand, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein, that “silent gratitude isn’t much good to anyone.”

I have resolved that I will more attentively look for ways to demonstrate my appreciation to others who have blessed my life.  I realize that I can best say thank you for kindnesses like José and Nara’s by paying it forward.  “One can never pay in gratitude; one can only pay 'in kind' somewhere else in life." Anne Morrow Lindbergh