Today I am humbled and inspired to gratefulness by an unexpected encounter that I had with some gentlemen working in the yard of the vacant house across the street. When Aiden and I went outside to turn on the sprinkler and play in the yard, Aiden immediately became enamored with these workers and was desperate to investigate further. “I go see them, Mommy! I help!”
I was hesitant because I didn’t want to get in the way or seem like we were gawking. The men were not just doing yard work. They were demolishing an enormous deck that enveloped much of the back yard. I’m sure the last thing they needed was a two-year old staring at them, asking odd questions, and insisting he help, right? But then I remembered the many other encounters I have had lately that have so inspired me to engage people . . . to give them the opportunity to share their lives, their passions, their work with someone who is excited to learn about them. So I led Aiden by the hand across the street. I was not disappointed with my decision. The men, who, until that moment, had been quietly engaged in their back-breaking labor in 100 degree weather, stopped, looked up, and smiled. They immediately began addressing Aiden as “little man,” inviting him to sit on their tractor and speaking to him about what it means to work hard. It was like something out of an old southern novel. I couldn’t bear to see them working so hard in this desperate heat, being so kind to my son without offering them something in return. So I went home and brought back iced tea and popsicles.
I was greeted upon my return with phrases like, “Thank you kindly, ma’am!” “You’re too sweet.” “You’re gonna tempt me to go find an easy chair.” As the conversation blossomed, I discovered that the men were brothers. Two of TWENTY children born to their mother, who is currently 89. There were 13 boys and 7 girls that grew up together in Pocahontas, MS. The older of the two gentlemen, who didn’t look a day over 50, if that, said he was 70 years old. And still working hard every day. “What would I do with myself if I stopped?” he asked. He recounted as he pried floorboards off the deck with a crow bar, sledgehammer, and brute strength how he was trying to teach his grandchildren to be eager workers, but “they just aren’t raised like they used to be.” But he always let them help whenever they were willing. The “younger” brother bragged about his family and seemed ashamed to need the help of his older brother, but explained that he has had health problems and just can’t handle it alone anymore.
The longer we spoke, the more filled with respect I was. These men were humble and kind. Lived a simple life, worked hard, and made no excuses. They knew the value of family and earning their keep and would not give up even in the face of age and adversity. Yet somehow I find myself worrying on a regular basis about things like money and time and health, when in reality we have plenty of all three. It is amazing how perspective can change one’s outlook.
As we were getting ready to leave, the younger brother mentioned off-handedly that he “thought sure it was [their] kind that lived across the street . . . black folk, that is.”
“But you know,” he said with a grin, “you’re the first people to come visit us in all the years we been workin’ this yard, so I guess you’re our kind after all!”