One of the benefits of this extra time due to the COVID-19 pandemic is the opportunity we have to reflect on our lives. Prior to this I had already entered a nostalgic part of my life. I’ve been collecting old vinyl albums from my teen years, reminiscing about my youth and the life I’ve been blessed to live. I’ve taken the time to think about the many acts of kindness I’ve experienced because people have simply chosen to be nice. Whether it was the kind words of encouragement from a teacher, a coach, or a friend there have been many moments I recall with fondness.
One of the earliest acts of kindness I remember happened to me when I was around nine or ten years old.
I’ll never forget what happened to me.
I lived on Armstrong Avenue in the east-end of Hamilton in Hamilton Housing Authority income based rental war-time houses. As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post about my youth, we didn’t know we weren’t rich. I had a great childhood. Part of which was having a lot of friends in our neighbourhood. For most of my seven years in this home I had the same half dozen friends that lived within a few houses from us. But one summer I happened to hang around with a few kids from the next street over, on Glengrove Avenue. I don’t recall the details about how I started to hang with them, or why I stopped.
Ron Fleming was a year older than I was. He invited me to his birthday party. Even though I had a lot of friends, no one had birthday parties. This was my first. I was pretty excited. I was into toy models at the time, as where most of the boys my age. I asked my parents if we could buy him a model. My mother said it was too much money. They couldn’t afford such a gift. My parents gave me a twenty-five cent a week allowance. It had taken months to save up for my latest Spiderman model. If I had not already built it and painted it, I would have gladly given it up for Ron’s birthday.
My mom chose to buy a three-pack of black dress socks. That was it. That was the gift I had to bring to my first birthday party. I was beyond nervous. These were new friends. There might have been about a dozen kids there, boys and girls. This was exciting, yet petrifying, given the gift I had to give Ron. The time came for opening gifts. I don’t recall what the other gifts were. I simply remember they were much better than black socks—which would be just about any gift. When he came to my gift, he had opened half the gifts from the other boys and girls. The instant he opened the package you could hear a mild laughter from the others. They weren’t overly mean kids, but they couldn’t help but laugh. A few kids mumbled some negative comments. It wasn’t anything overly mean, just a terribly embarrassing moment for me. I wanted to run. It wouldn’t take much to embarrass a nine-year-old boy.
Before I could do any such thing, within seconds of the laughter, Ron made a big deal about how much he loved the socks. He was an empathetic boy who recognized the moment. He came to the rescue. He talked about how he needed black dress socks to wear for some upcoming family function or something. Clearly not true. He earnestly thanked me, as he had the other kids for their gifts, and moved on to the next gift.
Because of the way he responded any embarrassment was diffused. The moment passed. I survived. The other kids moved on just as quickly as he did. The party continued. We played pin the tail on the donkey and other games. No one mentioned the socks—ever. I had a great time. Instead of it being a disastrous childhood memory, Ron’s act of kindness stayed with me to this day. That day, as a ten-year old boy, I learned about empathy. I experienced what kindness was.
I don’t know what ever happened to Ron Fleming. Where he is today. But I imagine he continued to be an empathetic and kind person.
Wherever you are Ron, thanks for the treasured memory. Thanks for your kindness.