Helping isn’t always appreciated, but do it anyway

Categories: From the Director

Simple act of shoveling snow transformed foreboding into friendship

In September of 1989, my wife and kids and I moved from Pine River to Duluth. This was a work-related move, and I was grateful for the opportunity to take on new challenges and learn new things. Mary Beth was less enthusiastic about the move, as we were leaving many great friends with whom we had grown very close.

After a profoundly frustrating process of shopping for a home, we moved into a lovely old house in the Chester Park neighborhood. The house had received meticulous care over the years. We arrived just in time to celebrate Christmas in our new home.

The large old houses of our neighborhood were planted on relatively small plots of land, lending a sense of intimacy to the scene. Our house was situated on a corner lot that was just 40 feet wide and 70 feet deep. Our next-door neighbor was a widowed octogenarian named Jane. Jane and her late husband had owned a liquor store in town. She kept pretty much to herself. Her kitchen window was about 10 feet from our dining room window. Her blinds were most often drawn closed.

One good deed…

We had a significant snowstorm in February. I should mention that I did not own a snow blower until the kids were pretty well gone. They would complain loudly and vigorously that a snow blower would save us a great deal of work, but I told them we didn’t need one. I had four sons who were fit enough (despite their continuous whining), and five good shovels in the garage. As this particular snowfall abated, I had the boys follow me to Jane’s driveway, where we set about shoveling.

Almost immediately, Jane came out of the house and told us this was unnecessary. “I can shovel my own driveway,” she insisted. I replied, “That’s OK, Jane. We’re happy to do it.” She went back into the house and returned with dollar bills, which she began stuffing in my kid’s coat pockets. (They were immediately impressed with this new concept of being paid for work.) I directed them to give the money back. We were not going to accept payment for helping a neighbor. Jane grew somewhat distraught, and said, quite sternly to me, “I can do this. I always shovel my own driveway and I’m perfectly capable.”

I set my shovel aside and walked over to her. “Jane,” I began, “my mom lives in Two Harbors. She’s about your age. She’s very capable too, but when the snow falls, her neighbors come over to shovel her walk and driveway. I can’t drive to Two Harbors every time it snows to help my mom. But as long as Mom’s neighbors are helping her, my kids and I are going to help you.” She stared at me for a few seconds, but her face softened and she nodded and went into the house.

Years later we learned that Jane had been apprehensive about a family with four young boys moving next door. She had visions of trampled flower gardens, bicycle tracks in her lawn and toys strewn about. She learned otherwise — and we became great friends and neighbors over our years in Chester Park. Jane’s kitchen blinds remained wide open. That way she could wave to the boys she grew to love.

Good stewards, let’s be attentive to all the blessings we receive . . . and pay them forward.

Curt Hanson, Director of Stewardship and Development, Diocese of Saint Cloud