A few weeks ago I wrote a column about simple acts of kindness - about how opening your heart to another can prove an enriching experience that often gets repaid tenfold.
I invited readers to submit their own heartwarming stories of kindness. I received quite a few, but here are a sampling of my favorites:
A Christmas miracle
Lillian from Warrensburg wrote:
When I was a little girl living in Weavertown in the 1930s, we had barely enough money for food. It was the height of the Great Depression and as winter approached we had no idea how we were going to heat our home for the winter. As Christmas neared, we were in a very bad way. My father had been seriously injured working in the woods and my mother had no choice but to tear boards off our chicken coop and the side of our home to burn in the woodstove for heat. A very proud man, my father was not one to ask for handouts, even though there was no way he could provide for me and my three younger brothers. Most days he could barely get out of bed.
On Christmas Eve, my elderly next-door neighbor saw me sitting on our porch and asked me what I had asked for for Christmas. I told him all I wanted was for my family to be warm and have something to eat. He said he understood. He was in as bad shape as our family and said he hadn't had a real meal in days.
The next morning when I woke up it was Christmas. We had no presents. Didn't expect them like kids these days. But when I opened the front door to help Mom peel some more boards for heat, I saw a strange sight in our front yard. To my disbelief, there stood a huge pile of split firewood. On the porch was a burlap sack containing a smoked ham. On it there was a note that read simply "To Lilli, from Santa."
I could never prove it was the old man who did that amazing deed, but the boot tracks through the snow sure looked a lot like his.
A daughter's selflessness
Joe from Whitehall wrote:
I have a heartwarming story of my own about something my 5-year-old daughter did this summer. I am in the National Guard and spent the last year in Iraq. When I returned I took my daughter to the Great Escape to enjoy a sun-filled day and then to Martha's Ice Cream as she had been bugging me all day to make a stop there. She ordered and after receiving a cone heavily laden with ice cream, spun and started walking to our car. Before she could take her first bite, however, she noticed a young soldier in BDU's (camouflage outfit called a Battle Dress Uniform) standing a few people back in line. She immediately marched straight to the young man and offered him her ice cream.
"I'd like you to have this and thank you for helping keep my Daddy safe so he could come home to Mommy and me," she said.
I think we were both fighting back tears as my little girl spun and skipped away toward the car.
A guardian angel
Kimberly from North Elba wrote:
I was returning from college in an old Dodge Dart I had at the time and was traveling a very remote section of Route 8 in near blizzard conditions.
Rounding a corner somewhere outside Speculator I lost control and careened down a steep embankment. I was unhurt but the car was completely buried. I had to climb out a window just to get to the road as the doors were jammed shut by snow.
I really wasn't prepared for the elements and had only sneakers and a light coat on as I made my way along the highway toward a house not far away. As I approached, a dog barked fiercely from inside and the porch light snapped on. I was so scared I could barely move but I didn't know what else to do. From inside, a man's voice barked "who's there?"
I yelled my name and told him my situation. After a long pause I heard the lock click on the door, but instead of opening it the man had locked it tight and I heard him say "get off my property."
I ran back to my car crying and scared. Inside, I locked the doors and covered up with everything I could find. I tried the engine several times until the battery died and then huddled in the dark for what seemed like hours until a light shone though the back window.
"Everyone okay in there," a voice said and I peeked my head out the window to see a rosy-cheeked gentleman with a flashlight.
"No," I said through tears. "I'm stuck and I'm freezing."
"Wait right there," he said and in a moment I could hear a shovel clicking against the side of the car. Minutes later he helped me out the door and brought me to his plow truck that was idling nearby.
He offered me hot coffee from a Thermos and pulled a heavy wool blanket from behind the seat, draping it over my shoulders. Then he put a heavy chain on my car and yanked it out of the snow and, with the help of jumper cables, got my car going.
I was so grateful I gave him a big hug and offered him what little money I had. He said he had a daughter about my age and hoped that someone would help her out too if she was ever in a similar situation.
I never got the man's name, so I hope you will print this story in hopes that maybe he sees it and understands what a profound difference he made in my life on that snowy January night.
He was my guardian angel.
John Gereau is managing editor of Denton Publications. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.