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A Kindness

Posted in the mid-afternoon by Jackina Stark

Last Tuesday night we had two couples over for dinner. We wanted to make sure this happened before we leave Joplin some time in the next few months. We’ve been meaning to get together with them for over thirty years or so. That’s how long it’s been since Tony coached with Sam and Craig at Parkwood High School in Joplin, Missouri.

Sam and Rita moved to Joplin about the same time we did and had their first child a few months after we had Stacey, our first. There are several things I remember about Sam and Rita, but two things stand out.

The fire is one of them.

Stacey was only a few months old when I tried to burn down our apartment. I wasn’t as dedicated to having a spotless kitchen in those days as I am now, and we had been in a terrible hurry the Wednesday night before the fire morning, trying to eat dinner and get to church with a new baby.

I left a pan of grease on the stove, and the next morning when I went to the frig to get a bottle of formula to warm for Stacey, who would be waking up soon, I realized there weren’t any and I would have to prepare bottles.

I put a pan of water on the stove to boil (yes, those were barbaric days), dropped in the bottles, flipped on the burner, and went into the living room to read the newspaper. It wasn’t long before I heard a popping sound and thought, “Dadgumit! A bottle must have broken.” I put down my paper and rounded the corner of the living room to find the kitchen ablaze. I’d turned on the pan of grease instead of the pan of water.

Not good.

I stood in shock, looking at fire leaping around the kitchen, but I had the wherewithal to rush out of the apartment. Obviously I needed a phone, and ours was in the kitchen. I’m happy to say I hadn’t gone far when I remembered I had a baby inside and ran back in to snatch her out of her baby bed. We made it to a convenience store down the block, and the fire department was called, but we never found one of the little white booties Stacey’s Gran had knitted her (I was running pretty fast).

Except for the kitchen, the fire caused only smoke damage, but we did have to find someplace to live for a few weeks. Enter Sam and Rita with an offer to let us stay with them in their tiny two bedroom house. They gave us their bedroom and stayed in the smaller bedroom with only a twin bed if I recall, and if I recall, Rita was pregnant. I’m sure we thanked them, but I’m sure we did not thank them profusely enough.

I’m not sure what we would have done if they hadn’t opened their home to us. I doubt we could have afforded a motel for even one night, and we didn’t consider going home to our parents, two hours away, since Tony, who was still teaching at the time, needed to be in class. Their generous hospitality we will never forget.

A year later we added another baby girl to the family and during a summer break a few years after that, the girls spent a week with their grandparents and Tony and I decided to make a quick trip to see friends in St. Louis. We had travelled maybe three hours down I-44 when, clunk, the car just stopped.

We managed to get it to the side of the road, and to make a long story short, we would have been there until the kids were grown if Tony hadn’t been able to reach Sam Adams, who once again came to our rescue.

We thought he was just coming to get us, but instead he had called around and brought a makeshift part to fix the car, which enabled us to make it to St. Louis after all. That was six hours round-trip for Sam, and another generosity we will never forget.

I’ve been thinking this week that we forget so very much. It’s hard to conjure up all the moments that have produced a happy life. But it seems to me we remember remarkably well certain moments—moments of extreme joy, hilarity, terror, and shame.

And moments of extreme kindness.