By Steve Carter
My feet were dirty, my shorts frayed, I walked up the steps and into the small, white clapboard church. Centered amidst “orange grove country,” everything in the sanctuary held the sweet fragrance of orange blossoms, that and mosquito spray.
Skinny and tall for a seven-year-old, I would have made a good poster child for neglect. My granddaddy, a kind and benevolent soul took good care of me when I lived at his house, which was not often enough. All that changed when Momma picked me up, and I found myself at the mercy of her latest male companion. These were tough times with rough treatment, not much food, and no hint of creature comforts. A little kindness would have gone a long way with me, the same as a good friends, both were hard to find at this time in my life.
After stepping across the threshold and heading down the center aisle, I admired the pews, original to the church, which had been founded in the mid-1800s. Turning my head, I saw the smiling “from ear to ear,” youth leader, indicating where I should sit. The service featured a film on young people being kind in their efforts to show love to others. At the end of the service, the youth worker explained to me the advantages of kindness and the importance of working together to give a helping hand.
As a child, the concept of “kindness” was foreign to me. However, as I walked home from church, swatting mosquitoes and watching for snakes every step of the way, I became aware of a seed planted in my heart. Soon the youth worker’s kindness and wisdom began to germinate as I started replacing indifference with concern, and cruelty with compassion.
The elementary school turned out to be very tough on me. In hindsight, my undiagnosed attention deficiency disorder had free rein. An inability to concentrate made teaching me anything quite the challenge. Second grade proved overwhelming, and it took two tries before moving on to third. However, I did excel at talking. This dubious “skill set” didn’t bring my grades up, but it did earn several rebukes and time in after-school “detention.”
Crowded classrooms left harried teachers with little or no interest in helping overcome, this yet unknown, attention deficiency disorder. My disability made life in general and school in particular, especially difficult. This caused my self-confidence to painfully hover just above zero for years. Bouncing between three schools, with no parental assistance, kept me in an almost constant state of humiliation. I’m sure a little “bumping up my grades” helped because somehow, I stumbled through grades 1-5.
In the sixth grade, I found myself under the tutelage of Mrs. Rowe, an exceedingly kind widow with a genuine love for her work and students. Most of my previous teachers, for numerous reasons, brushed me aside. Mrs. Rowe, this “gray at the temples, and “wide at the waistline,” educator would have none of that. Daily, this kind lady went to all manner of extra trouble to help rebuild in me healthy self-esteem, while instilling the joy of learning.
On one of my more difficult days, she asked me a simple question. Rattled, I answered in a harsh, defensive tone. Mrs. Rowe, always the kind, nurturing, professional, sighed, took her glasses off, rubbed her forehead, and said “Steve, I’m only trying to help you. I stay awake at night, trying to think of ways to help you.” She said this, not in a scolding manner, but in a soft, caring voice I remember to this day. This response, so typical of Mrs. Rowe, endeared her to me in such a way that until I reached high school, any time I accomplished something noteworthy, I hopped on my bicycle and peddled across town to tell her all about it.
The church worker, whose name I never knew, and Mrs. Rowe the 6th-grade teacher both had a lasting impact on me. At the time my early life was unfolding, these two ladies planted Godly concepts in my life that continue to bear fruit.
I doubt the tiny, country, church worker ever received any money for her effort. Regardless of that, she invested her Sunday night toward introducing an unknown child to the value of compassion and kindness. I doubt her wildest imagination would have had her story being told over sixty years later!
Mrs. Rowe likely had no inkling she helped point, not only me but my younger sister in a positive direction. Aside from teaching us to spell and “cipher,” she planted is us a seed of confidence and self-esteem that was sorely lacking.
For their efforts and the bearing, they remain to have on myself and those I minister to, I am thankful.
Steve Carter is entering his 5th decade of Christian ministry. Steve had peddled across the continental United States twice. Mr. Carter’s email is: Msroadkill@bellsouth.net
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