We weren’t actually there to watch the basketball game. Our primary purpose (or so we thought,) in braving the cold, windy December evening in Chicago, was to catch a few minutes of a half-time cheerleading routine.
The girls stood tall and straight, hands planted firmly on hips, waiting for their brief moment of fame. As the game clock counted down, our granddaughter, Selah, quickly glanced in our direction to make sure we were ready and watching. All smiles, they stormed onto the court. We later complimented Selah on a great performance and her beautiful smile, to which she replied in her twelve-year-old, sassy way: “Oh, that was just a fake smile for the crowd. I don’t really mean it when I smile.” Clearly, their school spirit was at an all-time high on this evening as the voices bellowing out of their petite little bodies reverberated throughout the gym. Then, in a blink of an eye, it was over.
As Selah joined us in the stands, her mother appeared deep in conversation with the three boys behind us. I turned around just as our daughter, Erin, gave her cell number to them, with instructions to call her if they ever needed anything.
As we bundled up, to once again brave the inclement elements of the outdoors, I heard Erin address the kids: “If you all stay here while I take my family home, I will come back and give you a ride.” Without hesitation, Brandon, the oldest, quickly accepted her offer.
On our way home, Erin filled us in on the situation. Brandon, sixteen years old, assumed full responsibility for his three younger siblings when their mom worked. His twelve-year-old sister was on the same cheerleading squad as Selah. They had walked the mile from their apartment to the basketball game. Brandon never left his two younger siblings alone and he certainly wouldn’t hear of his sister walking anywhere by herself. So, that meant if their sister needed to be somewhere, they all walked her there and back. With no dad in the picture, their mom, principle bread-winner, worked most evenings and weekends.
We shivered as we exited the car. The blessing of a warm home on this night was most welcome. Erin headed back to the school to pick up her new young friends.
She had barely turned into their apartment complex when they, one by one, began voicing their appreciation for the toasty ride home. As the youngest turned to close the car door he exclaimed with all the gusto of a car-crazy eight-year-old boy, “This is the coolest car ever-I’m going to have a car like this someday!exactly the kind of car I want to have someday!”
A few days later, Brandon called Erin to ask for a ride to the school to pick up Christmas presents he purchased for his family the previous day at the school bazaar. The school had called to inform him they would be closing the bazaar room in thirty minutes and he needed to find a way to get the gifts. Erin dropped what she was doing and headed his way. He apologized profusely for having bothered her. She assured him she was more than happy to do it.
She sat in the car as he hurriedly ran up the steps. No more than five minutes had passed when the door to the building flung open and a tall, lanky, teen boy, carefully balancing several bags, emerged. Tears overflowed from his eyes and dripped down his cheeks as he approached her car. In a barely audible voice, cracking with emotion, he told her that the school had bought Christmas gifts for a few of their low-income families, his being one of them. After a little detective work, the school district had identified a few needs/wants of Brandon’s family and purchased special gifts for each of them. It greatly touched Erin to witness the compassion and grateful spirit in this young man’s heart.
Our Chicago kid’s plans for New Year’s Eve included an invitation to the parents of their oldest son’s girlfriend. As they prepared for the evening, Erin received a call from Brandon asking if he and his siblings could come over that evening. There’s one thing for sure: a person with a heart for hospitality never turns down a request from someone asking to come over.
Once again, her ragged little Honda Pilot pulled up in front of the apartment complex where four kids and a grandmother eagerly waited to be picked up. The grandmother, whom Erin had never met, sheepishly asked if she might come too. To which Erin quickly and enthusiastically replied: “Of course you can-the more the merrier!”
The kids all gravitated to the den to play games while the adults gathered around the dining table for an interactive game of Apples to Apples. What better way to get know people than through an introspective game?!
As I chatted with Erin on the phone, I told her what I was writing about. She said what I expected: “Oh Mom, it wasn’t that big a deal to reach out to them. For all they have been through, they are such amazing kids. They have taught us so much.”
Fond memories, in spite of the wicked weather, of this December 2017 trip will stay with me for a long time, but the memory that warms my heart the most began with a simple, “Hi, my name is Erin. I think I’ve seen you here before….
And one more thing: I pray that my amazing, cheerleading granddaughter took careful note of her mother’s generous act of kindness. Who knows the impact this has had on her?
I have no doubt that someday she will learn the fine art of how to put on a real smile!