Tinders of Kindness
© Copyright 2020 by Sheridan West
Sheridan's childhood home.
My earliest memory of someoneís act of kindness that warmed up my heart is related to a very sad event.
It was a cold cloudy morning in December, just a few days before the New Year eve. That winter was mostly snowless, which is typical for the South of Ukraine. The house where I lived with my parents, little brother and grandmother started to fill with people. The gate to our yard was wide open for them. My grandma always scolded me for leaving it open. She told me that people leave their gate open only when there is a deceased in the house, on the day of the funeral. This old lady went through too much in her life to simply ignore such superstitions. That day she left the gate open because it was the day of my motherís funeral.
The adults were hustling around, busy with preparations. My grandmother was keeping an enviable composure, talking to guests and following social protocol. She was an outgoing, intensely sociable person with lots of friends and acquaintances in the town, and many of them came to mourn the loss of her daughter.
It was not the first time she had to bury her child. Her firstborn son died in a tragic accident while riding a bicycle on the road when he was only 17. And now the daughter she had after his death, who softened her grief and brought back happiness in her life had passed away, after a few months of agonizing struggle with acute leukemia at the age of 34.
People continued to arrive. I had nothing much to do and was feeling lost, just hanging around with my little brother. It was going to be tough, and I wished to be somewhere else, far, far away from there. I didnít want to talk to people, accept their awkward consolations, feel their pity. As if it was not bad enough to lose your mother and have your life going haywards, I had to listen to all the comments about it! It felt like a torture to an extremely shy and introverted 9-year-old girl I was at that time.
Still, it was not the worst part of the funeral, what was going to happen, the trip to a cemetery and actual burial, terrified me the most. I have attended our town cemetery countless times before, but it didnít make it any easier. As my grandmother had lost her son and husband, who died prematurely aged 57, she often visited their resting place. She was my primary caregiver for my preschool years and for her and me visiting the graveyard was something of a common, like going to a park for other families. I never knew my grandfather and uncle in person, but hearing the stories about them my grandma told me and making visits to their tombstones made an impression of their presence in our lives. Perhaps, it may seem weird to someone, and so I believe it was; my grandma sometimes got too carried away, honoring the dead and taking exaggerated care of their memorials, but everybody has their own way of dealing with their grief.
However, when you are a child with an open mind and no life experience you take many strange things as normal. I didnít mind going to the cemetery, it was interesting to wander between the differently designed graves and read signs on them, the only nuisance was being restricted from running and being too loud.
However, this time I had a different feeling about attending the cemetery. I always knew my grandfather and uncle as a black obelisk and a bronze bust. They were dead for me all the way, they were dead before I was born. And now my mom, a real person who started making a carnival costume for my school New Year matinee just a week ago, was going to join them. Somehow the unfinished costume for the matinee I was no longer going to attend reflected my whole world smashed to pieces.
My paternal grandmother that lived far away came for a visit recently. She didnít have a phone so she sent a telegram to inform my parents that she was coming. My maternal grandmother received it and sent a reply saying that they were not in a position to accept guests, which the mother of her son-in-law did not receive as she had already started her journey. She was going to bring folk remedies for my mom as traditional ones seemed to not help at all.
As she had never been to the town before and nobody was there to meet her, she had a hard time getting there and had to spend the whole night at the railroad station. She felt so wronged by her co-parent-in-law's unfriendliness that she could never forgive her. When she arrived, my mom was still alive. She didnít get along well with her mother-in-law, but they had a good conversation and I was happy to hear them talking friendly to each other. The night after that my mom died.
Me and my brother were loitering outside in the front yard, dressed up according to the weather to not impede the preparations when our neighbor, a woman named Galina appeared at the gate.
ďDo you want to come by?Ē She asked.
ďYes!Ē I answered eagerly. She lived across the street from us and had two sons. Her youngest son Sasha was about the same age as me and we often played together.
Feeling relieved, I took my brother and we left with our neighbor, after she warned one of our adults. I liked to spend time in Sashaís house, they had a collection of cassette tapes with music hits. My parents were not much of music lovers so I enjoyed listening to disco tunes while visiting my friend.
Sasha and I sat in his room and looked through the window at my house and people gathered around it. It felt much better to observe them from the comfort and safety of his home.
ďOh, look, the Pope came as well!Ē Sasha said, pointing at a person wearing a tall hat.
ďI donít think itís a Pope, heís in Rome, itís too far away. I think itís just some woman,Ē I said.
ďNo, Iím sure itís the Pope. Iíve seen him on TV and he had exactly the same hat,Ē convinced my friend.
ďAlright, if you say so.Ē I was not in the mood to argue, feeling relieved and comforted.
I admired the atmosphere of love and harmony in my friendís home and his mom, the amazing woman who created this atmosphere for her family and shared her kindness and warmth to people around her.
As I found out years later, nobody asked her to take care of us kids that day; on the contrary, my grandmother was not happy that we stayed with her instead of going to our motherís funeral. However, I was grateful to her that she helped me to avoid the experience I wasnít ready for, and knowing this made me even more grateful to this kind-hearted woman that she didnít hesitate to interfere and offer help to those who, as she felt with her heart, needed it. She showed me how much we can help others by not staying aside when we can make a difference.
I was born in Russia and lived for many years in Ukraine. In 2017 I immigrated to Canada where I currently live in Vancouver with my 7 years old son. I am a Mechanical Engineer by training and a beginner writer currently working on a detective novel.
have published some of my stories at the free sharing platform
and in my Instagram blog: https://www.instagram.com/forest_of_vancouver/