An unforgettable act of kindness

Childhood is a subject my friends and I, while enjoying the comforts of our afternoon tea and cocktails, often discuss. We remember those long-ago experiences, speculating upon their importance in the formation of our adult personalities. Were they important to how we turned out?

When I was 3 years old, my parents bought a pre-fab house from a catalog, an innovation in those days. It was placed, alone, on a hilltop in a rural area, awaiting neighbors who took several years in coming. I grew into a solitary, lonely, little girl, with only my dog to play with.

One day, though, another house was built next door to ours, and a little girl named Shirley moved in. Shirley was all the things I was not, with bouncy, blond curls and laughing eyes. She even danced as she walked. I wanted to be like Shirley.

The complexities of my longings and subsequent actions remain unexamined in their importance to what happened next. Why would a nice little girl like me steal her friend’s shoe box filled with a sparkling treasure of her mother’s discarded costume jewelry? However, that is just what I did, hiding the booty behind a large geranium plant in our backyard.

It wasn’t long before the accusation by Shirley’s mother and my confession that my dog, Blondie, must have done it fell on deaf ears. To make matters worse, my beloved Uncle Eddie was visiting and heard it all.

The passing of 82 years has erased the remembrance of my punishment. I do remember, though, crying, sitting in my “safe space” on old summer garden pillows in the garage, where Uncle Eddie found me. His warm bear hug enveloped me as we sat together, watching the flickering pilot light under the hot water heater. The hug worked. My sobs stopped. Uncle Eddie took a Hershey bar from his pocket, which he carefully broke in two for us to share.

“Come on,” he said. “Time for us to go back.”

I knew then that Uncle Eddie, in spite of my naughtiness, still loved me, and all would be well. I learned that day about love and how it works.

Author Alexander McCall Smith wrote, “Love lies at the heart of all our experiences.”

We ladies of afternoon tea and cocktails agree. It is love that shapes our character, and we promise to pass it along.

Valerie Jelenfy Stilson is a Novato resident. IJ readers are invited to share their stories of love, dating, parenting, marriage, friendship and other experiences for our How It Is column, which runs Tuesdays in the Lifestyles section. All stories must not have been published in part or in its entirety previously. Send your stories of no more than 600 words to Please write How It Is in the subject line. The IJ reserves the right to edit them for publication. Please include your full name, address and a daytime phone number.

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