The Gentle Fragrance Of My Father's Good Deeds
Our bearded irises, deep blue, bright yellow, and pale lavender, are in full bloom now. I pick a bouquet of these showy flowers, with their ruffled petals, and place them in water in a crystal vase to grace our kitchen table. Their delicate fragrance fills the room.
My thoughts are filled with memories of bearded irises my mother raised in our garden in New Rochelle, N.Y. When they were in full bloom - velvety deep purple to pale blue-violet, and occasionally a pristine white one - I knew it was time for my father to gather a bouquet and take them on his yearly errand to New York City.
He delivered them to an elderly lady who sold newspapers at a newsstand on Broadway and 42nd Street. Then, as was his habit, he'd purchase from her his daily newspapers, The New York Times and The Herald-Tribune.
It made no difference to Daddy that he had to hop a bus for a 15-minute ride to the train station, wait for the train (not air-conditioned), commute into New York City, then walk across town from Grand Central Station to 42nd Street and Broadway. Some of the delicate flowers might have been a little wilted.
DADDY assured us that the lady was so happy to receive them, and she was positive they were orchids. I was never sure whether he tried to convince her that they were actually irises.
It didn't matter. She was happy, and I could tell by the quiet smile on my father's face that night that it had been a good day and he was satisfied.
My father did kind things for people as naturally as breathing.
In his office on Broadway, where he published a theatrical magazine, theater people - actors, playwrights, performers - would sometimes drop by, just to talk or to see if there were any jobs Daddy knew about. There were times, especially during the Depression, when my father was asked to help this one or that one. He was always glad to give what he had.
If he was walking down the street and saw someone in need, he'd empty his pockets. In the cafeteria where he ate, he would occasionally pay for some stranger's meal.
Mother, being a practical sort, persuaded Daddy to take just enough cash for bus and train fare, a modest lunch, and his newspapers. She sewed a $10 bill in his overcoat pocket and another in his summer linen jacket for any emergency.
One day, a ragged-looking stranger, unshaven, came to his office and asked for money. He told his story about being broke, out of a job, and no place to stay. Daddy couldn't turn him down. He gave him his lunch money and told him to come back the next day and he'd give him some clothes. My father went around our neighborhood that evening and asked friends to donate what they could.
The next morning, the stranger arrived as planned, and Daddy gave him an assortment of men's clothes. The man was overwhelmed by such kindness, thanked him earnestly, and left.
Some weeks later, Daddy received a letter, scrawled on brown paper, from the stranger. He wrote that he had just been released from prison and had intended to rob my father, but he was treated with such kindness, he couldn't. He said he was now going to go straight.
My father's effortless and gracious way of treating others made a deep impression on me. It seemed to me that it was one of the most important contributions a person could make.
It made me see that greatness comes in all kinds of ways.
And I knew then, without a doubt, that sometime in the month of June, the following year, Daddy would repeat his journey. Laden with those delicate, fragrant flowers, he would make life a little more pleasant for a certain lady on the streets of New York.