One year just before Thanksgiving, I received a letter from someone I hadn’t seen since junior high school. In her letter, Suzanne explained that one of the ways she enjoyed Thanksgiving was to remember someone who’d been kind to her and write them a letter. She recalled while in the eighth grade, when she’d come down with mononucleosis —" the kissing disease," everyone teased — I’d sent her a red rose and a note. She wrote how much that had meant to her — especially at the age of 14. I read her letter scarcely recalling my gesture, realizing that the loveliest gesture was Suzanne’s.
Since then, I’ve tried emulating Suzanne’s practice — if not with a letter or phone call — with the very act of remembering the person and honoring kindness. Thanks in part to Suzanne, Thanksgiving has become increasingly more valued. This year, I’ll hold the holiday in my heart with both hands.
Of all our friends, we might have seen Tippy the least, but I liked him the most. He went to law school with my husband. They were also fraternity brothers and roommates for a time. I’d first met Tippy, whose given name was Charles Thomas Newton, Jr., and his wife, Flo, when P and I were courting. It didn’t take long to understand how he’d earned the name "Mighty Tipster" because in every sense of the word he was. Mighty in head, heart and spirit. His bride whom I still call, “Soul Sister” – is no different. Tippy died about this time last November. But on Thanksgiving especially, he’ll be in the homes and hearts of many.
Somehow, seeing Tippy’s face whether across a table or a room packed with chatterboxes made me feel warm inside. Like suddenly the whole world was a better place. Maybe this was because Tippy was as real as rain. Maybe it was because he shot straight from his hip and his heart, which at all times and even during his illness, struck me as clean and uncluttered.
Tippy knew things. One day when I was feeling especially challenged in the great ring of matrimony, Tippy called me up as he often did with his friends to enjoy a friendly chat. About midway through our visit he suddenly said something out of the blue. With that clear-as-a-bell voice, he said, “You know, you’re really good for him.”
I countered trying to say something funny but boy he wouldn’t have it. “No,” he said, “you are.” Hearing those words and more importantly, from Tippy, meant the world to me.
A year later, right before a speech that I was really nervous about giving, I used some advice that my grandfather gave prior to my piano recital. “Pick out one person in the audience,” he said, “and play for them.” On the day of my speech, that person was Tippy. I found his open kind face and the butterflies in my stomach immediately came to rest.
Shortly before Tippy died, P and I visited Tippy and Flo in their home. I’ve forgotten what P was saying but it prompted me to look over at Tippy and jokingly make a plea.
“Oh Tippy…make him behave.”
He looked me straight in the eye and, from someplace deep in his soul, said, “I can’t. I love him too much.”
That, in a nutshell…was Tippy.
At the end of that visit, we shared a few minutes alone. The presidential campaign had whittled down to two men standing and I wanted Tippy’s thoughts…and something else. I told him I’d voted for Obama in the primary and was casting the same vote in November. I don’t remember exactly how he said it but in typical Tippy style, he let me know his position while also “getting” mine. Like all our others, the exchange was real and rich. I realized I’d been silly in seeking Tippy’s approval. He’d given that long ago with his friendship. As Tippy always demonstrated, affirmation of friendship is the best vote of all.
A few weeks after receiving Suzanne’s letter I wrote her back saying how much I’d enjoyed hearing from her. I also gave her my phone number and wrote that if she ever got to Houston – to please give me a call. Although I never heard another peep from Suzanne, it didn’t matter. Her gesture was gift enough. It also served in reminding me that acts of kindness, however small, last.