As a rule and as a courtesy I rarely share the many personal emails that come my way but Saturday morning I received one of those rare “Random Acts of Kindness” and its warmth overwhelmed me. As I share it, I hope you’ll become as blessed by these words as I am …
“I read your articles as often as I can and especially the 'Saturday Funnies', today's (9 June) struck a tender spot with me.
“The nuggets of advice you mentioned on Friends and living life is sage indeed. I've been doing much reflection lately on exactly that.
“I've had many wonderful friends over the years and have lost many as we all have. As I write this my best friend lies in the hospital with a lung bleed, on a ventilator in a medically-induced coma. Chances are slim he will make it. I do have the memory of our last words to keep though. I told him that I'd always appreciated his friendship and that he was important to me. And no, I wasn't embarrassed to tell him 'I Love you', not in the least.
“When I was much younger my family was poor, we struggled but it made me a better person overall. We had a neighbor named Russ Hayes, a WWII Veteran of the US Navy, he served in Admiral Bull Halsey's Task Force and rode thru the typhoons with it. He was a Radioman onboard a Sub Chaser.
“Russ took me under his wing and taught me many things, Morse Code, how to shoot a handgun and reload ammo and the value of Friendship.
“He was at the age I am now, late 50's and, as is typical, was losing many of his old friends from his Navy days. He told me something that I have never forgotten. I would like to share it with you.
“While at his house one day we were listening to a ball game and were drinking a beer (yes, I was only 15 or so, it was a different time), he mentioned he was losing friends rapidly. I didn't understand how he could be so calm about it but he replied, 'after the things I saw in the Pacific, life and death took on a new meaning'.
“And then He said this: "Son, just because You may grow old, that doesn't mean your Friends will grow old with you".
“I have never forgotten that, nor him.
“Thank You, Mr. Hayes for caring about a skinny kid, you're not forgotten.
“And Thank You Mr Exum for your insight and entertainment.”
Hare's Creek TN
* * *
Quite by coincidence, earlier this week a guy from somewhere in Oklahoma tracked me down and asked if I would share the Bear Bryant story on kindness. This is one of the all-time greatest lessons Coach Bryant ever taught and it’s been about ten years since I last passed it on. I believe we need it more today than ever before and, after Mr. Donegan’s note, I sent him a copy of this ….
* * *
‘IT DON’T COST NUTHIN’ TO BE NICE’
You never heard of Stephen Grellet, a French/American religious leader who held sway in the early 1800s, but he's the one who said, "I expect to pass through the world but once. Any good therefore that I can do, or any kindness I can show to any creature, let me do it now. Let me not defer it, for I shall not pass this way again."
Alabama’s famous coach, Bear Bryant, used to buy into that in a big way. Before he died in January of 1983, he would tell this story often, whether at some Touchdown Club or a football banquet, and this is the way he talked, too:
"I had just been named the new head coach at Alabama and was off in my old car down in South Alabama recruiting a prospect who was supposed to have been a pretty good player and I was havin' trouble finding the place. Getting hungry I spied an old cinder block building with a small sign out front that simply said "Restaurant."
"I pull up, go in and every head in the place turns to stare at me. Seems I'm the only white fella' in the place. But the food smelled good so I skip a table and go up to a cement bar and sit. A big ole man in a T-shirt and cap comes over and says, "What do you need?"
"I told him I needed lunch and what did they have today? He says, "You probably won't like it here, Today we're having chitlins, collard greens and black eyed peas with cornbread. I'll bet you don't even know what chitlins (small intestines of hogs prepared as food in the deep South) are, do you?"
"I looked him square in the eye and said, "I'm from Arkansas , I've probably eaten a mile of them. Sounds like I'm in the right place." They all smiled as he left to serve me up a big plate. When he comes back he says, "You ain't from around here then?"
"I explain I'm the new football coach up in Tuscaloosa at the University and I'm here to find whatever that boy's name was and he says, 'Yeah I've heard of him, he's supposed to be pretty good.' And he gives me directions to the school so I can meet him and his coach.
"As I'm paying up to leave, I remember my manners and leave a tip, not too big to be flashy, but a good one, and he told me lunch was on him, but I told him for a lunch that good, I felt I should pay.
"The big man asked me if I had a photograph or something he could hang up to show I'd been there. I was so new that I didn't have any yet. It really wasn't that big a thing back then to be asked for, but I took a napkin and wrote his name and address on it and told him I'd get him one.
"I met the kid I was lookin' for later that afternoon and I don't remember his name, but do remember I didn't think much of him when I met him. I had wasted a day, or so I thought.
"When I got back to Tuscaloosa late that night, I took that napkin from my shirt pocket and put it under my keys so I wouldn't forget it. Back then I was excited that anybody would want a picture of me. The next day we found a picture and I wrote on it, "Thanks for the best lunch I've ever had."
"Now let's go a whole bunch of years down the road. Now we have black players at Alabama and I'm back down in that part of the country scouting an offensive lineman we sure needed. Y'all remember, (and I forget the name, but it's not important to the story), well anyway, he's got two friends going to Auburn and he tells me he's got his heart set on Auburn too, so I leave empty handed and go on to see some others while I'm down there.
"Two days later, I'm in my office in Tuscaloosa and the phone rings and it's this kid who just turned me down, and he says, 'Coach, do you still want me at Alabama?' And I said, 'Yes I sure do.' And he says 'OK, he'll come.' And I say, 'Well, son, what changed your mind?'
"He said, 'When my grandpa found out that I had a chance to play for you and said no, he pitched a fit and told me I wasn't going nowhere but Alabama, and wasn't playing for nobody but you. He thinks a lot of you and has ever since y'all met.'
"Well, I didn't know his granddad from Adam's house cat so I asked him who his granddaddy was and he said, 'You probably don't remember him, but you ate in his restaurant your first year at Alabama and you sent him a picture that he's had hung in that place ever since. That picture's his pride and joy and he still tells everybody about the day that Bear Bryant came in and had chitlins with him.'
"My grandpa said that when you left there, he never expected you to remember him or to send him that picture, but you kept your word to him and, to Grandpa, that's everything. He said you could teach me more than football and I had to play for a man like you, so I guess I'm going to.'
"I was floored. But I learned that the lessons my mama taught me were always right. It don't cost nuthin' to be nice. It don't cost nuthin' to do the right thing most of the time, and it costs a lot to lose your good name by breakin' your word to someone.
"When I went back to sign that boy, I looked up his Grandpa and he's still running that place, but it looks a lot better now; and he didn't have chitlins that day, but he had some ribs that would'a made Dreamland proud, and I made sure I posed for a lot of pictures; and don't think I didn't leave some new ones for him, too, along with a signed football.
"I made it clear to all my assistants to keep this story and these lessons in mind when they're out on the road. If you don't remember anything else from me, remember this. It really doesn't cost anything to be nice, and the rewards can be unimaginable."
And Bear Bryant's story about civility soon became the benchmark lesson in Alabama of how to treat people. That's what some folks just don't understand but, lordy, it is sure important when it comes to another thing Coach was good at -- winnin'.