What we give, we get.
That’s something that my uncle used to say. In my last post that I spoke about him I mentioned that he was always someone who believed it was better to give than to receive. Since writing that post, with a little encouragement, my family has begun sharing stories about my uncle through an email chain.
These are largely the type of stories you’d talk about and reminisce about at a memorial service, but since that’s been put on hold, the family has decided to share them digitally.
To preface this, I will say that my dad was one of eight kids. There were seven boys and one girl in his family and his father passed away when he was just four years old. As a result, the family grew up without a lot and largely relied on the help of others to to get through… at least until he and his brothers became teenagers and old enough to work. I attribute this way in which they grew up to be a big reason why my uncle was someone who believed in the power of giving.
When I went to the store today to fetch toilet paper I saw that the store, in wake of Covid-19, is selling girl guide cookies for the girl guides so that they dont risk illness by going door to door. When I saw these cookies it brought back a memory of my uncle, one that I know my brothers and I will remember but one that I am not sure the rest of my extended family knows about. I’m contemplating sharing it with them in the email story chain.
When I was a young pip squeak I was a part of Girl Guides for a couple of years. Every year we were required to sell cookies as a part of being a Girl Guide. This didn’t sit well with me because I am largely an introvert and have been my entire life. Approaching strangers to sell them something wasn’t my idea of a good time.
Knowing how uncomfortable I was with selling these cookies after seeing me try for just one day, my uncle actually bought $300 worth of cookies from me so that I could meet my quota and didn’t need to sell any more.
My uncle never liked cookies.
I remember asking him what he was going to do with all of the cookies that he had just bought and I distinctly remember him telling me he wasn’t sure.
The next year that I was in Girl Guides my uncle immediately purchased $300 worth of cookies from me. I remember being baffled by this because I had suddenly realized I didn’t even know what he had done with the cookies from last year.
When I asked him what he was going to do with all of these cookies he told me not to worry and that he could find someone who would enjoy them.
By the next year my family had moved cities and I was no longer a part of Girl Guides. The thought of cookies had dropped from my mind and wouldn’t be picked up again until two years later when my brothers and I went to spend a month at my uncle’s house.
I was about ten at this point. I remember walking in and seeing his kitchen table covered in a giant stack of Girl Guide cookies. I’m sure at this point my brothers and I laughed and said something along the lines of “are you trying to bribe us to be good kids? We can absolutely be bribed with cookies!”
Nope. The cookies were not for us. My uncle actually told us that he had been buying big batches of girl guide cookies every single year since that first year I was in girl guides and thus this wasn’t a special occasion he’d bought cookies for having kids around, no. He had a plan for these.
Again, we asked him why he buys cookies when he doesnt like cookies.
He told us that he bought the cookies because he knows that it helps out the girl guides organization and that he always likes to make sure he supports programs for kids, even if it’s just a few extra dollars. To him, girl guide cookies was an easy way to support kids.
So we asked him what hes been doing with these cookies he had been buying all these years.
I distinctly remember him saying “I’ll show you on Saturday!” Saturday was his day off work and his typically only free day of the week.
That Saturday he loaded us all up in his vehicle and brought out a giant container filled with boxes of cookies. He told us we were going to give them to people in need.
I remember thinking that was ridiculous. I think I probably told him that homeless people dont want cookies, they need a real meal. Nevertheless, he persisted that this was a good idea.
We drove to some lesser developed areas of the city where there are more homeless people who live on the streets and I remember him telling us to stay put and hand him a box of cookies.
The homeless individual took the cookies and shook my uncles hand and then tried to give him a hug. My uncle backed off because he hated hugs, but I distinctly remember thinking that it was bizarre of him to be giving cookies to homeless people when what they needed was a real meal. I also thought that no homeless person wanted cookies and that they were likely going to just ask him for money. 10 year old me thought that I was smarter than my uncle and I tried to lecture him when he got back into the vehicle.
Naturally, not having my smartass attitude, he cut me off. What he said was something that has always stuck with me.
“I don’t care who you are or where you’re from, I don’t care what your circumstances are or the hardships you might face in this life, everyone deserves a treat every once in a while. Someone who is homeless is not going to go out of their way to treat themselves, so we are going to treat them for them. It might not be a full meal but food is food and if they need a treat, they’ll appreciate it.”
I remember thinking that was so incredibly kind of him to say and do. But I also remember thinking about money, which my brother ended up asking him.
‘What if they do not want cookies and only want money?” My brother asked.
My uncle pulled out a box of cookies from the bin and showed us the bottom of the box. He had taped a 20 dollar bill to the bottom of each box of cookies.
“Anyone who is in dire straits and need of food will never turn down an offer of food, even if it’s a box of cookies or even a tin of tuna.” He said. “If they don’t want cookies then they don’t need our money. And if they take the cookies and treat themselves, then I hope they take this (pointing to the 20 dollar bill he taped to the bottom of the box) and get themselves a meal, or more, depending on where they go.”
The rest of that day we spent just wandering around in his car, finding homeless people to offer girl guide cookies to.
It was truly one of those life changing days in a person’s life. It sticks out from my childhood memories so vividly in my mind. He had taped $20 to the bottom of probably 70 boxes of cookies and was giving them out to homeless people who would accept them. And he’d been doing it for years without telling any of us before now.
I’m pretty sure he kept on doing it right up until this year, too.
When my siblings and I got a little older he’d let us come with him and actually get out of the car to offer them to people. Only when he thought we were safe to do so. I remember helping him four or five times over the years. My brothers stopped by and helped him a few times over the years as well. It was his “thing”. Sometimes he’d go back to the same neighborhoods two years in a row and the same people would be there. I remember once, when I was probably 18, one homeless man screaming “the cookie man is back” when he saw my uncle and I walking towards him.
That was just the way my uncle was. He was the kind of guy that you could rely on to be a consistent source of good in this crazy world. He didn’t want attention, he didn’t want notoriety or even hugs. He was just happy with a handshake from a stranger and knowing that he’d done a small bit of good for someone’s day when they likely really needed it.
And he always bought as many girl guide cookies as he could… because, though he never had kids of his own, he never missed out on an opportunity to support kids. (Girl guides was just one organization he supported, he donated to all kinds of soccer teams and band programs and summer camps and basically anywhere he felt that his money would positively impact a kid, even if just in the smallest of ways)
My uncle was a consistent ray of light and kindness and giving. He always believed that giving was better than recieving. I guess I must’ve given something really valuable in a past life because growing up with my uncle around and having him as a part of our lives… it was a pretty big gift. Or, if life really is like a boomerang and what we give we get, then I have already had so I should start giving a heck of a mot more. Cheesy? Yeah, but it is true.
I’m reminiscing tonight. Should probably rewrite this a little if I decide to share with my extended family through email. Just so they dont think he took us into dangerous situations as kids. They’ve all been a little on edge lately and I think a nice story like this might make them smile.