Before I left Facebook I would sometimes share what I’ve termed “Streetview Stories” on my personal profile. I take a screenshot of a google streetview photo of where something happened in my past and share the story of it.
In early 1982 I was about 11 years old and we were living in central Vermont. One nearby town where we did our shopping was Randolph where there were a couple of grocery stores, a Ben Franklin department store and then in the field of vision we see here were a few things. Down that little street on the left is where the pizza place used t obe where I saw my last soda bottle vending machine – the kind where you pulled the glass bottle straight out after your coins released it. Across the street from that place is where I demonstrated that I could parallel park on my driver’s test in 1986. It’s funny how much comes to me in this one photo.
In the centre of the field of view is a newish building. The old one that was there burned down some time ago in a pretty big fire. That one had what I remember as a set of pretty tall concrete stairs at the top of which was a thrift store where you could still get shirts and pants for a quarter or two. Next door to that for a short time was a bookstore. In the days before big box bookstores or even amazon.com ordering, and before I figured out interlibrary loans, there was going to the bookstore and asking them to order a book for you.
My mom took me in one day because I wanted Broca’s Brain by Carl Sagan. They didn’t have it on the shelf so we ordered that. They also had a copy of Isaac Asimov’s Asimov on Chemistry. I was nuts for chemistry at the time, having just received an old chemistry set from that very thrift store some time earlier – and not long after that being given a new one for my birthday. And so, inspired by seeing the book, I asked my mom if I could get that too. “Sorry, it’s too expensive to get two books. We’ll just get one.” And so we ordered my one book and went home.
A couple of weeks later (instant gratification was still under development back in those days) we got a call to go pick up the book and made the half hour trip back to Randolph to get my book. When I got there, she rang my mom up and then just as we were about to leave the owner said. “Oh wait a minute.” and reached under the counter. “This is for you.” She handed me this and made an eleven year old very happy.
It was an exceptional act of kindness. I never learned anything more about the clerk and never saw her again after that. The bookstore closed soon afterward. I wonder if she had any idea what sort of impression that little gesture did for me. 30 years later this, and other similar acts that were done for, near, and eventually by me inspired me to create the 500 Kindnesses project back in 2012.