At the year’s end or beginning, it’s never too late for kindness

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crystal ball

The future is easily predictable, especially if you have access to a photocopier and a fax machine.

At least that was the successful business plan of a central Illinois neighbor who, for decades, maintained she had received the “gift” of clairvoyance after surviving a lightning strike. Once word of her talent spread, our one-stoplight, no-railroad town became a hub for people “who needed to know.”

Two consequences of this human tide quickly became apparent. First, there was no end to it; wave after wave of answer seekers came day after day and year after year until the neighbor died. Second, people often mistook our house for hers — identical house numbers, one street apart — and, for years, pushed our doorbell 24/7 instead of hers.

The crush was, in fact, so large — and here’s where the photocopier and fax come in — that clients who called for appointments were instructed to photocopy their palms and fax them to her office. Later, she telephoned the senders to “read” these prints for, reportedly, $20, cash or credit.

Were her predictions accurate?

Give ’em what they want. My guess is that accuracy wasn’t why people consulted her. Most, I came to surmise as I watched the parade of clients come and go, just wanted answers — any answer really — to their problems and, for $20, cash or credit, she gave ’em one.

I know what you’re thinking: Scam, right?

I thought the same for years, especially after answering another 2 a.m. doorbell ring. But I was wrong. What the neighbor actually sold to all those people over all those years was comfort. She wasn’t a trained counselor or licensed social worker but she understood what people were really seeking in seeking her out.

The key to that comfort-giving was something that cost nothing: kindness. Either in person or by telephone, my neighborhood clairvoyant listened to peoples’ woes and worries before kindly offering her views and, I guess, visions. Moreover, I never heard any complaints about her abilities, advice, or fees.

In fact, another neighbor, the town’s long-time police chief, believed “there’s something to her” after she correctly advised him on a missing-persons case he had not asked her about. “Hey,” he told me in a solemn tone, “I don’t understand it but I do understand why people go to her.”

Only interactions

In all our years as neighbors, however, I only had two, very brief dealings with her. Once, when raking leaves near the street we shared, her long, blue Cadillac DeVille glided to a stop and the front passenger window (she never drove) lowered in a steady electric whir.

“This house speaks to me,” she announced and, after barely pausing, the window whirred to a close and off she was driven. 

I would like to have known what my house had to say but, alas, she either didn’t have time or I hadn’t forked over a Jackson quickly enough, so off she glided.

The second time — and while I didn’t know it, perhaps she did — the last time we spoke, I was again raking leaves when I looked up to see her walking toward me. In the nearly 20 years we had been neighbors, I had never seen her walk so I was momentarily struck silent.

Even more odd was that her trademark, beehived hair was wrapped in what appeared to be an acre of gauze. Everything about her said “swami.”

“I wanted to thank your lovely wife for the jam she dropped by,” said the swami in a steady voice. “It was absolutely delicious.”

I’ll tell her, I stammered while staring at the gauze. Are you well? I asked.

“Oh,” she said, “no worries. I had a bit of brain surgery this week.” She then pivoted and slowly returned the way she had come. 

Did she say brain surgery?

Later, when I tracked down my lovely spouse to report the rare, strange conversation, Catherine’s only response was “That’s odd, I took her the jelly last Christmas,” 10 months earlier.

The tardiness of the “thank you” is odd?

But, in fact, it’s never too late for kindness — even at this very late date.

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Alan Guebert was raised on an 800-acre, 100-cow southern Illinois dairy farm. After graduation from the University of Illinois in 1980, he served as a writer and editor at Professional Farmers of America, Successful Farming magazine and Farm Journal magazine. His syndicated agricultural column, The Farm and Food File, began in June, 1993, and now appears weekly in more than 70 publications throughout the U.S. and Canada. He and spouse Catherine, a social worker, have two adult children. farmandfoodfile.com

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