We spent the rainy afternoon driving to Cooper Landing, the tiny town where I spent the summer of my 16th year. I remember the summer well—how I needed a job to help pay for my Christian high school. How my mom’s best friend’s sister Mayme mentioned that a local restaurant and inn had an opening. And how Mayme needed someone to help out with her son while she went outside (what Alaskans call visiting the lower 48).
I remember receiving an application for Sunrise Inn in the mail, and filling it out—my first job application for a summer job. One line on the application said, “expected wages.” I had no idea what to write down. “What should I say about my expected wages?” I asked my mom.
“Write down minimum wage,” she told me.
“Thanks,” I said, clueless as to what she meant. When I worked for her catering business, she paid me by the job, not by the hour. When I worked at school, they called it ‘work study,’ so I felt certain that I got paid less than minimum wage.
I picked a random number—something that didn’t seem too extreme or too low. I carefully wrote $5.85 an hour. It took me years to realize that in 1982, minimum wage was $3.50 an hour. Despite my tender age (I would turn 16 two weeks after I arrived) and demand for higher-than-minimum wages, I got the job.
Mayme and her son drove to Anchorage to pick me up and I started work the following day. She and her husband had prepared an area in their basement for me to stay in, and they graciously lent me the use of a bicycle so I could ride the five miles to work.
She also drove me to Seward on my birthday so I could get my first driver’s license. On the weekends, they let me use the car to drive an hour away to attend church. I had a wonderful summer. I worked in the kitchen at Sunrise Inn and bussed tables. Occasionally I cleaned hotel rooms when the proprietors needed extra help.
Mayme’s friends absorbed me into the social life of the community, and I never felt bored. She even convinced me to join a group of ladies to run in a 10K in Anchorage. I did a lot of taking that summer. Looking back years later, I felt remorse for all the times I took.
When I left at the end of the summer, I had saved up enough tip money to purchase my first nice camera and a telephoto lens. I also had enough to pay most of my tuition for a year of school. I kept in touch with Mayme for several years, but marriage, teaching, children, and life got in the way of my good intentions.
So when I called her out of the blue that rainy day on the way out of Seward, I wondered what her reaction would be. After all, the last time she saw me I had been a snot-nosed, unappreciative teenager who lived in their basement, ate their food, and used their car with nary a word of appreciation.
I needn’t have worried. Her joyous voice greeted me when I called, and we made arrangements to meet at the local post office (she didn’t think our trailer would make it up their driveway). For the next three hours she took Pedro and I on a whirlwind tour of her town.
We met her friends and visited with the one family that I remembered from 34 years ago. Mayme showed us the improvements in the town—a retirement community, softball fields, new post office, and tiny museum. Over the years, Mayme has invested thousands of hours in her community.
More than once Mayme thanked me for the birthday party. It took me a few minutes to remember that she had gone to the states during their son’s eighth birthday. I had volunteered to host a birthday party for him.
“Iver still remembers that birthday party,” she told us. “The kids had so much fun that day, they still bring it up.” Her words shocked me. At first I thought she spoke out of kindness, but the other lady I had known mentioned the birthday party, too!
How could an event I scarcely remembered have made such a huge impression on a group of little kids and their parents? Over the years, I had started to think of my time in Alaska as a time of clueless taking.
Inner Beauty Trumps Outer Beauty
I felt ashamed for my childish behavior—assuming that I could use their car whenever I wanted to; living rent-free in their basement; going along on all of their family trips and adventures. I don’t remember expressing my feelings of gratitude.
Mayme has lived a life of giving—to her family, to her community, to her friends, and yes, even to an unknown punk who lived with her for a summer. She lives with her heart wide open and her arms not far behind.I want to live with my heart wide open and my arms not far behind. #innerbeauty Click To Tweet
I want to live like that. I need to stop complaining when someone doesn’t live up to my expectations in the gratitude department. Generous people spread the most happiness.
Beauty Tip #22: Live with your heart wide open and a sense of gratitude for those around you.
Q4U: In what area(s) of your life do you find it difficult to ‘live generously?’