Inspired by a Good Deed


Photo courtesy

I write this while taking a break from an interesting if long-delayed project. I have a bed in the basement which has been buried by boxes which have accumulated over the past twenty-four years. The bed is suddenly needed the boxes need to be moved, the contents examined, and determinations made with respect to keeping or disposing of the contents. I have been working on this at the rate of one box per hour, with fifteen minutes allocated for each box. The fifteen minutes is broken down as follows: 1) kick box to dislodge spiders hiding within — ten minutes; 2) carry box upstairs — thirty seconds; 3) go through contents of box — four minutes thirty seconds. I’ve made great progress but it’s been somewhat depressing in a way.

You might be surprised to learn that many of the boxes contained books. I don’t remember reading a lot of them, and it’s depressing on a number of levels. The primary one is that there were and are a LOT of books out there. Many of this lot were published before there was such a thing as Facebook or Twitter, so that the author could not instantaneously announce to the world when the book would be published, when the book was published, when the book was reviewed, and so one. One had to rely on email. I have no idea what an author did before that, other than to hope that a kindly clerk at Walden’s or a knowledgeable librarian would recommend their book to a prospective reader. Still…look at all the darn books. One might ask oneself, “Why bother writing? All the stories have been told.”

The answer is that if you have a story, write it. A good story stands on its own. People empathize with it. One can also take the basics of it and work it, maybe twist it around a bit, and make it different.

It may also surprise you that I have an example. Let’s start with a bit of backstory.  I misspent my formative high school and college years in Akron, Ohio. One of the few good parts of that experience was making friends in high school with a guy named Michael Trecaso. Michael combined restaurant experience with an innate ability to squeeze a nickel until the buffalo screams to succeed in a very tough business. He bought an ice cream parlor named Mary Coyle — it was where he worked when we were in high school — and turned it from a popular neighborhood place in the Highland Square neighborhood into a destination restaurant.

Photo courtesy Michael Trecaso’s Mary Coyle Restaurant

Another good part of growing up in Akron for me was making friends with a guy we will call P. I have been friends with him for almost as long as I have been friends with Michael. P. is an antique dealer in Akron, which means that he gets to meet a lot of people and hear a lot of stories. Keep in mind that people who live in Akron tend to stay in Akron. Each resident is at best two or three degrees of separation from another. So it is that on one recent afternoon P. was speaking with a husband and wife in their eighties about who they knew, and what had changed in the city. The husband mentioned Mary Coyle. P. mentioned that a friend of his (that would be me) knew the owner. The wife said, “Oh,  Michael Trecaso is the nicest man.” She then told P. a story.

The lady’s father — who we will call F. and who is now deceased — had some fifteen years previously been living in an elder care residence in downtown Akron. One day he caught a bus which took him to a doctor’s appointment near Highland Square. When he finished with the poking, prodding, and sticking he went outside to discover that the perfect summer day that had been present on his trip there had been chased off by storm clouds. It began raining in torrents as he crossed the street to the bus stop, which was located in front of Mary Coyle.

F. had been standing in the downpour for two minutes when he heard someone calling to him. He turned around and the owner of the restaurant — Michael Trecaso as described above — was beckoning to him, calling, “Come stand in the doorway! You’ll get soaked!” F did so. Michael said, “What are you doing out there?” F. said, “Waiting for the bus.” Mike asked F. where he was going. F told him. Michael looked at F. for a second, came to some internal decision, and walked over to the counter. He wrote “Back in thirty minutes” on a sheet of notebook paper and taped it to the front door. Michael then told F “Come on” and gave F. a ride to his residence. F. never forgot that. Neither did his daughter, who tells everyone she meets about it. Michael has told me a lot of stories, but he never told me that one. I don’t think he’s told anyone that story, actually. It would ruin his reputation. I am accordingly telling it now.

You can do a lot with that tale. If you’re Linwood Barclay, your protagonist in a small city could do the good deed and go back to work, only to have the police show up three days later inquiring as to the whereabouts of the elderly man who was last seen getting into his car. If you’re Paula Hawkins, your protagonist sees her long-absent daughter/sister/husband while she is giving an elderly woman with dementia a ride. And so on. That’s just one story. The woods are full of them. Don’t let my tale of a basement full of books discourage you.

I also must note that doing a good deed is its own reward. Should you be in Akron, however, please stop by Mary Coyle at 780 West Market Street to say hello to Michael and give his establishment your patronage. Should you do so, tell him to report to your office or ask him what school he is going to next week. He’ll know who sent you.  

Photo courtesy Michael Trecaso’s Mary Coyle Restaurant

Now…if you are so inclined, I would love to hear about a spontaneous good deed that you or someone you know performed and that has heretofore gone unremarked. We’ll remark upon it. Thank you.



26 thoughts on “Inspired by a Good Deed

  1. Like your friend Michael, I’m sure there are good deeds done without thought of them as such that I could dredge up, but that’s what makes them good deeds, isn’t it?

    I learned when Pop passed a few years ago that as he gained seniority as an airline pilot, he would bid trips on holiday afternoons so that at least one guy suffering from juniority would get some time with family on Christmas or Thanksgiving, and as far as I know, those individuals never knew the who of how they got so “lucky.”

    And lastly (finally?), I like how you take the adage, “No good deed goes unpunished,” to prime the creative pump… 🙂

  2. George, thanks for sharing that story about your dad. He sounds like he was quite a guy.

  3. Whenever my social-worker wife is feeling less accomplished than she had envisioned her career would make her, I tell her that she favorably impacted so many more people during her career than I ever did as a corporate services contracts guy during mine. Case in point. Clients of hers, a struggling young family with an agoraphobic mother, wanted to show her how thankful they were for her help in getting their mother, and them, much-needed social services over a ten-week period. My wife’s last visit with them was heartwarming and unforgettable: one of the young daughters presented her with a gift, a light jacket purchased with her own money from a Kmart. The store was 5 miles away. She had walked both ways. So proud of my wife for the work she did, and for making this kind of a difference.

  4. Thank you for that story, Chris, which left me just a little misty-eyed. But don’t tell anyone.

    I would be remiss if I didn’t note that JANE’S BABY, Chris’ latest thriller, has just been published and is available wherever you normally purchase your books!

    • No less misty-eyed than I was writing it, Joe. Thanks for making good deeds the topic of your column. We don’t hear about them enough. (And I much appreciate the mention about the novel.) Continued successes to you.

  5. The car mechanic I use runs his own shop here in Kansas City and has a reputation as a fine man and mechanic. I know that he is active in his church and works a lot with teens in his spare time. My best friend, who passed away last December, had fallen on hard times. He suffered a stroke, his wife left him, he lost his job, and was working part time and getting disability checks. His car, which was an old one I had given him, needed an inspection to renew his license. We to it to my mechanic, Tim. The car failed inspection, and needed some major work done to pass. We talked to Tim, discussed the cost of repairs, vs. looking for another car for my friend. Tim said, “Let me see what I can do.”
    Three days later, Tim called with the car repaired. The total bill was $6.95, the cost of the state inspection. The car ran perfectly for another two years. Tim will have my business forever. (In fact my wife’s car is there as we speak.)

  6. It’s not my good deed. It’s my Son’s. My wife suffers from polycistic kidney disease–PKD. Because it’s a cruel disease, many in her family, including her Dad, died directly or indirectly from it.

    When I was just out of college, sure enough, my wife was diagnosed. That was 45 years ago. She was heart broken and frightened. Our then-youngest son was only weeks old, and she had had so many cousins who had grown up without one parent or the other. That was what she feared the most for our children. The doctor told her what it was common to tell PKD patients in those days: many people who have it live long and productive lives and eventually pass with grandchildren and great-grandchildren around their beds. So we did nothing about it. Over the years, we watched the disease progress–through numbers on test reports.

    Finally, seven years ago, my wife and I were going to have to make some decisions about her illness. Dialysis was an option, but so was a kidney transplant. Both options carry risks and thresholds that include more numbers and more tests. But the transplant option requires one defining requirement: if you’re deemed a candidate for a transplant, you’ve got to have a donor. Most candidates go onto The List. It is what it sounds like. They enter your information into a data base and you then begin the wait. Some, as an high school classmate of ours, do not make it–they pass because there is just no one whose compatibility profile matches the candidate’s.

    In our case–because a candidate’s spouse is just as much a part of the process as the transplant team and the candidate–we began the first steps. We traveled 120 miles south to Tucson from Phoenix to then-University of Arizona University Hospital. We live in Phoenix. The transplant team, which includes the doctors, nurses, social workers, lab consultants, and others, were wonderful, encouraging, certain my wife would have a successful transplant.

    Except there was no donor.

    Until one of our Sons stepped up. In the process of the diagnostic work, relatives and concerned others are tested to see if they might be suitable donors. Our Son was nearly a perfect match, and of course he’d be happy, even eager, to help save his Mom’s life.

    The transplant surgeries–the extraction and the transplant itself–all went well.

    In the post-transplant era, my wife is cared for by a nephrologist who specializes in the care of transplant patients. He says her numbers, that once were so discouraging to us, are those of a teenager’s.

    After my wife was diagnosed those years ago, we embarked on a life that required a bunch of moves across country and from neighborhood to neighborhood so I could pursue my career. We adopted two more children for a total of six.

    But in all of it, whatever we will be able to do for the rest of our lives is because of what our Son did for us.

    As far as I’m concerned, he’s a hero of the first order. And he’s given us so much more time together.

    I cannot find words to describe who he is to us. Our other children are wonderful. We have many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

    And my wife and I will be able to enjoy them all because of my Son’s personal heroism.

    • THank you for your story Jim. Your son certainly has The Right Stuff. A lot of adult children these days can’t even be bothered to return their parents’ phone calls…sounds like yours went above and beyond. And I’m sure that he is a chip off the old block in the truest sense. Thanks again.

  7. Well now I have to make a point to go to Akron just to visit the Mary Coyle. 😎 Thanks for sharing!

  8. You’re welcome, BK. Thanks for stopping by here on the way to Mary Coyle. And don’t forget to ask Michael what school he’s going to next week!

      • I am howling, Chris! I’m not sure often Michael checks Facebook, but if he sees it he will no doubt be scratching his head since only a few people have heard the expression and even fewer know the story behind it…which I may tell one of these Saturdays.

  9. I grew up around Boy Scouting, my dad was a Scout Master of many years, and I’ve always taken to heart many of its precepts even though I couldn’t be a member–girl, particularly “a good deed every day.” One of the things I’ve noticed is that, if you pay attention, the world will nudge you toward someone needing that good deed. Case in point, on a hot summer day with storm clouds almost on top of me, I walked into the grocery store and realized that my shopping list had fallen out of my purse in the car so I trudged back outside just as rain began to pour. As I popped open my umbrella, I spotted an elderly lady with no umbrella caught away from shelter, and I made it to her before she was drenched. When she thanked me, I told her she should thank her guardian angels and mine for conspiring to remove that grocery list so I would be forced to come back outside.

    A good deed need not be big or dramatic. It can be as simple as a smile or kind word at the right time to someone who really needs it.

    • Thank you for that story, Marilyn, and a big tip of the Fedora for reminding us that we don’t need to look too far — at all — to find an opportunity to brighten someone’s day. Your story also illustrates that coincidence is just your Higher Power acting anonymously. Thanks again.

  10. Good morning, Joe. Great post. Today is misty-eyes day. A lot of great stories. And they inspire us to look outside of our own struggles, and to care about others.

    My story is one I’ve told to only a handful of people. And I think the hero is extraordinary, because, to this day, he/she remains unknown. Some forty years ago, while in grad school at Ohio State, my wife and I were living on a bare bones budget. At one point, we reached a crisis with not enough money for even the groceries. We told no one. But mysteriously, a fifty dollar bill showed up in campus mail, with no note, no explanation, just an envelope with the cash. We were never able to learn the identity of our guardian angel and thank him/her. But, wow, that was one miracle which will be branded in my brain forever.

    Thanks for your post today, Joe, and reminding us to pass it forward. And thanks for the help you’ve given me in the past.

  11. Steve, as always, your story is a winner. Thanks for sharing. You have paid that good deed forward one hundredfold with all the lives you’ve touched/saved in the past four decades. And re: the help…you’re welcome. I’m always here for you.

  12. Hmmm. I don’t know if this counts, since I’m the one who did it, and the recipient thanked me (when she found out I was here beneficiary). On my previous job we were allowed to carry our sick days from year to year. I rarely get sick, nor do I abuse sick leave, so I had a lot of sick days. Seriously, as in several weeks worth, way more than anybody else. One of my co-workers developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. As she underwent treatment various people in the office donated their sick time (also allowed under company policy), a few days here and there. Most of them made a show about it. That was very helpful to her. She was doing all right, but then a few months into treatment she developed an infection around her port. She was in the hospital for days, and off work for nearly a month. I knew she had no income, and those willing at the office had given her all their sick leave. She wasn’t going to be able to pay her rent, let alone feed her kids. I quietly called the HR person and donated a month of my sick days to her. I didn’t make a production of it. I never told anybody in the office I did this (forgot to mention: I was considered a Bad Person for not jumping out and helping her). She told me later that she started crying when she got her paycheck and saw it was for the full month. She wasn’t expecting it, and had no idea where the days had come from. She finally asked the HR person and found out it was me. Surprise, surprise. Not too long after that she thanked me privately. She said she didn’t know if she was supposed to know, as nobody else had any idea where that donation had come from. I never considered it a secret. I just didn’t feel the need to brag about my “good deed”. I’m not sure many people ever knew I did that. I would do that same thing again, and in the exact same thing. And, yes, she did eventually go into remission, and is still alive to this day.

    • Of course it counts, Catfriend, and thank you for sharing. I don’t know for sure, but I think that modesty precluded you from mentioning that you were a bit more generous than your account of this story might indicate. Many (most?) employers who provide sick leave benefits for their employees permit unused sick leave to fully or partially be rolled into the employee’s pension fund or given as a lump sum at the end of the employee’s employment. It wouldn’t be a stretch to surmise that her remission was in part sparked by knowing about the generosity of you and others who helped her out. So yes, Catfriend, it counts big time. Thanks again.

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