Three Monkeys and a Smile

6 10 2019

I’ve mentioned in past writings how grade school was not very pleasurable to me. With all the moving Ma and I did in my youthful days, education took a backseat that when I Fremont Ornamental Iron Co.did begin elementary school I was far behind where the rest of my classmates were in understanding, especially reading. So, when I would get called on to answer a question and fumbled through usually the wrong response, I’d be bombarded with ridicule and the type of laughter that reinforced in an insecure child just how dumb they were.  Looking back, I suppose I could be bitter from those trying years, but I came to realize that was part of the culture especially back then. Talking to some of my former classmates when we reached adulthood, a couple admitted they joined in on the laughter partly because everyone else did and partly glad that it was me and not them. It is a blessing that most of us grow out of those immature ways with age; a few I count today as close friends. But even though life was a hard road, I can look back and see moments and people that made things better, even if they didn’t know it.

Back in the early 60s there was a small business that sat just west of the school property. It was a dingy old building, not much more than an old garage. Several men would be working away with welders and the like to transform metal shaped like yardsticks into ornamental wrought iron fences. On warm days they would open the overhead doors and you could see everything they were doing. I’d stop often just to watch the magic they performed taking common material and making it into something beautiful. They were never bothered with me or some of the other children hanging around to watch and would invite us in to get a closer look–definitely before the days of OSHA.  They even learned of our names and would greet me with, “Hey Johnny, did you stay out of trouble in school today?”  For a time, it became the highlight of my day for the school bell to ring dismissing us for the day and running over to this dirty but fascinating little manufacturing business. On the wall hung all kinds of signs with fascinating pictures. Because I did not learn how to read until an older age, I didn’t know what the signs said but I loved to look at them, especially a yellow one with three monkeys on it. One day the shop boss said to me, “You sure do like that picture, don’t you? How ‘bout you take it home with you?” I was ecstatic as he took it down from the wall and handed to me. I walked home grinning from ear to ear with the sign under my arm not giving any thought to how dirty my clothes were becoming from all the grime that had built up on it over the years. I got home, cleaned it up with the garden hose, took it up to my room and put it on the dresser so I could look at it. I think the first few nights having it in the house, I just stared at it until I fell asleep.

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” Leo Buscaglia.

Buscaglia was a college professor turned writer and motivational speaker. During his days at USC he was greatly touched by the death of a student from suicide. This made him ponder these questions: What didn’t we see? What didn’t we know? What would have made a difference in this young man’s life that would have stopped him from self-destruction.  He surmised that it’s not so much something major done to combat the negativity one feels in their life, as it is small, meaningful gestures to let an individual know you care, they have worth, they are loved.

The Christian also has been given rules of life on how to treat others.

Ephesians 4:32 “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

Proverbs 15:4 “Gentle words bring life and health; a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.”

Proverbs 16:24 “Kind words are like honey–sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.”

Proverbs 18:4 “A person’s words can be life-giving water; words of true wisdom are as refreshing as a bubbling brook.”

These workers of iron didn’t know anything about me. They didn’t know the struggles I had in school and life in general. They didn’t know all my insecurities and how I wanted to run away. They knew me only as the little boy who came by their shop every day expecting kind words and smiles; and they never failed to give those precious gifts to me. I am convinced that those small acts of kindness, as well as many who did the same for me helped to mold the man I am today. I do not blow my own horn, for I don’t see myself as anyone special. But I try to make it a habit to extend kindness to everyone I meet. On a few occasions I’ve been told, “You know, I really needed to hear that today; thank you.” What if we all made the effort to brighten another’s life with gentle words and a loving spirit? What kind of world do you think we’d live in? Just a thought, gang.

Well, the next school year the shop was gone, torn down and moved to a better location and as often occurs I never saw those “Travelers of the Rock Road” again. But their kindness, laughter and smiles have stayed with me through the years, especially when I remember the gift of a dirty old sign with three monkeys on it. Unfortunately, my Great Aunt Pearl discovered it up in my room. As I told you I couldn’t read back then, but she could. Still not sure what she read, but old Pearly Mae grabbed it up and I never saw it again. But hey, that’s another story for another time.

See ya next time.


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