Editor’s Query: Tell us about a time when you were able to ‘pay it forward’

March 18, 2011

We were lucky enough to spend spring break on Sanibel Island, off the gulf coast of Florida, in March 2008. We were a multi-generational, two-car caravan visiting the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge one sunny afternoon. My parents were leading, followed by our car, driven by my husband, with my children and sister. As my husband fished a $5 bill from his wallet, the gate attendant informed us that the car ahead (my parents) had paid for us. I suggested to my husband to just “pay it forward” for the car behind us, and he did.

At the first point where we were able to park and observe wildlife, a woman wearing a pink bandana over her balding head approached us. She asked if we were driving the car ahead of her and had paid her admission. My husband, a very buttoned-up type, replied that, yes, indeed, we had.

The stranger then thanked him profusely. She had driven from the upper Midwest; the name of her town has now escaped us. She had just completed chemotherapy and come to sunny Florida to celebrate. She had driven all night to get there and had even locked her keys in the car on the way. Her unabashed appreciation left all eight of us tearful and with quite a warm memory.

Alison Shipman, Falls Church

***

Our local supermarket sits directly outside the gates of a retirement community, and the majority of shoppers are consistently white-haired elderly retirees. I think of them as the “invisible generation,” and while I’m not there yet, I will be all too soon.

One afternoon, the store was especially crowded as a busload of senior citizens had been dropped off to do their weekly marketing. A well-dressed white-haired gentleman and I reached one of the less crowded checkout lines at the same time. We each gestured for the other to go forward, but he insisted that I go first. He then proceeded to help me unload my groceries. When I told him that he was “spoiling me,” he responded that he doesn’t get to “spoil a beautiful woman very often these days.” With that, I reached into the candy display by the checkout counter, picked out a chocolate bar and asked the cashier to ring it up. Presenting it to the gentleman, I said the proverbial “Sweets to the sweets.” Grinning, he responded, “We won’t tell my wife about this.” “Of course not!” I replied.

We both left the supermarket that day feeling younger, happier and, perhaps, just a little less “invisible.”

Phyllis Sheerin Ross, Silver Spring

***

After 35 years of suffering as a renderer of public service, I understood all too well those customers who were super quick to point out bad service and almost never commend anyone for a job well done. While testing out a new burger joint with my 16-year-old son, our conversation happened to conclude with how important it is to treat others the way you want to be treated.

When we finished, we both agreed that our lunch had proved to be an all-around wonderful dining experience. I suddenly decided that this would be a great learning opportunity. Telling him to “watch this” as we were about to exit, I asked a young server, “Where is the manager?”

She and five other employees looked at me in total fear. One whispered into the manager’s ear, and he came forward looking primed for whatever bad news he was certain to hear. I shook his hand and thanked him for a wonderful meal and superb service by his staff. I went on and on about how rare it was to see young employees working with such teamwork and enthusiasm. Needless to say, he and the staff were all smiles as we walked happily out the door.

Cindy Cheamitru, Rockville

***

NEXT QUERY

Tell us about a time when a child taught you an important lesson.

If you have a 100 percent true story taken from your own experience concerning the above query, send it to queries@washpost.com or The Washington Post Magazine, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. Include your daytime phone number. Recount your story in 250 words or fewer.

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