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Bake it forward

Lydia Olsen
Class of 2016

(1/2016) Down the street, Erma shuffled to her mailbox that she had painted a while ago as a summer project with her son, Gavin. It was orange like the sunrise, her favorite color. She reached the place where her driveway met the paved road and turned to open her mailbox. Inside she found a plethora of shopping catalogs, a handful of news-related magazines, a stack of bills, and a couple of other envelopes. Erma sighed to herself and thought back to the way getting mail used to make her feel. It used to bring an excitement of the unknown, along with a feeling of importance. Now it had become just another task for another day and a reminder of consumerism.

Erma went back inside her house and dropped the mail on her kitchen counter. She poured herself some hot tea and sat down in her recliner to watch the news, followed by re-runs of her favorite TV dramas.

A knock on the door shook her from the sleep she had dozed into. She woke and looked at the clock to find that she had been sleeping for over an hour. She got out of her chair and steadied herself. Erma walked over to the front door and opened it, but no one was there.

"Ugh," she thought to herself. She could only assume this was some sort of ding-dong-ditch that the kids in the neighborhood were playing. Erma rolled her eyes and started to close the door when she noticed a tin on her floor mat. She bent over slowly and picked it up. It was red with silver snowflakes.

She closed the door and took it to her kitchen, confused. Placing it on the counter, she removed the lid. Inside were dozens of homemade cookies. Erma’s eyes widened with surprise and excitement, but she wondered who they must be from. Unafraid and eager, she picked up a cookie with a jelly center and plopped it in her mouth.

As she stood at the kitchen counter she pulled the pile of her mail towards her and began to sort through it. She tossed the catalogs and magazines to the side, thinking maybe there was something in there that she had not learned yet or something that her grandchildren didn’t already have. She opened up the bills and grunted, sure that there was some sort of miscalculation again. And then her eyes fell upon a handwritten envelope. Erma looked at it, puzzled and then opened it to find a card inside. On the outside of the card was a picture of cardinals in a snowy tree. Inside was a message:

"Mom, I hope that this card finds you well. I have been meaning to let you know how much I appreciate having you in my life. I’m sorry that sometimes life gets so busy that I forget to remind you how important you are to me. Enjoy the cookies—I know they are your favorite kind. Love, Gavin"

Erma was speechless. She knew her family loved her, but they weren’t really the type to send love notes or leave gifts. She thought about the effort that must have gone into making the cookies—she knew better than anyone that they took a lot of patience and then for her son to have taken the time out of his commute to work to swing by and drop off this surprise was especially thoughtful.

Erma smiled, feeling loved as she grabbed another cookie. She paused for a moment, reflecting, and then walked over to her cabinet, grabbed her cook book and some ingredients and began baking her famous lemon tarts.

"If Gavin can bring so much joy to me with his cookies, maybe I can bring that much joy to others with my tarts and a few notes," Erma thought to herself, as she tied an apron around her waist and got started.

Todd grabbed his brief case from the passenger seat and shut his car door. He turned to face the school building with its massive concrete walls, scattered windows, and red roof.

"Another day," he thought to himself as he walked up to the front door and swiped his ID. Inside he was greeted by students and faculty members. Once he got to his office, he could feel the weight of the day’s endless tasks. Being the principal always kept him on his toes. Some days it was tougher than others, but he always found it rewarding.

Todd had just finished meeting with the first grade teachers about their revised curriculum when his assistant knocked on the office door. She entered with a red metal tin with snowflakes on it.

"These were just dropped off for you," the assistant said as she handed him the tin. Todd was surprised but thanked his assistant and opened it. Inside he found dozens of lemon bars. Todd picked one up and bit into it eagerly. He saw an envelope taped to the lid of the tin and opened it to find a card. On the outside of the card was a drawing of a school house with smiling children. On the inside was a note that read:

"Dear Mr. Todd, I wanted to thank you for all that you do to help our church. You and your family’s presence at Sunday services always warm my heart. I adore how lovingly you look at your wife and how affectionately you hold the hands of your children. I just wanted you to know that your kindness radiates and brings a smile to my face. Sincerely, Erma Anders"

Todd was surprised. He and Erma had grown close through church gatherings and events, but he had no idea of the joy he and his family seemed to bring to her. Todd was flattered and felt honored. He was so grateful for such a sweet and thoughtful gift that he felt compelled to spread his joy. He picked up his phone and dialed his wife’s cell phone number.

"Darling, tonight let’s get the children together and bake for our friends and families. I’ll stop by the grocery store on my way home this evening," Todd spoke into the phone as he grabbed a pen and paper and began to make a supply list for fudge brownies.

Nancy rushed down the stairs and out to her front door. She hurried to her car, already late for work. "Nancy!" yelled a man as he jogged towards her from the neighboring house. "The girls and I made fudge brownies last night and wanted to share some with you."

He quickly handed her the red tin. "Have a good day!" said the man as he turned back to walk towards his house. Nancy smiled and thanked him as she got into her car. She was taken-aback. This gesture was completely unexpected and yet incredibly thoughtful. Before she put the car in drive she grabbed the envelope from the top of the red tin and read the card inside.

"Dear Mrs. Nancy, We are so grateful to have you as a neighbor. Thank you for always lending us baking supplies when we are in need and for taking care of our dogs when we go away. We appreciate you! Love, The Walsh Family"

Nancy smiled widely, feeling loved. "What a simple way to spread a little joy," she thought to herself as she drove off to work. Her worries about being late faded as she bit into a moist brownie with a fudge center. Throughout her commute, Nancy couldn’t help but think about ways that she could spread some love to those around her.

That morning, she realized the importance of simple gestures and how they can have such widespread impacts. A brownie here, a cookie there, and eventually joy and love will spread and hopefully continue to be passed to all who give and all who receive. "This year," Nancy thought to herself, "I’ll make more of an effort to be that beacon of hope."

She resolved to "bake-it-forward;" A spin off the notion of "paying-it-forward," where each action impacts an individual who goes and impacts another in ways that spread gratitude and compassion. Nancy laughed at herself and devised a strategic plan to bake-it-forward from that point on. She grabbed another brownie and bit into it eagerly.

Read other articles by Lydia Olsen