Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Little Kinder than Necessary

The title is a snippet from my favorite quote from James M. Barrie (author of Peter Pan.) The entire quote is, "Always be a little kinder than necessary." 

My older sister and I were raised in a small southern Indiana town by our maternal grandmother. Although I wasn't aware of it at the time - we were poor. It is to Gram's credit that I didn't feel poor, or inferior. Our mother was living in Chicago (jobs & pay were better there - rents were cheaper where we were!) She visited us at least once a year - but mostly we were surrounded by grandparent-aged adults. One of these adults, my grandmother's dearest friend, was Christine Rapp.

Mrs. Rapp was not only Gram's dear friend, but she was also our Sunday School teacher. And... probably more important than those two things combined (at least from a child's perspective), she lived on a huge farm, in a beautiful home, with woods, fields, a barn, a creek that led down to the river... all good things for exploring.

I could go on and on about the blessings of having Mrs. Rapp in our lives, on many fronts. But, today it's all about her kindness - and one particular not-so-random act thereof.

Mrs. Rapp lived alone. She was blessed with a very comfortable financial life, but her immediate family (children and grandchildren) did not live close by. We became a sort of surrogate family to her, and nearly every Sunday either she had dinner with us, or we went home with her and had Sunday dinner on the farm. One of the closing rituals of Sundays on the farm was to gather around her grand piano and sing hymns. Mrs. Rapp loved music, and if not a perfect pianist, she was certainly enthusiastic!

Her extended family had lived in the area for many generations, and she was well-acquainted with a lot of people in south-central Indiana. She counted among her friends many creative souls. One of these people was Rachel Kellam. Rachel was around the same age as Mrs. Rapp and my grandmother. She lived in a ramshackle Victorian house with her aged mother - Mrs. Barbour. I don't think they had any relatives except each other. There was talk of a son, but I never saw him. Nor were there children, grandchildren, or the like. Also, Rachel and her mother were nearly destitute. Giving piano lessons was - as far as I knew - Rachel's sole means of support.

Now, Mrs. Rapp really wanted to help Rachel out financially, but Rachel was a proud woman. An outright gift of money would have felt degrading - a beggarly handout - and Mrs. Rapp was well aware of this. But, it didn't stop her from wanting to help her friend. So, she devised a plan that was an act of kindness much more far-reaching than a few dollars for groceries.

Mrs. Rapp purchased an old converted upright player piano and gave it to Gram, for my sister and me - with the stipulation that she (Mrs. Rapp) would be allowed to pay for us to have piano lessons from Rachel Kellam!

Now - the generosity alone is amazing... buying a piano for the granddaughters of your friend & then paying for them to have piano lessons - Wow! (All these years later, it still blows me away!) But, even more wonderful - and to the point of this blog - is that Mrs. Rapp devised this entire plan because of her desire to not embarrass Rachel by merely giving her a handout. All of us were blessed by this selfless gesture, motivated by love and kindness. A gesture that preserved the dignity of Rachel Kellam and her mother - which was pretty much all they had - dignity.

I was talking with my sister just today about this remembrance - and she brought a few others about Mrs. Rapp to my mind... more instances of her unbounded generous and kind nature. It is truly a blessing in one's own life to have been near someone like Mrs. Rapp during my youth. I know that her example of a life well-lived with loving-kindness has helped to form my own life. For that - I am eternally grateful!

Just this past weekend, I discovered that one of Mrs. Rapp's grandsons has been writing reminiscences and memoirs about his grandmother. I hope he won't mind if I share the link to his writings. And I also hope he won't mind that I am sharing this picture (below) of Mrs. Rapp from his website. I spent many a Sunday afternoon hiking through these woods with Mrs. Rapp - learning about the flora and fauna of south central Indiana. She was not only generous with her material wealth, but also with her time and her knowledge. It was my supreme privilege to have been in her circle of life.


  1. Julia, that is amazing. What a grand woman! Your post was beautiful and inspiring. Thank you.

  2. Too bad her family didn't move her closer to them. I'm trying to do that with my parents but they don't want to move.

  3. Oh, she was quite happy in her home. She worked on her farm until shortly before her passing - and during the brief illness prior to that, she was with one of her children.
    Many older people are happier in familiar surroundings with friends (as hard as that can be for family to accept!) I know that was how it was with my grandmother.

  4. Carolina_Valdez_MillerDecember 26, 2012 at 4:10 PM

    What a gift to have had someone like her in your life. The sort of person you would wish on all those you love. It's clear to me she's had a lasting impact on your life--how could she not? Thank you for sharing this story. It's truly inspiring.

  5. As you know, I knew Mrs. Rapp also. One of the very few true "ladies" I have ever known.