It was the evening rush hour, when homeward-bound workers pour out on Washington streets by the thousand, and when street cars are packed-jammed to the very doors. A late train had brought a traveler, cumbered with baggage, to a cross-town transfer point just when the street was most crowded. One-two-three cars whizzed past before a motorman deigned to even stop; and then we just did manage to get aboard.
There were no seats to be had, of course. As we went around a curb, most of the standees slipped off balance and grabbed wildly for the nearest support. Suddenly a dusky-faced, bright-eyed, kinky-haired boy of twelve or there-abouts touched my arm and spoke:
“’Scuse me, lady, but ef yo’kin scrouch roun’ inter dis corner, I kin change places wif you.”
Thankfully I “scrounced” even though a florid fat man almost did get the precious corner to lean against first!
In half an hour we were out in the suburbs, and the crowd began to melt away. The last part of the ride was comfortable enough—as street carsgto—for anybody.
“Georgia Avenue,” called the conductor; then “7th Street – 6th Street – 5th Street–“
I turned to gather up my belongings, as we ground to a stop, but a dusky hand reached for the heavy suitcase, and once more the small gentleman-of-color came to my rescue.
“Yo’ goin’ dis a-way, lady?”
“I kin carry it—well, as not,” he insisted. And so—with numerous stops—he did.
Four blocks later, having told me enroute all about “Miss Mary and Mr. Jack” for whom “my mammy cooks and housekeeps while dey run de stor’,” he set the burden down at last before the house where it belonged, but with a smile that showed two rows of snow-white teeth, absolutely refused to accept the quarter I offered—yes, urged--him to take.
“No, indeedy,” he explained. “I’s glad I kin do dat fo’ you, ‘cause it’s my ferfume fo’ terday.”
“Oh!” I responded blankly. “Well, I surely thank you very much.”
“Ho’ shor is welcome,” he beamed—then looked at me quizzically and added, “but lady, yo’ shore know ‘bout the ferfume don’ you?”
“I’m not so sure, Jerry. Suppose you tell me.”
“Why, Miss Mary, she say (Miss Mary’s her I chores fo’ after school,) Miss Mary, she say yo’ must do some perliteness fo’ somebody ever’day, and she say dat’s de ferfume o’life—make it smell sweet, yo’ know!”
Ah, now I understood. Politeness is the perfume that makes life more fragrant—sweeter—lovelier!
And really, isn’t it?
Courtesy isn’t such a complicated accomplishment, after all. It’s merely “to do and say the kindest thing in the kindest way,” not merely sometimes, to some few persons whose favor we may wish to gain but to everybody, everywhere, and under every circumstance.
She was the queerest little old woman! “Eighty years, come July 3,” she told us. I wish you could have seen her! She was dressed in a patched black dress, and had a much-patched faded blue gingham apron protecting her long, voluminous skirts. Her hat—a “sailor” type of ancient vintage—was perched on the tip top of her head, but securely tied under her chin with a string, and beneath its spacious brim gray hair fell in sparse strings around a wrinkled face. Her shoes were at least twice too large, and had long, long ago seen their best days. On her right arm hung a spacious, though pitifully thin, old pocketbook tied shut with a shoe lace. In her right hand she carried a broom-stick—full length—with a nail in the end. This served as a cane! Her left hand clung to a tiny, old-fashioned “hand satchel.”
The conductor brought her into the Pullman from the crowded day coach, just after our train left Baltimore, and she settled herself with a sigh into its more comfortable quarters.
“Nice man, ain’t he?” she remarked in a high-pitched, carrying voice to her nearest neighbor. “I mean the tall feller wearin’ all that gold braid. Come in where I was a-sittin’ an’ said he had extry room in here, an’ he brought me right along, he did!”
Before an hour had passed everyone within hearing distance knew that her home was in “St. Paul, in Minnisoty;” that she had, after years of economy, saved money enough to see at least part of the world, and had selected “Jerusalem, an ‘them places over there” on which to begin. We learned that she had bought her ticket—“A round tripper” from “the ticket-agent-man in St. Paul, “and charged him to see that she traveled “straight to New York an’ then straight to Jerusalem!” Disgusted and disillusioned, she was hurrying “straight back to St. Paul to give that ticket agent man a good settin’ about, and make him give the money back!”
She positively refused “to go to bed” when night came. “Whoever he’erd of such goin’s on in a train!” But if she had been – the Queen of Sheba – those railroad men, from the colored porter to the portly goldbraided official, could not have taken more trouble to make her as comfortable as possible. And when we reached Chicago, they arranged for her transfer to “the Minnisoty station” in a taxi, and even put themselves to considerable trouble to locate her missing specks, and the way they did this proved that it was not just all in a day’s work, but that they knew the real meaning of real courtesy!
This after all is only the golden rule translated into a gracious reality—the “ferfume” of life.
“It’s so easy to be too busy in these hustling, hurrying days for some of the finer courtesies—those things that are perhaps outside the realm of expected civility. But ‘tis well worth anybody’s while to take a few steps aside from the beaten path of his polite duty, and be extra courteous!
Why? Because it will not only sweeten other lives, but it will do wonders for one’s own naturally all too selfish heart, and transform one’s little world into a warm, kindly, sympathetic living place.
You wonder if it’s worth while—this super courtesy. Well, just try it someday and—you’ll—be—surprised.
~Lora E. Clements, The Youth’s Instructor, September 9, 1930