Recently, I was leaving the Queen Ka’ahumanu Shopping Center with my son on my shoulders, when a young man walking shouted “Hey Uncle Dean! Howz it?” he said with a big smile. I had to really look at him to think how I knew this young boy. He then went on to explain, “Do you remember all those hot chocolates you use to give me in the mornings? You know, sometimes that was the best part of my whole day.” Then it all came back. He caught me up on his plans to join the service in a years’ time when he completed high school. He thanked me for being nice to him and giving him the encouragement he needed to get up each morning to go to school. I’ll be honest; all I thought I was doing was giving the kid a cup of hot chocolate. I had no idea.
This was during the times when we owned and operated a small coffee shop in Paia town, those years I would be in the café from 5am getting ready to open for the early coffee crowd. Each day this young boy who would have been in middle school at the time would wait patiently outside for the public bus to take him to school. It was early, dark and he always looked unhappy to be there. I am not sure how it started but he would often come in before we opened and talk my ear off while I was setting up shop. I started making him a hot chocolate so that he could take it with him and eventually it just became a routine. Sometimes he would be running late and just run by the café chasing the bus, and yell out to me, “next time uncle?” I had not seen him since those days until this one night in passing. He has grown into this young man, and for some reason never seem to have forgotten about the morning cups of hot chocolate.
When I was a boy I had a similar pattern with a man named Jack Wong (no relation that I knew of.) He owned and operated a nearby convenience store that had a large selection of candy. He was in that store every day from morning to night. He would take Tuesdays off from work and his wife would be in the store on Tuesdays. I too had a ritual, I would go into the store on Tuesdays after school and approach the wife and say “where is Jack today” and every Tuesday like a record Jack’s wife in her limited English and thick Chinese accent would look me straight in the eye and say “Jack off today”. I would go outside and nearly pee my pants laughing, it never got old. One day Jack was no longer there, his wife (whose name I never got to know) had to sell the business and she was soon gone. I felt so bad that I had never got to say goodbye to him, he had been a constant source of someone I knew would be there every day to greet me with a smile.
When my father and I left Honolulu and headed to New York City, he opened a restaurant business in Washington Square, close to NYU. My father loved to have his business full of the university students, many of whom he also hired to work in the business while they were going to school. He use to keep the restaurant open late at night till 2 am and offer free coffee to the students who would come in and study into the wee hours of the morning. One day coming home from school I saw that our block was sealed off and it was full of fire engines, a business down the block from us was ablaze and burning down. I ran to our restaurant to see what we would do if the fire came close to us. I was shocked to see that students from the university had rented U-Haul Trucks, parked them in front of our café, and students were filling the trucks with all our business belongings, every salt and pepper shaker until the space was completely clear. Fortunately, the fire stopped about two businesses away from ours and so we were spared from losing our livelihood. Those students who were for the better part strangers to us, without a single thought, moved every piece of furniture and equipment back into our restaurant and the space was neater and cleaner than it had been when they started. My father lost little down time, in creating a huge feast to thank them all. No one had asked them to do this; they were motivated by the kindness that my father had shown to them. My father who was in his eighties at the time who spoke very little English, but what he saw in these university students were the dreams and ambitions that he had hoped for me.
A little kindness goes a long way, sometimes more than we will ever know. The kindness we can demonstrate to complete strangers, can change the course of decisions and influence futures. It’s an important lesson to teach our children today, how to do kind things for others and how random acts of kindness however small they may seem to us, may speak volumes to another.