Bryce’s Germs, No Returns

Last week, one of my high school classmates died. Bryce was the second to die in as many weeks, quite a lot for a class of about 110 people. We are, after all, only in our late 50’s . Bryce died in a local nursing home. I have no idea of the cause of death, or the circumstances of his life since we graduated.

Bryce was a gentle, simple soul. He was categorized as “slow”. He wasn’t as slow as the children in the special education classes and he was in the regular classroom full time. I don’t think he could read, though, and academic work wasn’t easy for him.

Bryce was a farm boy who quite evidently got up early to do chores.  We knew this because he never changed clothes or boots before he got on the bus, and the manure still clung to his boots and the barnyard smell followed him all day.

Our elementary school was old, and there were very steep stairwells inside that led from the outside doors up to the second and third floors of the building. Every  time we were out of doors and had to go inside, we all had to line up on the steps. There was always a great amount of jostling, with people bumping into and brushing against each other. Woe betide those who had to stand next to Bryce or any of the other children considered unlovely or objectionable in some way and got touched by them. The only way we found to cope with it was to pass along the experience to the acceptable ones around us, wiping our hands on them and saying “______’s germs, no returns”. Those germs would be passed along until the poor person last in line would get stuck with them. You never wanted to get stuck with the germs.

I am sure that Bryce and the others knew that their germs were being passed along and that they were considered unacceptable by the rest of us. We didn’t exactly whisper. Despite this, I never once saw Bryce upset or retaliate. I never thought much about it until we were in junior high school. I don’t know what the occasion was, but for some reason I found myself in a conversation with Bryce and he thanked me for being so nice to him all the years we had been in school together. I was flabbergasted and deeply ashamed of myself, as I knew I hadn’t been kind to him at all. I was just less mean, I guess.

I thought of that conversation this week as I read his death notice.  I am still ashamed of myself. I hope he died easily and I am glad he is at rest. I wish I had been kinder.

How has kindness played out in your life?

29 thoughts on “Bryce’s Germs, No Returns”

  1. One situation in particular stands out for me. When Baby and I came home from China, she was not feeling well and as a consequence, I stood most of the 13-hour flight from Hong Kong to Los Angeles. Then because she was flying on a Chinese passport we got to spend some quality time in Immigration when we got back to the U.S. I was flying on a reduced rate ticket so our next layover was Salt Lake City. It was there in the waiting area that I fell fast asleep with Baby also dozing in my arms. A very kind gentleman woke me as the plane was just about the shut the door, asking me if I didn’t need to be on the flight. I wish I’d had to time to thank him with a cup of coffee or something!

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  2. Kindness is my most highly valued trait. I am sure I have failed to deliver at times but it is way up there on my list of strivings. I will admit it is a useful tool to avoid conflict (another ever-present goal).

    I recall back in the days before bar code scanners at the grocery store, I used to try to turn all the items so that the price tag was easily accessible to the cashier. This fussiness (kindness, I called it) seemed a bit much to was-band who commented that I was kinder to strangers than to loved ones.
    Ouch!

    First paragraph seems a little shallow after this recollection. Hmmm…
    (though it is the middle of the night even out here in California). My grandson is sleeping in the next room and his parents are at the hospital, hoping that his sister reveals herself shortly.
    I have observed some less than kind comments from DIL towards #1 son these past few days but 41 1/2 weeks of pregnancy may explain that.

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      1. I think the daily nature of marriage and living together can truly strain kindness. Sometimes I am very critical of Lou, and he can dish it out, too. I wish it was different. And it is hard to be kind to those you live with.

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        1. Marriage also provides plenty of opportunities for kindness, even when it’s not your first impulse. Especially when it’s not your first impulse.

          Liked by 4 people

      2. Bill, you’re so right. I understand that tim’s comment “or marriage” is intended to be humorous, but it certainly also conveys a certain cynicism toward the institution of marriage. Being thoughtful, loving, and considerate toward someone you’ve vowed to spend your life with isn’t always easy. For most of us it is a struggle to pull it off, and some days we’re more successful than others. Today I’m not particularly successful.

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  3. kindness is one of the things I need to work on.
    i’m quick to be defensive but pj made the comment a while back that she tries to be the kind one to people who are performing tasks or requesting stuff from her. i tend to get easily flummoxed by the like beings i encounter

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  4. Rise and Shine Baboons!

    I have experienced remarkable acts of kindness in my life that had long-lasting effects. This just proves to me that kindness plants the seeds of itself, over and over. This is the story of one of those acts. I may have told this before because it is a family episode that looms large.

    My dad was an Extension Director in SW Iowa when he was diagnosed with MS. He was so young–only age 29–at the time with a wife, two daughters and a child on the way which my parents knew would be an RH baby, perhaps born disabled. Dad developed double vision which caused him to lose his drivers license which he needed to work.

    His boss and a colleague spent a year driving dad every where for his job, taking vacation time and personal time to do this, so he could stay employed long enough to qualify for a civil service pension. These two men knew that small amount of money might help my parents support their family through uncertain times.

    It was so kind and visionary to understand the impact of a few dollars each month. My siblings and I have tried to pass this on when we could because we learned that kindness always counts, especially in the Big Picture.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. my brain has a hard time syncing stuff sometimes
      it reads “he was 29” and just skips on to the next word
      holy cow… 29 and your life turns so dramatically..
      my just commented the other day when a trailer in a tornado reminded her of the fact that someone in small town havana il let her mom park a trailer in the side yard after her husband(deb’s dad)
      died of leukemia (suspected farm chemical contact) at age 22
      her mom didn’t know what to do when the life insurance policy naming his mother was given to mother ( she paid for it was her reasoning) and the lessons about kindness vs consequences of reality took hold
      i appreciate being allowed to remember the times i have done the right thing it keeps me going with hope to be more that way

      thanks renee for remembering bryces life today what a special post.
      patty merrick was a blonde pigtailed girl who was the prototypical catholic school girl ( think the prime of miss jean brodie) until she was declared to possess “mericks germs”
      she was never the same afterward, an odd shame for no reason. i saw her 20 years ago at her job of flight attendant with northwest
      she was bubbly beautiful and kind
      i apologized for merricks germs and she slugged it off but i know she remembers to this day
      i will have no trouble remembering to be kind today
      thanks renee

      Liked by 4 people

  5. I was taught by my mother that being unkind was close to unforgivable. As I’ve aged I have often felt that maybe there are worse things than being unkind, but I’ll always find it distressing to be unkind, even when another person might have done something awful. I believe this to be one core quality of Midwestern culture.

    My mother told an interesting story. As a child, she humiliated herself in front of her school class. She fled from the classroom and ran to the darkest corner of the school, in the furnace room. One classmate came to her rescue: the girl everyone abused because she was the daughter of the town bootlegger. Vinabel knew the pain of ostracism and she knew my mother would run to a dark place. She told my mother that the humiliating incident would be soon forgotten. And she was right. Instead of being branded forever by her shame, my mother was restored to a position of respect and popularity.

    The story should have ended there on that happy note. But for my mother the next part was the real point of the story. She said that she should have befriended Vinabel to reward her kindness. Instead she went back to shunning Vinabel because she felt her own social approval was too wobbly to risk reaching out to Vinabel. My mother wrote, “Vinabel was still the bootlegger’s daughter and I was still a young barbarian.”

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    1. Did your mother ever tell you what she did to “humiliate” herself, Steve? Probably wasn’t anything that made much of an impression on anybody else, is my guess. I do find it interesting that she felt badly about shunning Vinabel afterwards, but still did it.

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      1. Yes, PJ. She was delivering a recitation in front of her class when she suffered an attack of giggles. That caused her to dribble pee in a way that everyone saw. So her humiliation was extremely public. The real point of this story is that my mother acknowledged that Vinabel had been exceptionally kind to her, while she had totally failed to be kind in return.

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        1. I got that, Steve, and bless her heart for having learned that lesson, as well as passing it on to you.

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  6. Kindness, I think, is a matter of mindfullness, a willingness to make the effort and take the time to really see other people and empathize with them. While it can sometimes take the form of a grand gesture, more often it costs you little or nothing yet elevates every engagement you have with the world.
    Kindness may be expressed in an act, but kindness itself is an orientation, a personal philosophy. As such, intrinsic kindness is not overtly self aware. Granted, you sometimes have to remind yourself to get outside your head and slow down, but when you do, kindness can flow naturally.
    If kindness is simply a way of engaging with the world, then everyday kindnesses go unnoticed and unremarked except in their failure. As with Renee’s story, I remember a fellow student in my grade school years who was generally regarded as slow. Nobody in my suburban school was doing farm chores before class, but Billy was always notably disheveled and a little grubby. I have no explanation for that but it perhaps offers clues to his home life.
    The thing that set Billy apart was his difficulty reading and writing. When we were learning Palmer method cursive, Billy was still struggling with block letter printing. His classmates and probably also his teachers thought of him as stupid. Nobody, myself included, made any effort to get to know him. I’ve often thought about Billy in the intervening years. I suspect that he was likely dyslexic and as we know now that says nothing about one’s intelligence. But how you are regarded and how you are treated can have a big effect on how well you do, especially in those formative years. I don’t remember Billy from later grades or high school so I don’t know how he turned out. I hope he eventually found his strengths. It shames me that I was never able or willing to really see him.

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    1. After writing about Billy, I tried to do a little research on him. I couldn’t find his birth record, which probably means he was born in a state, like Wisconsin, that doesn’t post birth records online. I knew he had a younger brother Bobby and I was able to track him, I think. If the Bobby I found is the right one, he unfortunately died in 2003. His obituary, in which I hoped to find mention of Billy, instead stated he was survived by six brothers. A family with seven boys… that would explain a lot.

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  7. As a teacher I tried to befriend the lost and forlorn, the bullied. By the time the are in senior high they are ducking everything, have sort of given up on hope.

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    1. I wrote this into my second novel. “He” is the teacher who is the main character, Clair as an adult. This is based on several students:

      Krystal was her name. To look at her you would not think her fragile. But she seemed ready to break into a million shards of glass, from loneliness and the weariness of being average.

      Such a heavy burden to bear at only fifteen. Short and barrel-like, stout of legs, and shy of eyes. Her burden was the knife-edge longing to be someone, to excel at something, to stand out in confidence. She knew she was unattractive, lacked the easy social ways of the other girls (having no idea how ill-at-ease most of them were most of the time), unathletic, nonmusical, lacking an artistic ability, and an entrenched C student, often by hard effort or the gift of a sympathetic teacher.

      She changed the spelling of her name every few weeks, as if her inner being or appearance could be altered by ink on paper. Khrystal to Crystal to Chrystal to Christal to Kristal to Chrystall. On it went. Clair wanted to offer her, but never did, some exotic spellings. Chrystalle, K’Ristal, or Kreistaile.

      He tried to catch her at the right moments to have a brief non-academic non-threatening conversation. But no male teacher, or perhaps any teacher, could have a non-threatening moment with her. He gave her B’s on her writing, which she did not deserve. It was A’s she craved, which would be too big a lie, a lie so big even she would detect it.

      He taught several Krystals, but, of all of them, only she bore that ironic name.

      What, he wondered, had life granted her?

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  8. I loved Renee’s story about Bryce. In fifth grade our school had a Bryce, but his name was Gerald. What sank him socially was his last name–Kudish. That rhymed with “cooties” and meant his fifth grade was sure to be hell. Any kid getting near Gerald would squeal and jump back, saying, “Ooooh! I almost caught some of Gerald’s cooties!”

    Five years ago I became troubled by the memory of Gerald. I clearly remembered how other kids taunted him. But I had no memory of being either kind or unkind to him. I fooled around on the internet until I had a phone number for him. I called Gerald, introduced myself to him, and pressured him to tell me whether I had been among those who bullied him.

    Gerald was suspicious at first. He finally figured out who I was. To my great relief, he said I had not been one of his tormentors. To the extent he remembered me, he thought I’d been a nice kid.

    I was ready to get off the line, having cleared my conscience. Once he got talking, Gerald wouldn’t shut up. What I finally learned was that Gerald had been protected from our collective nastiness by a sturdy ego. He thought of himself as maybe a better person than those mocking him, so when we all got tired of fixating on his cooties he was not damaged goods. Kudish is a Czech surname and Gerald was proud to have a Czech name.

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    1. I was the taunted child, the farm kid in hand-made and hand me down clothes, the smart kid, the poor kid, the kid with the thick glasses and clumsy feet. When I moved back to TH some of the worst taunters went out of their way to be friendly. Not all, but some. I was supposed to read the apology in their manner, which I did. But I never go to reunions and this is one of the biggest reasons why. Last year I told them to take my name off the email and snail mail lists. I refuse facebook friends from any classmate. It is not the biggest deal in my life, but I admit to the scar tissue.

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  9. Kindness is my wife, which she fully grants to me.
    Our building maintenance man is a sweet man, who sees readily to the needs of the older residents far beyond is writ. And to others but mostly to us old farts, such as how he provides me corn, and puts it out if he sees I have not done in by 11 or so. The previous maintenance man was the same but he his it under a gruff exterior.
    I was raised in the era of neighborliness. It was not thought of as kindness to come help us saw wood or for us to go help build a shed. It was thought of as duty, not onerous duty, just what people did for one another.

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  10. I consider myself a kind person, and am sometimes too empathic for my own good. But I do have memories of the times when I was unkind – one when riding in a station wagon on the way back from church camp (age 14?) – Nancy H. (who was somewhat slow)was between me and another girl, and when the other girl started to make “funny” comments that were over Nancy’s head, I didn’t resist the temptation to join in. I must have told my mom, because she told me to apologize to Nancy. I did, but Nancy said it was no big deal. Interesting how much detail I remember about it.

    I sometimes try and figure out why kids do it. They (and sometimes we) feel insecure enough that we think this will bolster us. We don’t have enough of something. Essentially the same thing that creates greed that is responsible for all the economic imbalances, the power hungry leaders of governments and corporations…

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  11. Thanks, Renee, for this thought provoking post. I agree with both Bill and Lisa. A little kindness, especially directed toward someone that doesn’t expect it, can go a long way. All of us fail from time to time, but if enough of us try to make it a daily habit, we will eventually be a kinder, gentler nation. I’ll grant you, though, there’s room for an awful lot of improvement.

    One of the reasons I love shopping at Aldi is their 25ç shopping cart rental. You get your 25ç back when you return the cart to the corral. It is amazing the amount of good will you can generate by simply handing off your cart to someone else at the end of your shopping trip. I do this routinely, just to see the surprise and smile on the face of the person I hand it off to. I shop at five different Aldis, and depending on the neighborhood, the store attracts a different clientele. A couple of the stores attract a lot of Somalis, and in my experience, they tend to be stand-offish, and don’t smile much. I suspect that’s partially a cultural thing, but it may also be because they don’t necessarily feel comfortable or welcome. It has never failed when I have offered my empty shopping to someone else that they look first surprised, and then smile broadly. It is such a small thing, and such an easy way to make someone else’s day just a tad brighter. Often when someone protests I tell them, pay it forward. Who knows how many small acts of kindness will generate another?

    I am a huge believer that random acts of kindness, often very small ones, make a difference.

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      1. So true, BiR.

        As most of you know, I like to watch Jeopardy. I sit in our loveseat in front of our window facing the street when watching the program. Half way through the program each afternoon, the high-school kids start trickling by on their way home from school. There’s the brother-sister duo that on some days are happily engaged in talk with one another; on other days, not on speaking terms and not walking side by side. Shortly after they pass, there’s a black kid, about fourteen years old, in jeans and a light grey hoodie. Some weeks ago he happened to glance at me as he passed. I smiled and gave him a casual wave. Much to my surprise, he smiled and waved back. Since then, that has been a daily ritual. Whichever one of us spots the other first, smiles and waves. Yesterday, the boy of the brother-sister duo, happened to see me waving at the black kid who was close behind them. Today the black kid didn’t come by, but the boy from the brother-sister duo looked at me and waved as he walked by with his sister. I love my neighborhood.

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