The Kindness of Strangers

Alison Morris - March 22, 2007

Whereas last Friday found me reveling in the joy of a new snowfall, last Saturday found me bemoaning its effects. For a solid hour I shoveled heavy, ice-encrusted snow off our front walk and the length of our driveway, wishing Gareth hadn't left for the weekend and wishing we weren't new to both our street and our neighbors. By the time I'd shoveled out my car I was exhausted and still facing the worst part of the chore — the end of the driveway, where passing snowplows had deposited a daunting pile of ice guaranteed to require another hour's worth of digging.

I'd just started tackling the beast when what should appear out of nowhere but my snowplow in shining armor! A guy I'd never seen before pulled up at a tricky angle (on our busy street) and scraaaaaaape! pushed half the ice pile away. He then backed up at another tricky angle, made the traffic wait for him, and came back in the opposite direction to scrape the other half of the ice pile away. I stood watching him, stunned and slightly embarrassed, until he smiled and waved to me, at which point I put my hands together as if in prayer and shouted "Thank you! Thank you!"

HOW COOL IS THAT?? As my fairy god truck pulled away I saw the words "Tom Taverna, General Contractor, Watertown" written on the side and immediately resolved to do something nice for the man who had, in a matter of seconds changed my neighborhood from urban isolation to the friendliest little spot on earth. I figured I'd send the man a thank-you note, a gift certificate, a lifetime supply of books about nice people. But when I marched inside and began the task of finding him, I got nowhere. No Tom Taverna in any online searches of the surrounding area or on any contractor listings. No Tom Taverna in the phone book. Tom Taverna is (poof!) gone! But let's pretend for one moment that he isn't.

If you were blessed with the kindness of such a stranger and could send them ONE book that would sum up the significance of their good deeds, what would you choose? My own first choice would be Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman, which is hands-down the book I've given to more people than any other, in part because it's so short they'll actually find the time to read it, bust mostly because it's the book that still speaks to me the loudest, no matter how many times I read it.

I use "speaks" figuratively, but in fact the story of Seedfolks is told in the first-person voices of 13 different characters, so the word seems like a fitting choice. AND it seems like a perfect segue to the other "nice people" thing that I was fortunate enough to be part of last weekend: the book launch party for Lemonade Mouth, the newest novel by local author Mark Peter Hughes.

Like Seedfolks, Lemonade Mouth is told from multiple first-person perspectives, in this case those of five high school musicians and misfits who join together to form a band and wind up learning about a lot more than just music. The book is fiendishly clever — funny in all the right places and ultimately a meaningful story that teens will no doubt take to heart. What better kick-off for the book could there have been, then, than Mark's book launch party featuring the performances of several high school music groups and the return of Mark's own band, Exhibit A. (The man doesn't just write. He rocks.)

Accompanied by wonderful bookseller Margaret Aldrich, I went to sell books at Mark's party last Saturday evening and to soak up the sounds that filled Natick's Broadway Dance Center. Throughout the evening I was struck by the fact that everyone in attendance seemed to be the Tom Taverna type — nice people who were more than happy to dig out their cars, dig out their neighbors, and show their support for a wonderful local talent and his younger protegees. It was a wonderful evening for all of us I think, to feel like we were part of a generous, caring community that loves books, loves music, and knows just what it means to be nice.

11 thoughts on “The Kindness of Strangers

  1. Rose Kent

    Susan, Just found your blog — very refreshing ! I too love Seedfolks. I might also send them Each Little Bird That Sings by Deborah Wiles. It isn’t directly about a stranger’s kindness, but the overall mood just touches the heart, perhaps the way Tom Taverna touched you out there shoveling. Rose Kent Kimchi & Calamari HarperCollins Coming April 10, 2007

  2. ShelfTalker

    Rose, I LOVE Each Little Bird That Sings and think you’re absolutely right about its Seedfolks-like qualities, probably because the story is very much one about a community. Thanks for the great suggestion!

  3. The Kindness of Strangers

    After reading your story about your snowplow in shining armor, I couldn’t help wanting to find Tom. My computer would not allow me to access, but if the blurb on Jeeves listing is correct (and I have no way of cross referencing–I certainly tried), than he MAY be one of the “Taverna Brothers, 120 Elm Street, Watertown, MA 02175.” But, as I don’t live in MA, I can’t verify in person either. Anyway, if you do find him, would love to hear what book you actually give him. 🙂 J. MacDonald (member SCBWI)

  4. sarah

    One of my favorite picture books about kindness is BG Hennesey’s Because of You – “When you help, care, share and listen, you are being kind.”

  5. ShelfTalker

    J. MacDonald, Thank you SO much!! Your sleuthing skills most definitely trumped my own on this first stage of the case. Now that you’ve passed the Nancy Drew torch back to me I will let you know what develops!

  6. restinpeace

    I know Tom Taverna very well. He was a loving man with a beautiful family and 3 wonderful daughters. He passes away thie past Sunday. May his good soul rest in peace.

  7. Rick F

    I too know Tommy Taverna.I ran into him at Connely,s in Watertown in october when i was home visiting.Sadly i got a phone call today he passed away.Such a great guy.he,ll be missed.The story you told is the Tommy Taverna i knew.i still can,t beleive he,s gone…

  8. Denise Toppi

    I think the most important thing in life is appreciating someone who thinks about others before thinking of himself/herself. I too, knew Tommy Taverna. In fact, I grew up with him and his family. It was a pleasure reading this article/thank you note. Tommy certainly deserved it. He was always there for everyone no matter what. He will be missed by all.

  9. lferoleto

    Tommy was a good friend of my husband Russell and myself. He was a very kind man and would help you in any way he could. He will be missed. Our prayers go out to his family.


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