Our mother, Patti, was a great mother. She had four children- Anita, David, Barry and myself, Steven. My dad, Burt, would tell you she was an even better wife. He would know. They were married nearly 58 years. And her six grandchildren, especially the older ones who got to know her better, would argue that she was an even better grandmother. And her dozens of friends at the Edgewater Estates assisted living center in Florida would tell you she was the "most loyal and wonderful friend." And all would be right. Mom was always loving, gentle, funnier than anyone I've ever met and deeply appreciative of basic humanity.
In 2007, after battling the increasing physical limitations caused by a stroke suffered ten years earlier, Mom gently ended her own life. It was a deeply and profoundly sad time for all. All except for Patti, who at the age of 77, seemed quite happy to exit "her way." She increasingly could no longer care for herself the way she wanted and she made the choice to die with dignity while she still had the ability to choose. To be honest, I wasn't pleased with her decision, but it was too late to argue the point.
At Mom's funeral, there were so many remembrances of all the nice things she did for this friend or said to that person or gave to someone she barely knew. For example, one of the custodial staff who worked in the kitchen of her retirement center told us how she would ask to be wheeled to the kitchen area to thank the cooks for their hard work and to tell them how delicious their meal was. For that reason and others, the retirement home staff always liked her and they made it a point to remember her fondly.
All of us have great memories that give testimony to Mom's love and humor. In the 1970's, she was a volunteer at a center that taught children with Down Syndrome. Well into her 60's before her stroke, she served as a foster grandparent for a young boy who today, as a man, still thinks of her as his grandmother. She was the neighbor who would go out of her way to offer a ride to the grocery store for a senior citizen who couldn't drive, and once on a trip to the "shopping center" (I don't think there were malls back the 1960's) I recall Mom comforting a lost, frightened little girl- talking with her and playing games- while the police located her mother.
One of my most profound memories of Mom's kindness is the "Tomato Boys" story. I told this story at her funeral.
We grew up in Miami, Florida in the 1960's. Miami may be a cosmopolitan, international city now. But it was a sleepy, deeply southern city back then. It was also an agricultural area where many African Americans and other minorities made their living selling fruits and vegetables door to door in the white neighborhoods. The farmer father would stay in his truck while his young children would run door to door shouting "Tomato Boys! Tomato Boys!" Some of our neighbors were nice to the "Tomato Boys" and ashamedly, many were not. It was a bad time for race relations in America- except not at 175 NE 132nd Street in North Miami. Because that's where we lived. Racial intolerance simply had no place in our home. I can honestly say that I never once heard my parents ever utter a racial slur or even speak ill of someone due to "what they were" ever- even to this day. What a blessing that was in and of itself. Anyhow, when the Tomato Boys came around my house, Mom would have me get Coke or Cool Aid or Hawaiian Punch (which was big back then) and serve the boys cool refreshments in Dixie Cups. She would also make sure to buy whatever tomatoes she could and would give the boys a quarter tip each. Not bad money for an 8 year old kid in 1968 when Wrigley's gum was 5 cents a pack. This was Miami in the summer. Had to be 95 degrees and 80% humidity. I'm sure the young Tomato Boys really appreciated the cool drinks, yet they never knew my mom's name. One time, their father in the truck yelled out "hey boy, where'd you get that drink?" In response, I heard the boys yell back "that nice white lady" as they pointed to my house.
While the innocence and simple human kindness of the Tomato Boys story is hard to replicate in a charitable foundation, we're going to do our best to capture the essence of Mom's preference for "Random Acts of Kindness." And that's why we do it Patti's Way.
Steve Streit - Founder of Patti's Way