The day was a bleary grey. The snowflakes were beginning to disappear into the darkness of evening when the street lights slowly appeared and shed a dim yellow hue about the scene as their beams descended onto the streets and joined in with the detritus of the day to form that slushy dirt-filled substance that covers city streets in wintertime. The trolly tracks had disappeared under the fallen snow, and the trolly car itself was covered with snow on its roof.
I stood watching the trolley man switch the tracks from this end-of-the-line so that the wooden carriage could make its turn at the cross-street and begin its return round. The traffic light had turned to green many times, yet I didn’t move. I had no wish to cross the street and head off to my destination – the meeting of the brownies. I hadn’t done the required weekly good deed that a good-deed doer could proudly sign off on. In fact, since joining the brownies, months ago, I’d never done a good deed that anyone would sign off on. There I would sit, among six other eight-year-old girls,
all wearing their merit pins attached to shoulder sashes – all glowing with that “I’ve been a good little girl” look.
Truly, I wasn’t a bad little girl; I just didn’t spend my days helping anyone with anything! It was hard enough getting through the days without someone yelling at me for something that supposedly no other little girl in the world would ever do. I had enough trouble finding excuses for my so-called bad deeds without having to perform any good ones. Besides, good deeds were just too much for anyone to demand of a “bad little girl”– thank you.
Yet, I thought, as I stood on the curb late in the afternoon on that snowy day, if I didn’t do a good deed, I’d be told that I couldn’t stay in the brownies. Now, that thought really bothered me. If I didn’t go to brownie meetings, I’d never again know the sweet delicious taste of hot chocolate – with melting marshmallows on top – a wondrous taste that I had never experienced in my own home, where fish was served boiled and Jell-O was the crown of desserts – strawberry only. No, I had to do a good deed before I arrived at the meeting – it was now or never!!!
Then, quite suddenly, God decided to take pity on this little girl.
A small stooped figure came up to the curb and stood beside me. Clouds of warm breath shrouded the form and heavy panting could be heard. I turned to look. I quickly realized I had found my good deed.
The old woman was dressed in a long black coat, heavy dark stockings shrouded her short legs; her feet were placed in black rubber galoshes. A little black hat peeked out from under a large black shawl that was wrapped around her head and neck; she carried a large leather bag in her small gloved hand.
With a sense of now or never, I tugged on her coat. She turned and looked at me. She was such a tiny woman that our eyes were nearly on the same level. I was sure I knew what she saw. a little eight-year-old girl with a tan beanie cap sneaking out a bit under a hooded heavy wool coat that just missed meeting her ankles. The space between the bottom of the coat and the ankles was covered by the bottom of a skirt that matched the color of the cap. Heavy brown stockings covered the little girl’s legs and wool socks with a brownie emblem peaked out from the top of rubber galoshes. The little girl’s mitten covered hands clutched a cloth book bag – the handles of which rested on one shoulder and across her chest diagonally. Clearly, I was a brownie – a good deed doer.
“What do you want? Stop pulling on me. I need to get on the trolly,” urged the panting old woman.
“Let me help you. It’s slippery and you might fall,” begged this do-gooder.
“I don’t need your help.”
“Please, I’d like to help you…”
“I can do it by myself…”
“Please let me…” I urged as I stepped down off the curb still holding on to the old woman’s coat. The woman lurched forward toward me as she stumbled off the curb, pushing me down into the street slush and landing with her small thin body on top of me.
In seconds, the trolley conductor – with switching poll in hand – was upon us helping the woman up and escorting her onto the trolley car.
I scrambled to my feet and ran up to the window of the wooden carriage. The woman sat in a window seat, hanky in hand brushing her clothing, wiping her eyes, blowing her nose.
In the silence around us, with the good-dead sign-off paper held tightly in one hand, I pounded on the glass with my opened hand and shouted, “PLEASE! PLEASE!” I begged. To my surprise, the teary old woman managed to pull the trolley window down.
“I’m so sorry,’ I pleaded. “I meant to help you; I didn’t mean to hurt you Really, I didn’t! I just meant to do a good deed,” I screamed up at the old woman.
For a moment the woman stared down at me, then, in a small voice that miraculously traveled though the cold air: “It isn’t what you mean to do; it’s what you do that counts!”
The trolly Started up, rode forward for a short bit, turned left on its tracks, and traveled away down the street.
I walked home beaten. There would be no brownie meeting for me that day or any other day. And, to this day, so many decades later, I still remember the luscious taste of hot chocolate with melted marshmallows and the words that were flung at me through the snowflakes on that grey winter afternoon. “It isn’t what you mean to do; it’s what you do that counts.”