Acts of Kindness: Narrative Writing

Acts of Kindness

David Werner

December 1, 2013

Floyd, Lloyd, Elwood, Woodrow, and David are not historical figures, except in their native Ithaca, N.Y.; but David was my father the others my Uncles – all part of the generation who saved the world in WWII.

They were all just kids, some underage, when they volunteered for the Army Air Corp. and piloted everything from the B-17 and B-29 to the P-47 and P-51.  They flew more than 25 missions a piece as pilots and co-pilots; which far exceeded the Air Corp. standards.  The mortality rates of pilots jumped after just thirteen missions and it was almost a given that pilots flying more than 25 missions would not return.

In my book they were heroes and, as a kid, I remember hearing some of the stories.  Being a kid I especially liked the ones about them “pissing in their pants” as anti-aircraft fire was going off all around them.  It was funny to them too, since all five survived, but they never glamorized the war or thought of themselves as heroes.  There was a job to be done and they did it.

After the war they did what that generation was expected to do.  They came home, married, started families, and worked to support their families.  Even in peacetime, there was a job to be done and they did it.

My father, as many of that generation, was not openly emotional or affectionate.  He loved us and would do anything for his family, but in his own very quiet and humble way.

The only time I ever saw him break down was when my mother died.  He loved her so much and was so paralyzed by grief he could not function.  I was thirteen at the time, and the oldest, so it fell upon me make all of the funeral arrangements and to help in any way I could for the next month or so.  This time, there was a job to be done so I did it.

My father was capable of many acts of sacrifice and kindness.  Of course he never told me about them but I still hear stories about him today.

About a month ago I was standing in line at the pharmacy to pick up a prescription.  When it was my turn, I simply said “Pickup for Werner.”

This very old woman standing next to me turned and asked, “Are you Blanche’s boy?”  I told her I was and she told me how close she had been to my parents and that my father was the greatest man who ever lived.

By now, the rest of the crowd in line edged a bit closer to eavesdrop.

She went on to tell stories about my mother and father and finally asked me how I felt about my grandmother.

My grandmother was somewhat of a strict and overbearing woman who could cause a great deal of misery if she wanted to.

Once this woman, Helen, was satisfied she was not going to offend me, she almost yelled out in the store, “That Ethel could be a bitch!  Do you know your grandfather had to stop for a shot and a beer before he could go home and face her?”

After that there was no stopping her and she had certainly piqued my curiosity.  I, and the entire audience in the store, learned that one of my Uncles had fathered a number of illegitimate children both in Europe and here after the war, I apparently had numerous first cousins I was never aware of, my grandfather had a long term affair supposedly because of my grandmother, and my family history was filled with more than a few black sheep.

Now everyone, including the pharmacist, was waiting to hear what was coming next.

Helen became quiet and more introspective.  “You know,” she began, “Ethel (my mother’s mother) became very ill a few years after your mother died.”

I did remember she had a massive heart attack on the day my mother died and she was unable to attend the funeral.

“I think it was after you left for college, your father didn’t think he could care for her anymore so he was going to put her in a nursing home.”

This part I did not remember.  My grandmother was never in a nursing home.

“I remember that day,” Helen continued, “The day she was going in.  I helped your Dad get her into the car and saw them drive off.  Do you know what your father did?  He drove in through the gates of the nursing home.  He drove right past the entrance, continued around the circle, and came right back home.  He cared for Ethel for the rest of her life.”

Similar to many stories about my father, I had never heard this one before.

Growing up he would always tell us, “You are what you do, not what you say.”  He defined himself by that.  There was always a job to be done and he did it.

-end-

This is the beginning of a series of essays using the nine writing patterns of narrative, exemplification, compare/contrast, description, definition, process analysis, cause/effect, classification and division, and argumentation/persuasion.

Narrative, or narration, “wraps” the issue or thesis around a character or story.  “Acts of Kindness” is an example.  I could have written a well-researched essay about various and random acts of kindness; but which would have the desired emotional impact on an audience?  The truth is, I don’t know but I do know the audience is the final authority in terms of our work.

The writing pattern of description uses words to stimulate the senses and have the reader paint a mental picture of the scene.  Exemplification uses specific and detailed examples to clarify the thesis or argument.  Process analysis shows the audience how things work or how to do something.

To explain similarities and differences, we use the writing pattern of compare and contrast.  We spend most of our lives just trying to figure things out; and that’s when we use cause and effect analysisDefinition gives new meaning to something misunderstood or previously unappreciated.  We use classification and division to group some things together and divide others into smaller categories.  And finally, we use argumentation and persuasion to find common ground with an opponent.

This Effective Writing Podcast discusses the role of Audience and Purpose in writing.

For the writer, these are the tools in our toolkit. For the reader, again the final authority, we can better serve them.  I ask my students at the beginning of each term to give us their definition of “Effective Communication.”  They say things such as, “To better express myself,” “two people talking,” or “arguing back-and-forth.”

The real definition of Effective Communication is simply the art of being understood.

It’s not the audience’s job to figure out what we’re trying to “say.”  It’s our job to be understood.  And when we write an essay or story such as “Acts of Kindness,” it is not our job to show reality.  For most of us, the reality of our daily lives can be somewhat unpleasant.  No, it’s the writer’s job to show an interpretation of reality.  Let’s show the world what it can be like.

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