Every Step of the Way

by Teresa Coffman
Nevada, USA

My grandmother’s cousin Ken graduated from high school in the Midwest during the worst of the Depression. Farm country was particularly hard hit, and Ken had few prospects. A tall, gangly boy from a large, cheerful family, Ken tried not to worry about the future.

He worked that summer for his uncle, who owned a traveling carnival. Ken manned the pony ride, where ponies walked a circle inside a pen. Because Ken was good with children, he received the job of lifting little boys and girls onto the ponies.

When fall arrived, bringing chill air and the bleak promise of winter, Ken faced a harsh reality. The carnival only operated in summer, so he could no longer help his struggling parents keep food on the table. Jobs were non-existent; many a good man drifted from town to town searching for work.

One day, Ken’s friend said, “The John Deere factory is hiring. Go right now!” Ken was skeptical. They hadn’t hired in years. This news should’ve been everywhere.

“How many men?”

“Only one,” said his friend.

Ken hurried to the factory, hoping word hadn’t spread far. He crowded into a large room where a hundred men waited to apply for that single job. His heart sank, but he decided to stay. He had nowhere else to go.

The foreman entered the room, mounted a small platform, and surveyed the crowd. An expectant hush fell over the men. The foreman stayed silent for a long moment and then his gaze fell upon Ken in the back.

“You there. With the yellow hair,” he said. Ken looked around. Yes, the man meant him. He saw no other blonds. Stunned, he nodded, his mouth dry.

“Come up here.” Ken pushed forward through the crowd of scowling men. When he reached the front, the foreman said, “Come with me.” He led Ken into a sunny room and directed him to sit at a wooden desk.

“Name? Address? Previous employment?” Dazed, Ken answered his questions, then signed the paper the foreman shoved across the desk. “Report to me at 7:00 tomorrow morning. I’ll show you where you work.”

It took two paychecks before Ken believed his good fortune. He let some time pass before he worked up the courage to ask why he’d been chosen. The foreman smiled, as if he’d been waiting for the question. “You worked at a carnival last summer at the pony ride.”

“Yes.” Ken remained baffled.

“I remembered you. My little girl wanted a ride, but then she got scared. You held her in the saddle every step of the way, walking around and around with her until she started to like it. By the end of the ride, she was laughing. I thought, ‘I wish I could do something for that boy.'”

Ken worked for John Deere for 40 years. He always said he had comforted many frightened children that summer, and didn’t even remember the one whose father changed his life.

Originally published as HeroicStories #551 on Sept 24, 2004

8 thoughts on “Every Step of the Way”

  1. I had a similar thing happen to me. A few years ago, I went to a check cashing store and saw the clerk was counting last night’s deposits for the bank drop. She wasn’t allowed to keep the doors closed and locked while in the process. Worrying about her safety, I stood outside until she was finished and had potential customers stay outside until she was done. I didn’t think much of it. It was just part of my nature to be kind to others. A year after that, I had knee surgery and was put into a Nursing Home for recovery. I noticed a woman who looked familiar to me working there. After a couple of days we both placed where we knew each other. She told me how grateful she was for my kind act and never forgot it telling her family and friends about this ‘wonderful’ person and what she did. She stated she was so happy she could return the favor and treated me like royalty while I was there. I never wanted for anything. She acted like she was my personal health aide and made my stay there pleasant and comfortable. I never believed that ‘whatever goes around comes around’ until that day. She turned a scary experience into one of peace, happiness and loving care.

  2. Just being your own good self will stick in someone’s memory, and much later, they may not know why they trust you, but they just know.

  3. What a delightful story! Don’t we all love stories with a happy ending, this being one of them.
    Another way to think about the effect we have on others without knowing it might be to think of our deeds being like pebbles thrown into a pond. The ripples can reach far with unexpected results.


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