Paying It Forward


Sometimes it takes a long time before you’re able to pay forward a kindness. This one took me 12 years to repay.

Before you hear about the repayment, you must first know about the debt that began when I was looking for a gift for a dear friend.

She collects railroad silver – antique pieces that were made specifically for each railroad back in the days when first class railroad travel was luxury. Each railroad had its own unique silver with its name such as Union Pacific or Santa Fe engraved on the bottom. Grand hotels did the same and all usually had specially designed china as well. Over the 75 to 100 years since railroads have ceased such luxury travel, much of the china has been broken but the silver can still be found … not easily and not in great abundance but if you’re willing to look hard enough, you’ll find it.

After much searching, I had found a matching cream pitcher and sugar bowl through an auction company but they weren’t being sold as a set. I bid on both pieces and, as you may know, it is better to wait until seconds before the auction closes to put in your best bid. The sugar bowl auction closed 10 minutes before the pitcher. I won it.

While I was poised to go after the pitcher, the phone rang. Mama said calmly but urgently, “Come down here now. I need you.”

Panicked, I flew out the door and drove to Mama’s where she told me that she had just received a call that my uncle had died. We had left his house two hours earlier and though he was ill, it didn’t seem that death was coming. I forgot all about the railroad silver.

Several days later, the sugar bowl arrived and I set it aside. About a month later, I wrote the other bidder and said, “If you should ever decide to sell that pitcher, would you please let me know? It would be more valuable as a set. I’d like it for a friend of mine.”

The lady, who lived in California, wrote back. “I’ve decided the piece just doesn’t fit in my kitchen as I had envisioned. You’re right – it should be a set.”

I was thrilled. Then I figured that would probably be a premium attached to it so I proceeded with caution. The woman quickly dispelled my apprehension.

“Please, accept it as a gift.”


Her husband, she explained, had been an executive with the Walt Disney Company until a couple of years earlier when he retired because he had multiple sclerosis. He was 45. She also had a child with special needs.

“Our days can be challenging so when I’m able to give joy to someone else, it gives me joy. Please, allow me to be selfish and send this silver pitcher for your friend.”

She wouldn’t even accept the cost of shipping. The box arrived and inside was a beautifully wrapped box as well as a bag of Godiva chocolates. I promised her that one day I would pay it forward and give something nice to a stranger.

I had some nice bracelets that I no longer wore. I have small hands and wrists so normal sized people couldn’t wear them. There was no one I knew to give them to so, recently, I put three of them up for auction. A young woman in Dallas, TX, bought them. I put a fourth one in as gift and when she received them, she was over the moon. She wrote to thank me.

“I have another one that I’m putting in the mail to you as a gift. It’s beautiful,” I wrote. “Please, enjoy it.”

I had a debt of kindness that was well overdue and, finally, I had found a way to pay it forward.

[Ronda Rich is the best-selling author “Let Me Tell You Something.” Visit to sign up for her free weekly newsletter.]