The Kindness of Strangers


This is a story that must be told for it is one of generosity, thoughtfulness and kindness.

There’s just too much meanness in today’s world, much harsher than the sort we practiced as children when Mama would say sternly, “Quit your meanness! And I mean right now!”

My friends, Ed and Randy, had lost their house – this was many years ago because the good Lord has now beckoned them both home to glory – to a fire that had burned up or melted all their treasures. Gone were Ed’s Eagle Scout medals, his Richard Petty collection from a lifelong friendship with the racing icon while Randy lost decades worth of china, silver, dolls and, to her heartbroken regret, a collection of signed first edition books by poet Rod McKuen. Ed had thoughtfully purchased each one for her over their many years of marriage.

McKuen was, to us less sophisticated readers, an odd duck but those who loved him, were endlessly devoted.

That would be Randy.

This was in the days before the Internet made it possible to find anything your heart desired. This was in the day when you pushed up your sleeves and dove into garage sales and second-hand stores in hopes of finding that particular treasure.

It also coincided with the publishing of my first book in New York and a two-week book tour that strung me throughout the South and Midwest. Along the way, I looked for McKuen books, hoping to replace Randy’s first editions.

I found one.

In Fairhope, AL, I was signing for the afternoon at the legendary Page and Palette. They had set up a table in front of the store on a corner. While Mama sat nearby and entertained all who cared to listen, I signed what were first editions of a book that would reprint seven times in hardcover and many in paper. It has, in fact, just been updated in an acknowledgement by Penguin-Putnam of its 20th anniversary.

Across the street was a used bookstore called Over The Transom. The owner, Sonny Brewer, wandered over, introduced himself and we began a conversation that turned to Rod McKuen.

“Hey,” I said, brightening a good bit. “Do you have a first edition, signed by McKuen?” I explained the circumstances and how Ed and Randy had lost everything.

“He’s in the insurance business,” I continued. “So he practiced what he has always preached: Be abundantly insured. But there are some things that can’t be replaced or, like first editions signed by Rod McKuen, are hard to find.”

He was eager to help and hurried back to the bookstore to dig through backrooms and boxes. Three hours later, he returned. With a McKuen book. It wasn’t signed but it was a first edition and it was in terrific shape.

“This is wonderful!” I exclaimed. “How much do I owe you?”

He waved it away. “Nothing. This is my gift to her after all she’s been through.”

He insisted. Gratefully, I brought it home to Randy and told her the story of a stranger’s generosity. In her beautiful script written on engraved stationery, she sent him a thank you note.

I never saw Sonny Brewer after that. Chances are he has long forgotten the Sunday afternoon he spent digging through boxes and how thoughtfully he blessed someone’s life.

But in the publishing world, there are grapevines so his name pops up from time to time. I know he has published four novels, including one with Penguin Putnam, the publisher I was representing on that tour. He’s made a name for himself, as my mountain folks like to say.

But for me and my friend, Randy, he made a name for himself that day in Fairhope. I shall always remember him.

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