While sitting in a waiting room at the local hospital this week, I happened to overhear bits and pieces of a conversation. It’s not that I tried to eavesdrop, the fact is, the two people were talking very loud. One of the phrases that stood out was, “You’re such a Mensch!” I thought to myself, “That’s something you don’t hear in Nebraska very often.”
The word “Mensch” is Yiddish and means a person of honesty and integrity. A Mensch is someone who does “the right thing” and is very kind towards others, be they humans or animals. Being a Mensch isn’t related to social status, success, or wealth. An authentic Mensch does not label himself or herself as a Mensch. People in society recognise a Mensch when we see one. We might not use the word “Mensch”, but we describe the individual as a “wonderful person”.
A string of memories about Mensches I’ve know soon appeared in my mind. Like most people, I’ve had the good fortune to know several Mensches.
One Mensch in particular comes to mind. He owned a tiny, old “Derby” gasoline station across Main Street from Wayne (Nebraska) State College. I don’t remember anybody ever filling their cars at the gasoline pumps, but many students visited the little snack shop inside the tiny shack of a building. The Mensche was a short-statured elderly man named Harry Kinder. Although he pronounced his name with a short “i” sound, he behaved as if it was pronounced with a long “i”.
Harry always wore a smile and laughed with his customers who were mainly college students and neighborhood children. He was sometimes referred to as a “good Pied Piper” because of his popularity with youngsters and youth. He was a very considerate listener who consoled troubled kids simply by allowing them to talk but he rarely doled out advise. Perhaps it is that quality that made Harry so well loved.
Harry was a trusting old soul who often allowed college students to buy treats “on credit” when they were short on cash. As far as I know, everyone made a point of eventually paying Harry back, even though he never insisted that they do so. Harry and his customers conducted business the old fashioned way, by the honor system and trust.
I can close my eyes right now and picture old Harry Kinder in my mind. Complete with beaming smile and friendly laughter, he was certainly a Mensch.
He certainly qualified by any measure of “Menschness”. Harry always did the right thing. He stood up for the “little people”. He worked to understand other people, he didn’t judge by appearances. He saw others as unique, special individuals. Harry treated everybody with respect so he received respect in return.
Although he never strived to by famous or popular, all the Wayne State College students knew and adored Harry Kinder. You might say he was everyone’s perfect grandpa.
I’m glad I knew Harry Kinder when I was a kid.
The Blue Jay of Happiness remembers something Harry Kinder sometimes said. “Being a good person does not depend on your skin color, your religion, your politics, or how well-off you are. It all depends on how kindly you treat others.”