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Bad News, Jelly Beans, and Potato Chip Cookies

For a libertarian reading the news on a daily basis can be a nightmare.  It can be depressing.  And the news can leave me wondering how I can possibly express my outrage at the increasing number of abuses to our constitutional rights meted out by our own government.  Acts such as: the passage of the NDAA which allows the arrest and indefinite detention of American citizens and denies them the right to an attorney; the permitting of strips searches of anyone arrested – even for traffic violations;  the indignity and injustice of the TSA searching 4 year olds and threatening the child’s mother;  or making protesting government officials an offense punishable by 10 years in prison are just recent examples of the slide to totalitarianism.  I can often barely recognize that this is the same country I grew up in as a child.  Just within the last year or so we have seen a president claim the authority to kill American citizens without due process or judicial review.  I have read about school children as young as six years old being arrested by police and criminally charged for actions that a generation ago would mandate at most a trip to the principal and afterschool detention.  This week begins the trials of accused terrorists in Guantanamo that resemble the kinds of judicial systems we mocked in Soviet Russia.  It is wearisome.

So today I decided I wanted to think and write about something much more pleasant.  I needed a break from the bad.  Today I intend to intentionally turn away from unpleasant news and remember that good still exists in the world.  I will think about good things.

Really Good Things.  Like jelly beans, kindness, and potato chip cookies.

Potato chip cookies and jelly beans.  Of all the treats offered by Mrs. Wheeler those were by far my favorites.

Mr. and Mrs. Wheeler were an elderly and childless couple. They lived quietly in a smaller house in the middle of a neighborhood on Stanwood Road that was jam-packed with children.  We had 6 kids in our house.  The Acton family had 5.  The Knolls family, 3.  The Gugle family another 5. The Worch family and several others lived nearby as well.  Unlike many of the other elderly people in our neighborhood who considered us kids pests, all children were welcome at the Wheelers and treated as favored guests.

I, and every one of the kids on Stanwood Road, knew that they could just walk over to the Wheeler’s, knock on the door, and get a handful of jelly beans.  And every Christmas each one of us would be given a full jar of jelly beans, which was a much better present than some tube socks which it seems my mother always thought I needed more of.

If I was particularly lucky, I would visit on a day Mrs. Wheeler just baked some cookies.  My favorite kind was her potato chip cookies.  Yes, potato chip cookies.  Delicious.  I’ve not had one in over 30 years, but I still remember them.  Those wonders were a Mrs. Wheeler original and served up with a smile and a generous dose of kindness rare to find these days.  When Mr. Wheeler was there he would often pull his thumb “off” in his charming way and ask if we were “Jimmy Jones” as we gobbled our jelly beans and cookies.  I still don’t know who the heck Jimmy Jones is.  And although they didn’t own one, they always kept dog treats for our dogs when we brought them along.  They would ask us about school and life and our family.

The Wheelers were very popular with the neighborhood children.

They were kind. They were generous.  They made each child in our neighborhood feel wanted and special.  We knew that no matter how bad things seemed, no matter how crowded our home was, how nasty a sibling was being, how awful school was that day – a smile and a handful of jelly beans were just a short walk away.  They made us happy.

And maybe it is just my poor memory, but the Wheelers always seemed happy too.  I don’t ever remember being turned away or either of them having anything but genuine smiles and kind words – and jelly beans and cookies.

I think that’s a lesson from the Wheeler’s that I need to remember more often.  That if I am kind, giving and friendly I not only make someone else happy, but I become happy.  The Wheelers were the embodiment of the notion that happiness is not something we can attain, but that it is a way of living.   But a handful of jelly beans certainly brings me some happy memories.