A kind word from a stranger still lingers

Susan Manzke
The good two-year-old Robby Manzke.

As anniversaries go, January has more than one for us. Back in 1978, before I ever thought about writing a column, we moved from Mokena, Illinois to Seymour, Wisconsin. At that time Rebecca had just turned one and Robby would turn three in March. Bob’s father, mother, and sister had moved to a farm northwest of Seymour—where we live today.

A couple of our new neighbors introduced themselves to us when we were unpacking at our new home on Pearl Street. Other than that, we knew no one. All my family was back in Illinois and I felt lost. My life centered on settling into our house and taking care of our family.

Within a week I registered at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church. The first mass I attended I took Robby along to keep me company. Bob stayed home with Rebecca—we called her Becky back then.

I found a pew for me and my son off to the side of the congregation. I thanked God for our safe arrival and prayed we would soon fit into the community of Seymour.

Our almost-three-year-old stayed by my side, but he fidgeted. He looked up to the high ceiling and down the empty pew we occupied, nothing odd about that. I was looking around myself. The building was new to both of us.

Partway through the service, Robby stretched out on the kneeler at my feet. That seemed to be a good place for him, so I let him be.

Soon he realized he could see the feet of the people ahead of us. He popped up to check out the people who belonged to those feet.

Up and down he went, trying to match everyone's top half with their feet.

After checking out the people ahead, Robby turned around to stare at the family behind us. Down he went to look at their feet.

The boy was like a Jack-in-the-box, popping up and then ducking down.

The real two-year-old Robby Manzke.

I was totally embarrassed. My son was drawing attention to us in all kinds of unwanted ways, albeit quietly.

When it was time to sit, I tried to maneuver Robby onto my lap. That didn’t work any better. He squirmed until I let him sit back on the kneeler again.

We stayed for the whole service, though I worried we were a distraction for all the people around us. Maybe I should have bundled him up in all his winter clothes and escaped out the back door. I didn’t do that. Sometimes that’s more of a distraction to the congregation.

When the mass ended, I took my time getting Robby into his winter clothes.

As we filed out behind most of the congregation, a little old lady stopped me. I thought she was going to complain about Robby. She didn’t.

That lady touched my arm and smiled down at Robby. “You have such a lovely little boy, and so well behaved.” She patted him on his head and walked away.

I just about fell over. I hope I thanked her but I don’t remember. We never exchanged names, which was a mistake because she might have become a friend.

Analyzing her comment all these years later, it makes me think. Did she really think he was so well behaved? Or did she address me because she thought I would take Robby home and give him a spanking? I’ll never know for sure—by the way, I wouldn’t have spanked him for acting like a two-year-old.

Anyway, I went home much relieved. I still hadn’t met anyone, but I was getting closer to making friends.

That account happened forty-two years ago. I’m sure that lady has gone to her heavenly reward, but I hope she knows she made an impression on me that lasted all these years.

Today, I say ‘thank you’ to her.

FYI: Bob started a new round of treatment for his cancer. He’s still fighting, and doing well, living at home.

Susan and Bob Manzke, Sunnybook Farm, N8646 Miller Rd, Seymour, WI 54165;; -- if you don’t have a computer, you can always go to your local library and look me up on theirs. I’m sure they will give you a hand googling my name. Librarians are great!