Kentucky, Tuck to his friends, sat back on his haunches, admiring the freshly painted handrail running the length of Mrs. Robin’s front steps. Lovingly carved from an oak tree Tuck’s parents had planted 50 years ago, the handrail would allow Mrs. Robins to manage the 4-step elevation without risk of falling again.
The feeling of exhilaration at having solved someone else’s problem never faded away. It stoked a fire deep inside Tuck’s chest where he had thought only embers lay.
Tuck gathered up the last of his tools and stowed them in the bed of his trusty Ford. He needed to leave now before Brian Robins arrived home with his mother and ruined Tuck’s anonymous gift. It wouldn’t do for anyone to know the ‘Silent Gifter’ of Cardwelll County, Indiana.
Had it only been two years ago that Tuck had returned from war battered, worn and lost? Like a lone sock whose match was tossed long ago, Tuck had been drowning in a quagmire of guilt and sorrow.
He often wondered why he had returned home in one piece, physically anyway, when his best friend and Captain had lost both of his legs in a surprise enemy attack. Three days later and his Captain would have been home in the United States, holding his brand new baby girl.
‘Why him? Why not me?’
Over and over again those unanswered questions plagued Tuck’s thoughts. His dreams were tumultuous at best and night seemed more like a curse than a gift. Nightmares were frequent fliers and no noise machine or chamomile tea would stop the intrusions.
Tuck had moped around his parent’s farm for two months, barely eating or drinking. All it took was eight years for the former Cardwell County Harvest King to change his perspective from big dreamer to cynical moper.
Nothing could pull him out of his funk. Nothing until that hot, humid August day when his Mama Jean told him to deliver some kindness to the farm next door.
Never one to disobey his mama, Tuck had shuffled on over to the neighbor’s farm to drop off some of Mama Jean’s sweet tea and honey biscuits. ‘Homemade is the best way to cheer anyone up’ she liked to say when Tuck asked why she baked so much.
It was as he neared the small barn, that he noticed the barn doors were in need of a new coat of paint and an updated latch. ‘Won’t keep critters out like that’ he murmured to himself.
The neighbors, Kamela and Tarin Wellsong, were an older couple with no children. It was clear to Tuck that they needed some help but Southern pride prevented them from asking. He walked away from their farm wondering how he could help without being pushed off.
Racking his brain, he came up with the perfect solution. Tuck wasn’t feeling like his old self but he sure as heck could paint some barn doors and fix a latch.
In secret would be best though. That way Kamela and Train couldn’t argue about some sort of payment for his work.
The following Saturday, Tuck geared up with rows of tools and four buckets of burgundy paint. It was the perfect day to put his plan in gear since the Wellsongs were away visiting Kamela’s sister in Illinois. The perfect time to gift a neighbor.
The work was simple but soothing. It took one afternoon to bring life back to the barn and secure the doors so no wayward fox could sneak in near the chicken coops.
What appeared so menial to Tuck was really a gift of the heart.
It wasn’t long before Tuck was gifting all over town. Anonymously of course and a stealthy as a ninja.
He savored every sweet smile of surprise and chuckled softly as gossip spread like wildfire through the small town of Glendale.
Who fixed Mary Dailey’s broken mower? Who replaced the twisty slide at the elementary school? Did you see Tilly Meyer’s porch with the brand new swing?
Questions and grateful tears graced the streets of Glendale. Slowly, meticulously, the broken pieces inside Tuck’s soul began to mend. Instead of feeling like a displaced sock, Tuck had somehow transformed into something more settled, permanent. It was if his heart could be whole just by giving joy to others.
Lost in thought on his drive home from Mrs. Robin’s, Tuck missed the twinkling lights surrounding the fire pit out front of the bunkhouse-his treasured space. It wasn’t until he stepped down from his truck that he read the hand-painted sign hanging across the front porch: We Love Our Gifts, But We Love You More.
Dozens of people carrying all sorts of whicker baskets stepped out from around the side of the bunkhouse. The smell of brisket roasting on a charcoal grill wafted past Tuck as little Susie Anya wrapped her arms around his legs.
Tuck was speechless as Susie exclaimed in the high voice of a delicate three year old: “Happy Hero Day ‘tucky Thompson!”
Laughing heartily, Tuck gazed lovingly around at his family and his community. Young and old, neighbor and acquaintance, just about the whole town had turned out for Kentucky’s surprise.
“How did you know?” he whispered, in awe of the magnitude of kindness surrounding his home.
Mr. Wellsong walked up and gave his shoulder a squeeze. “Gifts of love always have a way of revealing their maker Son.” He stepped back and tipped his hat toward the porch. “Now it’s time to gift the gifter.”
Tuck gasped in amazement as his eyes swept over a restored Gibson guitar. His guitar! A treasure gifted to Tuck from his Grandpa Al when he turned 16. Damaged during a storm while Tuck was away in the Army, he never dreamed his fingers would be able to pluck the taut strings again.
Itching to release the melody in his heart, Tuck gathered up the guitar and strummed slowly. Warm tears bathed his cheeks but he refused to brush the evidence away. This lost soldier had found his new purpose.
Arm-in-arm and hand-in-hand, everyone enjoyed the most wonderful Hero Day Glendale, Indianan had ever seen.