Feeding on Acts of Kindness

Ranchman’s, the only restaurant in the tiny town of Ponder, Texas, opened in 1948. When I lived in Dallas, my late wife and I made the hour-long drive to Ponder many times. An hour drive was a scant price to pay to satisfy hunger for a superb chicken-fried steak.

I learned this morning, reading an article in the Dallas Morning News, that the restaurant has been closed for more than 660 days. But the owner insists he will open it up again when COVID and kitchen construction permit. The man, Dave Ross, closed it due to COVID and took advantage of the down time to remodel the ancient kitchen. Unlike many restaurant owners, Ross owns the building Ranchman’s occupies outright. He apparently does not need the restaurant’s revenue to survive. The restaurant opened in 1948 and has been in the same building ever since. Ross is renovating and enlarging the kitchen during the COVID shutdown.

The newspaper story reminded me that I was among the throngs of Ranchman aficionados who often took out-of-town guests to the place to show them authentic small-town Texas—and to give them a taste of honest-to-God real chicken-fried-steak the way it’s supposed to be. I miss that flavor and texture. The only place I’ve ever had chicken-fried steak that compared favorably was at Mary’s Café in Strawn, Texas (which, amazingly, may be about as good as Ranchman’s version of that wonderful food of the gods).  Seriously, I’ve enjoyed pretty good chicken-fried-steaks in other places, including some spots in Arkansas. But nothing (not even Mary’s) compares to the unique taste and texture of the CFS at Ranchman’s. I am hungry for that perfect chicken-fried-steak. Starved for CFS is a more appropriate description of the way I feel at this moment. Oh, how I miss that food and those memories.


I do it all the time. I state, with unflinching confidence, that a person is acting in a certain way because he or she is feeling one way or another. I am certain of my perceptions, notwithstanding my understanding that, in reality, I cannot see the world through another person’s eyes. We cannot know what prompts a person to do what he or she does. We cannot legitimately attribute motives to others without actually being those people, which is impossible. I know this. Why, I wonder, is it so damn difficult to train myself so my automatic response is compassion or appreciation, instead of skepticism?

Yesterday, my IC and I had a conversation about acts of generosity that find their way into newspaper articles and social media stories. I have read about several such things lately. Some examples: An extraordinarily generous tip that provided restaurant worker with the money needed to save a home from foreclosure. Donation of a car to someone who could not afford reliable transportation. A waiter patiently helping an elderly and infirm restaurant patron by cutting the customer’s food for him.  The articles and news clips are numerous. And every one of them tugs at one’s heartstrings. Almost every time we come across such touching stories, though, we encounter comments that chastise the “good Samaritan” for promoting themselves by telling their  stories. People whose acts of kindness find their way into the news often are labeled self-serving, assuming they seek recognition for their good deeds purely out of emotional vanity.

During the conversation over breakfast yesterday, my IC suggested people who share the stories of their generosity may do so simply to model such behavior; to encourage others to act in the same way. Or they may have a personal, emotional need to be recognized for their acts of kindness. They may need others to see that they are decent, generous, good people. Or they may need to see those attributes in themselves; through public acknowledgment of their generosity, they may be more likely to believe themselves to be decent, generous, good people. Public acknowledgement of their acts of kindness may be among the only ways they can see measures of their value as human beings.

One of our friends recently saw a news or social media story about groups of people going out to eat together and, at the end of the meal, each leaving a $100 bill, giving an enormous surprise for the waitstaff. She immediately latched onto that idea and initiated it on her own. Despite having some misgivings about how the idea could be implemented, we applauded it. And, after the fact, we learned that it was done with no fanfare, no media pictures…no big deal. Even though I know I cannot see inside a person’s head, I know my friend.  I strongly suspect what prompted that act of extreme generosity was a deep, abiding goodness…the sort of intensely wonderful humanity that makes my eyes water and make me want to deliver a big hug.

My IC, by the way,  is incredibly generous. I’ve witnessed her leaving very big tips for people she “senses” really need the money. I’ve watched as she bought a young couple breakfast; again, she sensed it would help them in a way they needed help. She donated quite a bit of valuable furniture to people who could use, it instead of selling it as she could have; in one instance, she gave a couch and coffee table to someone just out of drug rehab and struggling to live on his own. She visits Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore frequently with perfectly good items she could have sold but, instead, donates because someone else needs what she takes in more than she needs the money selling it could bring. My point is that she gives. A lot. She does not promote her generosity, though. She does not seek recognition for it. She just does it. All of this is to say I can imagine she might feel that people who publicly proclaim their generosity may be self-serving. But, no, obviously she does not see it that way.


Last evening, I tried to call my brother–the one who was just released from the hospital and is in a rehab facility now–but my calls immediately went to a rejection message. “The subscriber you called has not set up the voice mailbox yet…” I suppose I should call earlier in the day. Maybe he turns his phone off after 7 pm or perhaps he was on the phone with someone else. I must try not to get sidetracked today; I must call by mid-day. I wonder why it’s sometimes so hard to stay focused on something so simple as a phone call reminder? I wonder whether my increasing sense of forgetfulness is another product of my advancing age? Who knows? I certainly don’t, but I have my suspicions.


It’s nearing 6. I’ve been up for almost one and three-quarters hours, yet I’ve had only part of one cup of coffee and nothing to eat. Although I usually do not eat until after my IC rises, I may break my fast early today.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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