The Story of the Salt and Pepper Shakers

oandm stove

Once, in another lifetime, we noticed a change in our neighborhood. Elderly, blue-collar residents were dying, and houses went on the market at absurdly inflated prices.

I heard that a yuppie couple had bought a house down the street and that something was wrong with her baby. One day, I saw the blonde yuppie mom passing by with her stroller. I welcomed her to the neighborhood and she seemed very nice. Her baby had a misshapen head and had to wear a special helmet. I pretended not to feel sorry for her, and after all, I had my own troubles.

She told me about her house and about her vintage O’Keefe and Merritt stove, which she was very excited about. She lamented that it was perfectly refurbished but was missing the porcelain salt and pepper shakers that belonged above the hood in their own recessed compartments.

I have an old O’Keefe and Merritt stove and I’ve never cared about the salt and pepper shakers. I never used them, and I only clean the stove maybe once every hundred years. Since the nice yuppie cared so much about the salt and pepper shakers, I impulsively offered her mine.

She was thrilled. She couldn’t get over how great this was. I basked in her happiness and my own niceness.

That was my only encounter with the nice yuppie. I think she moved away before too long. Many months later, I met another neighbor who had befriended the yuppies. She told me that she’d heard about my nice gesture, and commended me for my generosity.

As the years go by, I realize how valuable those fucking salt and pepper shakers are. I look at the empty compartments and think what an idiot I was. I probably just wanted the yuppie mom to like me.

When I review this story, I only feel my stupidity, and this in turn causes a vague sense of shame. My husband thinks it’s a story about doing something nice, but it isn’t. It’s a story about regret and resentment.

However, If I could go back in time, I’d do the same thing, because it feels good to be nice, even if you aren’t.

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22 Responses to “The Story of the Salt and Pepper Shakers”

  1. Sam Says:

    Digesting this….. Stay tuned.

  2. Helent Says:

    I have noticed that small acts of random kindness can result in feeling a bit of a cunt afterward. It is usually associated for me with spontaneously offering to do something or give something without thinking it through. It is strangely rewarding at first basking in the glory of appreciation and then, second, burning with resentment at the ingratitude and thoughtlessness of those who accept the gifts/ time. I fear, in this regard, we are both fucked Sister.

  3. annemarie Says:

    Jesus, I have so many stories that bear comparison with this one, and one in particular that has me still in shock…but to long and boring to go into here.

    As Helent said– it’s the ingratitude and thoughtlessness of those who accept that are the problem. I’d add to that: the lack of reciprocity.

    What you did was lovely. But you’d probably feel no shame thinking back on that day if that yuppie had insisted on paying you for them, or taken you out to lunch, or sent flowers to your house, or done some fucking nice thing in return. All she did was say “yes please! thanks so much!” while probably thinking to herself “What a score! Does this lady even know how much those things are worth? Jesus, this is my lucky day!”

    I bet you the price of those salt and pepper shakers that those thoughts were going through her head. Not that they necessarily detract from how genuinely grateful she was for your beautiful generosity (of which I also have been a lucky recipient), but they add another layer to it that makes it stink a bit.

    If a nice lady offered me something that I really wanted and knew was valuable I would INSIST on paying in some way. Not because I can’t “receive,” as the self-help lingo goes, but because it feels really opportunistic and unfair and mean-spirited not to SHOW how grateful you are by giving in return.

    I actually think behavior like this is an American thing. Before moving here, I’d never in my life lived in a country in which people actually boast about being cheap. In Ireland, a stingy person is a pariah– it’s social suicide to skip your round at a pub. I think it’s linked to generational poverty. In poor countries in general, there tends to be a stronger sense of reciprocity, of people looking after each other, of grace.

  4. Debbie Says:

    YOU’RE NICE. And it’s ok.

  5. Andra Says:

    Helen is right. We can regret random acts of kindness but – what is, is. You did it, it was right at the time and you just can’t go back.
    Accept and move on, as “they” say.
    Happy New Thing!

  6. Kristin Says:

    I thought there was going to be a different end to the story. I thought that after she sold the house you were going to find that she sold the stove out from under it for a mighty profit and got extra because she had the original salt and pepper shakers. I have an apartment that has the original Gaffers & Sattlers stove and there is a site where I could look up its value. When I moved from another apartment in the building I had my movers move this stove with me because it is so beautiful with all its porcelain and chrome work. I wonder if I could sell it and replace it with a cheap stove and pocket the difference. You did do something nice, only now the new neighbor probably doesn’t care if they have the shakers.

  7. David Duff Says:

    When you decide, Sis, that all that priceless jewellery with which your ever-lovin’ husband has showered upon you – er, he has, hasn’t he? – is surplus to requirements and instead you really need ‘to feel the love’, let me know and I’ll be on the next plane over!

    For God’s sake don’t give them to Andra! The only thing she ever gave me was a Balinese sarong and when I wore it – and I know you’ll find this hard to believe – everyone laughed at me! So if your priceless jewels need a home give them to me and I will express my undying gratitude to you at least twice a year on your blog! How’s that?

  8. David Duff Says:

    Daft old bugger that I am, forgot to say Happy New year!

  9. KT Says:

    Now that I’m an expert on OKeefe Merritt stoves which I’d never fucking heard of before today, is this your yuppie I wonder?

    http://www.ebay.com/itm/Vintage-OKeefe-Merritt-Stove-Parts-Stove-Top-DROP-IN-SALT-PEPPER-SHAKERS-/261364017342?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item3cda8268be

  10. Sally Says:

    Sisterwolf, you have articulated something that’s been bugging me for a while now. I have been generous to people in the past and never thought I expected anything in return but I realise now – I did – a show of gratitude (not so much a material object/gesture) but perhaps some serious gushing & praise. You made a point of saying that maybe you wanted yuppie Mum to like you. This hit home, I think that’s been at the root of why I have given things in the past. Helent said of feeling like shit after giving: “It is usually associated for me with spontaneously offering to do something or give something without thinking it through.” I relate to this too. From now on dear I’ll save the spontaneity for other areas in my life which would benefit someone I love, my husband. By the way, your spouse with his “it’s a story about doing something nice…” is something mine would say. Maybe we can make our peace with this in mind regarding our “random acts of kindness” of the past which we’ve regretted and vow to “think it through” when we get the urge to give in future. I don’t mean to use the royal “we”, I don’t speak for you Sister but in this post you speak for me and that’s helpful. Thank you and Happy New Year.

  11. Sister Wolf Says:

    Sam – Take your time.

    Helent – YES.

    annemarie – Yes, yep, and it’s time for me to send you stuff because you are always grateful AND because your stuff is still among my very favorite things to wear.

    Debbie – HA, no, maybe once in a while.

    Andra – Happy New Thing to you too!

    Kristin – I’m sure she took her stove when she moved, since it was such a big fucking deal to her.

    David Duff – I will always love you. My husband will just have to live with it.

    KT – WOW, fuck, how amazing! I thought they were impossible to find. That bitch can give me $100 to replace mine!

    Sally – Thank you right back. Sometimes I write things in an effort to understand my own feelings, and you helped to define them.

  12. Madam Restora Says:

    I’ve thought about this spontaneous giving of things before. Could it be a form of power play, where you are actually saying ‘ here take this thing that means so much to you. I have it and you want it, and it means nothing to me’….’ I like to help the people sometimes’. I don’t know, just putting it out there…

  13. Sister Wolf Says:

    Madam Restora – Nope, not in this case, anyway.

  14. D.R. Says:

    Much ado about nothing. It’s only money…and not a lot of money.

  15. Sister Wolf Says:

    D.R. – It’s nothing to YOU, then.

  16. Dj Says:

    Here’s a random act…go over to the owners of the house and tell them you had lent the shakers to blondie and you need them back. Period. Don’t feel stupid for your raok, just go and random act at their front porch.

  17. Bessie the Cow Says:

    I’ve done that so many times with my neighbors. One neighbor I helped out so many times, taking her food, getting her aspirin from the store when she couldn’t go, and so one day I needed her help and she freaked out on me saying she was incapable of ever helping anyone. I had another neighbor over for dinner 100s of times over a 15 year period and she never had me over for dinner, ever (I just realized that now), but I think she took me out once. I gave a friend of mine, in the 80s, a gold Hamilton triangular watch, (but then I inherited my father’s Hamilton 15 years later, which was a better watch), and threw her baby shower and never got a thank you.
    Lessons.
    BTW: You are generous to a fault by there is no fault in that. In the end everything is a thneed. (see dr Seuss)

  18. Pruny Says:

    Right, annmarie, because there isn’t any generational poverty in the U.S.

  19. Cricket9 Says:

    Bessie – what? She said That she’s “incapable of ever helping anyone”and you didn’t slug her right in the nose? I would most likely also yell at her “call the ambulance yourself, you stupid bitch”. There would be door slamming, always so satisfactory. I do things for people and try not to expect anything, but yes, there is this little resentment at the back of my mind when some of them show me the finger… oh well. Nobody was forcing me…

  20. annemarie Says:

    Hi Pruny– yeah I know. But here, the generational poverty seems to be quarantined away from the yuppies. They don’t live cheek to jowl in the same neighborhoods like they do in cities in other countries (though this is changing– the conservative gov in the UK is selling off lots of social housing in order to speed up gentrification and establish uniformly wealthy neighborhoods where people don’t have to live on the same street as their cleaners). Also, I personally find that poor people are not looked down on in the same way as they are here, where if you’re poor you’re often made feel as though you failed at life. All of this is just a generalization of course– there are good people everywhere.

  21. Maelig Says:

    Hi Sister, hi all the readers/commenters
    I’m a long time reader but first time commenter. English is not my first language, I do my best but please excuse me in advance for my unavoidable butchering of your language…
    Sister, I HAD TO react to your post. I don’t know, maybe you’re gonna hate me, maybe it’s not the right time for you to accept my thoughts that even if your present was a way of trying to bond with the nice yuppie ladie, even if you regret your gesture, it does not change the fact that you did not have to do it. But you did. And yes, it was kind of you, extremely sweet even. Your neighbor was really rude to just accept the overpriced shakers so easily, without even a gesture toward you. Her attitude was quite selfish.
    I totally understand your regrets. But it does not change the value of what you did.
    I don’t know you Sister, we do not share the same language, the same continent,we are not even the same age. But somehow your life story, your struggles, your pains, it speaks volume to me regarding my own path and my own tentatives of giving meaning to life. And it’s so damn painful to see you being so harsh with yourself. I do not see in you what YOU see in you. You don’t have to believe me, I’m just a stranger.
    Maybe I will never again comment here, who knows.But I’m trying to send you positive feelings and I hope you will understand.

    PS: EVERY. SINGLE. PRESENT. is done with something ( knowingly or not) in mind.
    I should know, working in the psychiatry field.
    End of my rambling.

  22. Lightning Says:

    Take them back

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