Al Batt: Be nice to everyone — you never know who’ll be on your jury

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt

She had been the sickly one of a large herd.

My Aunt Edith had been delicate, but she came out of that swamp onto higher ground. She died at the age of 105 years, 8 months, 13 days, a few hours and a smidgen of minutes. Edith loved to garden, crochet, read newspapers and work crossword puzzles. She taught me how to crochet crossword puzzles. No, wait, that wasn’t her.

Al Batt

I recall a Guindon cartoon showing two women folding clothing strewn about a table during a store’s sale. I’m guessing it was at Dayton’s, a large department store and a Minnesota institution. In a weak moment, I once accompanied someone to a big sale at Dayton’s. I can’t remember if it was the Daisy, Jubilee or Anniversary Sale. I’ve blocked that memory. Oh, the humanity! Norman Rockwell wouldn’t have tripped over himself to paint that scene. Back to the two women in the Guindon cartoon I likely saw in the Minneapolis Tribune. One explained they didn’t work there. They just liked things nice. I’d add they were trying to be nice.

In 1937, Walter Winchell said, “It is swell to be important — but more important to be swell!” The syndicated columnist, radio commentator and television host pioneered the fast-paced, gossip-driven, politically charged media culture that dominates today and Winchell wasn’t considered nice. He claimed credit for what many others have said, “It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.”

A neighbor’s idea of being nice was telling us kids he didn’t care what we did as long as we didn’t scare the cows.

One of my granddaughters is a sophomore on the Minnesota State basketball team. She received a letter from a student at R.F. Pettigrew Elementary School in Sioux Falls and replied to the young man, prompting this to appear on Twitter, “Last week my son’s classroom wrote letters to a women’s basketball team in the NSIC Tourney. Tonight, he brought home a letter from Joey Batt personalized to him. He had a basketball game tonight and we got home in time to catch the second half of the Minnesota State game. Screaming and cheering for someone that took the time out of her busy schedule to write a note to a kid she didn’t even know. Although your impact on the court was obvious, your impact off the court is what shined today. This stuff matters.” 

That was a mess of niceness served up by Joey. Some memories grow legs and walk away or become mosquitoes needing to be swatted away. Others are as bumpy as a dusty drive down a gravel road constructed of washboards and potholes. Wonderful memories fill us with hope and joy. We remember the kindnesses we’ve received and the kindnesses we’ve done for others. The secret to happiness might be simple — be nice to others.

Mothers were instructed at Mom School to say, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” My mother told me we’re here to help others. I asked her what the others were here for. She ignored my question by saying “thank you” was an easy way to be nice.

Studies have found that the best way to be happy is to bring happiness to others. It’s easy. Sometimes all I have to do is leave.

Aunt Edith, despite being the sickly one in a big family, was never deficient in the smile department. I seek wisdom as long as I don’t have to climb a towering mountain to find it. My gurus mill around at sea level. That’s where I found Aunt Edith on her 100th birthday. I asked what her secret to happiness was. She became as shut-mouthed as Doc Buttruff (or Butturff) who had an office in the local bank when I was a sapling. He had his head shaved regularly. I’d gather with other little rascals at the barbershop and watch Doc’s head get lathered up and scraped by a barber with a straight razor. It was mystifying. Doc could go a day without saying anything other than “uh-huh,” or “nuh-huh.”   

My Aunt flashed a century-old smile before replying sagely, “I don’t know, but thank you for asking.” 

Al Batt’s columns appear in the Tribune every Wednesday.