The Town of Kindness

A Story in Memory of Nurse Julie

Editor’s note: I wrote the original of this story many years before meeting my nurse-mentor, Julie. She died in October, 2013, after a long journey with cancer. Julie taught me that sometimes the most comforting thing one can do when sorrow comes is to wash the floor, so today I’m sharing this story with you. — MAB

Scullery Girls by Rudolf KremlickaThe women and men of Kindness are scrubbing the streets of the town. They are scrubbing with bristle brushes and buckets of water. Scrubbing over and over the cornerstones and cobblestones and bricks and pavements of the streets. They scoop the brushes, whoosh, into the buckets. Sweep, sweep, scrub-scrub-scrub, sweeping their brushes around those old, worn curbs and courses of sidewalk, clear water darkening to black.

And you know this one morning at the end of the month the pleasure is so clear; my hands feel the warm water rinsing and dripping off the wooden back of the brush, the bristles softening with age and use. Still scrubbing, I dream beside the soft, old mud on the side of the one street where there is no sidewalk. The dust and old leaves in the gutter turn wet and run down the storm drain with the water.

And the children of our town are bringing the buckets of water. Warm water, and it’s slopping out down into their shoes, slopping into their shoes as they carry these buckets, which are heavy, full, slippery. Children carry; they lug, heft, slosh, pull, tug on these buckets, and bump them down to their mothers and fathers.

The mothers and fathers of Kindness scrub the streets. And the small children squeeze leaves of ceanothus, the soap-making bush; they Haltern Canalizzazionepick leaves and twigs and berries of ceanothus; they scrub it in the water, where it makes soapy bubbles in the palm of the hand. It smells a slightly sweet, green smell. And the ceanothus soap goes into the buckets of water and we scrub it over the pavements, over the dip in the curb where the storm drain opens, over the handicapped ramps at the corners. We are scrubbing the brick wall of the day care on the corner, and then the rain comes.

The rain comes, the warm rain washes down on us. The rain wets our faces and our backs and our wool sweaters. We are easing our muscles in this warm water. The men and women and children of Kindness are wet. And we are happy.

House of Love and Psyche in Ancient OstiaImage credits (from top): Scullery Girls by Rudolf Kremlička, oil on canvas, 1919. Rudolf Kremlička [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Haltern am See (Germany), water and decoration with stones in the street near the tower, color photograph, 2009. By MM (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

House of Love and Psyche in ancient Ostia, color photograph of pavement with multicolored marble, 2011. By Dalbera from Paris, France [CC-BY-2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons.

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