Painting the World with Kindness

By Kim Seeley

My husband’s sister, Linda, was the free spirit of the family. While the older sister, Barbara Jean, was dutifully cleaning up the kitchen, she would holler, “Linda! It’s your turn to dry the dishes!” Linda could be heard, but not seen, serenely tucked into the high branches of the maple tree in the back yard, giggling at her sibling’s admonition. “Linda! I’m gonna tell Mama!” The recriminations were fruitless. Linda would not reappear from her hiding place until the chores were done. Hatred of household duties would stay with her throughout life.

Linda was the rebel in the family as a child; she protested mandatory family visits on Sunday afternoons, often attempting to slide across the car seat and out the other door when her father forced the issue. It wasn’t that she was unhappy with her family – it was just the idea that horseback riding with one of her friends was more appealing. In fact, both her siblings and her school friends describe her as a happy, good-natured girl, even-tempered with a ready smile. Her sunny nature remained a true constant because few of her acquaintances in her personal life or business life ever saw her lose her temper.

She was the only child who moved more than twenty minutes from home, and for a few years she and her first husband lived in Australia. Now around here, that’s really leaving home. Linda’s energetic, independent spirit led her to a whirlwind type of existence far beyond the scope of the childhood farm. While she was working at a bank, she and another friend saw the need for a temp agency in their area. They saved their money, put together a proposal and went to the bank for a loan. They were in business.

The company they started was innovative in that it gave temporary workers, mostly women, benefits and decent wages. In six months, they were operating in the black. The company outgrew its office space several times in the first few years, until Linda and her partner built their own building for their headquarters. The company expanded with a branch in New York City, which Linda personally oversaw with visits at least once a week. She became the master of packing the carry-on bag.

My husband’s family was aware that Linda was successful, but mostly unaware as to the extent of her success. We listened to her company’s ads on the radio in the morning, and we were pleasantly surprised to hear that her company was named to the Fortune 500 list. One of the reasons for this was her own sense of modesty. When she attended family functions, she inquired about her nieces and nephews, old neighbors and high school friends. When asked about her business, she would simply reply, “It’s doing fine.”

One Sunday, Linda had invited all of her brothers and sisters and their families to her house for lunch. Her older sister, Barbara Jean, made the comment, “Well, I am glad this week is over. I have been washing windows, and I am worn slam out.” Knowing of Linda’s lifelong hatred of housekeeping, she then asked, “Have you washed your windows this fall?”

Linda replied, without missing a beat, “Nope. When they get so dirty I can’t see through them, I’ll just buy a new house!” We all enjoyed a good laugh, because although Linda’s house was spotless, we all knew it wasn’t because of her elbow grease.

One day, on one of her rare Sunday visits to the family farm, she made an announcement, “I’m retiring. I’m selling my half of the company.” And so she did. With some of the proceeds from her sale, Linda bought a duplex in a nearby beach area. She kept half the duplex for herself and rented out the other half. She called each brother and sister and told us all, “You can use this place anytime I’m not there. Just call and check.” We did. My daughters and I used the beach house several times. It was just a short walk to the ocean, and it was on a peaceful stretch of the beach, away from the boardwalk and the masses of people.

A few years later, Linda made another announcement, “I’m selling the condo at the beach, and I’m buying a house on Sanibel Island, Florida.” Once again, she was extremely generous with offers for us to use the house. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law both visited with her down there, and we all knew the door was open if we wished to visit.

Upon retirement, Linda took up painting. She took lessons at a local art gallery, and soon she began to show her work. Once again, her imagination and creativity brought her success. During this time, she was also a volunteer with the American Red Cross, serving on their board, as well as serving on the board of her alma mater, a well-respected private university. She donated countless time and money to these two organizations. She was also the first female Rotary member in her region, not because of any espoused feminist cause, simply because of a desire to support their mission.

One day, about four years ago, we got a phone call from my sister-in-law, Barbara Jean. Linda’s husband had called with news that she was sick, and he was flying her home from Florida to run some tests. A few days later, the doctors delivered the diagnosis – pancreatic cancer. This was a known enemy in my husband’s family; it had taken Granddad’s life in just a few months several years before. The progression of Linda’s disease was just as swift as Granddad’s. In a few months, at the age of 60, she was gone.

Even in her last days on this earth, her generosity and strength of spirit left us amazed. Never having had children of her own, she had left the bulk of her estate to her husband, her brothers and her sister, but she made special provisions for a few friends. One of her friends had never owned a home; Linda left her enough money to buy a house. An animal lover all of her life, she bequeathed the local animal shelter a substantial sum of money. Her husband saw to her special requests, including the gifts of her paintings to her family and a local foundation. Even after her death, the sale of Linda’s paintings helped renovate an old school that now houses a library, an art gallery, classrooms, a piano studio and an auditorium.

Her gravestone bears the image of her artist’s palette, and a rainbow, which represents her favorite song, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Under her name and dates are engraved the words, “She Painted the World with Kindness,” an epitaph proffered by my daughter. “How perfect,” we all thought. That is exactly what she did.

About this writer

  • Kim Seeley Kim Seeley, a former librarian and English teacher, lives with her husband, Wayne, in Wakefield, Virginia. She is a frequent contributor to Sasee and Chicken Soup for the Soul. Her most recent story, “Amanda’s Jonquils,” can be found in Chicken Soup: Messages from Heaven. She loves to read, play the piano, travel and spend time with her grandson, Evan.

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2 Responses to “Painting the World with Kindness”

  1. Debbie Salomonsky says:

    The author’s description of her sister-in-law had me vividly imagining her in life. A loving tribute.

  2. Hello Ms.Kimberly Seeley,

    I am not sure if you are the one who wrote the wonderful story “Amanda’s Jonquils,” from the Messge from Heaven book of the Soul book of the Chicken Soup for the Soul or not. The story, however, touched my heart and soothed my soul in a very positive way.

    Best wishes,
    Hamza Balol
    Saudi Arabia

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