“I come from a small town in northwestern Pennsylvania. It is the type of place where whether you have lived here all of your life or are just back home visiting for a day. Going to the grocery store is a social event because you are going to run into at least 10 people you know. There is a quiet little street in our town where the houses were all built in the 1960s and many of the neighbors have lived there since those houses went up. My grandparents built a little house on that street in 1962. My gramma passed away 10 years ago, but my gramps still lives in that little red house. Across that street lived Gramma’s best friend, Mary Ann Mays.
Now, everyone in town knew Mary Ann. She seemed to be related to half of the town, and the half she wasn’t related to she knew by name. Mary Ann didn’t have a mean bone in her body. I can’t tell you how many hundreds of times I walked into my grandparents’ house and found Mary Ann sitting at their table, and the equal number of times I walked in and found no one was home and I had to walk across the street to find them sitting at her’s.
There was nothing fancy about Mary Ann. She was the lunch lady in the elementary cafeteria for over 40 years. She was a simple woman who lived in a simple house in a simple little town. She worked every church event and served ox roast sandwiches (those not from western Pennsylvania might have to look that up) every single year at the town’s annual fireman’s picnic. But Mary Ann’s life wasn’t easy, far from it. She had been widowed far too soon, lived through the death of her oldest son, and from my understanding, had lost several babies in pregnancy (a type of pain my wife and I are unfortunately familiar with). Yet despite all of it, it occurred to me I have never seen her in a bad mood and never heard a mean word come out of her. Mary Ann was just a ray of sunshine in my life, but then again, she was my grandmother’s best friend, so I thought I was treated special.
I was wrong.
When I was a child, I would see Mary Ann every day in the school cafeteria. Every single day, she would give me a hug, tell me how special I was, and tell me to have a great day. Mary Ann Mays passed away last Friday at the age of 88 years old. In our small town, there has been an outpouring of love from the community. Mary Ann’s obituary has been shared thousands of times on social media. Reading the hundreds and hundreds of comments attached to those shares, I was overwhelmed with joy.
It turns out I wasn’t treated special at all. Mary Ann Mays treated every single kid in this town the same way. There were hundreds of comments that told the same story.
‘My whole life, I’ve known this woman from church and being a former student at Elk valley (Elementary). She always gave me free waters at lunch and would give the best hugs. The conversations we had were always heart filled and I absolutely miss them. Knowing she’s gone is going to hurt really bad for years and years on. I love you Miss Mays rest easy you beautiful soul.’ –One of many comments on her obituary.
Hundreds upon hundreds of comments from teenagers, 20 years olds, 30 years olds, 40-year-olds, and older — all said the same thing with their own story. Mary Ann knew every kid by name and made them feel special with a hug and smile. There are stories about her secretly paying for a student’s lunch, stories about her making their day better when they were going through hard times as a child, but mostly stories about her infinite unconditional love and joy. And the hugs, Mary Ann was a hugger.
I was also right.
I was special, but it turns out, Mary Ann thought everyone was. And in that, there was a beauty that is rarely seen in our world.
As I sit here and write this article, preparing to be a pallbearer for a woman who meant a great deal to me, I am overwhelmed with my own joy, relearning that a person can add so much to the lives of so many.
Mary Ann Mays teaches us all you don’t have to be rich or famous to make a difference. You don’t need to be a doctor, a lawyer, or a politician. You don’t need to go on mission trips or to be the one to end world hunger. All it really takes is love. Selfless love from the heart, and the steadfast belief that everyone you meet is special, despite where they come from, what they look like, or anything else. Mary Ann taught us that we really are all the same. We are all children of God and we should treat each other accordingly. She will be missed dearly.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Jacob Tobolewski. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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