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The Minnie Stories

Cleaning Up Your Act - Part 12

Second Chances

I think I mentioned once before, about my neighbour, the one whose little girl I baby-sit for sometimes? Well, I say neighbour, but she’s more than that now…we’ve become real friends. Funny - we just seemed to click from the first day they moved in. They say opposites attract don’t they? (whoever ‘they’ are!)

Well that’s what happened with me and Maha……..a sixty-something Jewish woman from Clapton, and a twenty four year old Muslim from Amman! But somehow we just really got on from day one. Even though we came from such different cultures, we seemed to have so much in common…..the way we felt about a lot of things, about our children, how important family was, you know the sort of thing.

And we laughed so much……like when Maha invited me in to hers for “a little lunch” one day, and the table was covered with so many different dishes and bowls and plates of food, just for the two of us!

“This looks just like when my mother used to make a Friday night meal in our house! So much food.!” I said. “You cooked all this? Wonderful! So tell me, Maha……”

“Stop!” Maha laughed. “Later we’ll talk - first, you eat something!”

Well that did it…! Because that’s exactly what Mum always used to say to us! Whatever the situation, however bad………if it was dinner time, even if you’d rushed in and said

”Mum, Mum, the roof’s just fallen in!”

she’d say

“Okay, later we’ll scream and shout - first, you sit down and eat something!”

Even the food itself seemed familiar…….in fact, you know that Bible story about when the Pharaoh finally allowed the tribes of Israel to leave ( and if I’ve got the story muddled, what difference? It still applies anyway!)……..well, the way me and Maha are so comfortable with each other, so alike, I sometimes wonder if maybe a tribe or two of those wandering Jews back then crossed the Dead Sea, over into what’s now Jordan, and decided

“Wandering, shmandering….! Enough already! Let’s stop here!”

So yesterday, after my grandchildren left, and Bob and I were sitting in the garden just chatting a bit about how the afternoon had gone, we can hear Maha and little Dain in their garden next door, so I popped my head over the fence and asked them if they’d like to come in and meet Bob.

It was nice…they got on well, and of course Bob adored little Dain straight away! But I knew something was bothering Maha; so while Bob was reading Dain’s book with her, I asked Maha what was wrong. And she tells me

“It’s Laith, Minnie…. He’s in prison again. And not for something and nothing like last time…..this is really serious. And I’m so worried about him, and angry at him, and also so ashamed of him, I don’t know what to do”.

I didn’t see her husband, Laith, around very often; although from the odd little bits that came out when me and Maha were talking, I’d got the impression quite a while ago that there was a bit of a problem .

But the little girl, Dain, was just beautiful…! Huge brown eyes, and long black hair, even when she was a couple of years old! I think she looked a lot like her Dad.

“So what’s happened?”

Maha starts crying quietly, I think so Dain won’t notice, but Dain’s laughing as Bob is reading to her, and I can hear he’s showing her how each letter looks, and the sound it makes, just like it’s a game!

“Laith knocked over an old woman on the pavement, as he was running away from robbing a shop” Maha whispers.

“And now he’s in prison, and no-one will visit him except me: his friends and family have disowned him because of what he’s done……! And I’m not making excuses for him - he’s done a really wicked thing! - but he needs help.!”

And she tells me that Laith has never been able to read or write; by the time they gave him the label ‘Dyslexic’, he’d already learnt how to manipulate people - his friends at school to do his homework, and later others, to keep any job he’d had.

As she was telling me this, Bob came over with Dain, full of excitement as she told Maha

“Mummy, Uncle Bob showed me how to read!” And she ran round the garden waving her book in the air!

“I wish you could do that for my husband too!”, Maha said . And she explained what had happened.

”Well, I could go and visit him,”, Bob said. “Even if I don’t approve of what you say he’s done,I tell myself that maybe what he did is not who he is….so I’ll see what I can do”.

After Maha and Dain left, I asked Bob if he thought he really could help Laith,, and why he’d even want to, considering what he’d done; and Bob said it was because it reminded him of when he’d first started work as a prison visitor…

“You were a prison visitor? I didn’t know that!”

“Well, I was a Special Needs teacher, originally, and also visited young offenders. But I retired when my wife got ill, so I could look after her”, he said. “And I remember when I had only been doing the job a couple of years, there was a young man, maybe a bit younger than Laith, and he was in and out of young offenders. When I went to see him, I found out that, like Laith, he also couldn’t read or write…..

School had been terrible for him, and his strict parents punished him for dishonouring the family, as they saw it. And he also learned to manipulate people…and got in with a bad crowd - the usual thing.

So when he described what was happening inside his head when he looked at words, it made me think of the Special Needs kids with Dyslexia that I’d worked with - and I started doing the same with this lad.

“What happened to him?”

“When he came out, he asked me if I’d still help him with his reading and writing, so I did. Then we lost touch for quite a while. But one day I bumped into him in Springfield Park. There was a group of teenage boys playing football, and the guy in charge of them was this lad!

I watched him coaching them, and helping them feel good about themselves, and he was great! When they took a break, I went up to him, and he remembered me….not only remembered, but thanked me!

“This is all because of you”, he said, pointing at the young footballers. “When I got out of that place, and you still believed in me, gave me a second chance, and went on helping me, it made me feel better about myself, like I was worth more than just being in and out of prison for the rest of my life. I wanted to do the same kind of thing - help other kids so they didn’t lose it like I’d done. So thank you - not just from me, from them as well.”

Bob smiled at me, a bit embarrassed. “Sorry if I’ve been sounding off a bit big-headed, Min. But that’s why I’d like to try and help Laith”

I couldn’t say anything, which is a first for me! I felt so full of, I don’t know what to call it………admiration for him, amazement at what he’d done…….. .in the end I just went over and gave him a big hug.

Then he hugged me as well……and when we finally moved apart, we both blushed, and giggled like teenagers, as we went into the kitchen together, and I put the kettle on, while Bob got the cups out of the cupboard.

Read next chapter >>



Cleaning Up Your Act

Introduction To The Story Collection

The Minnie Kerchevsky Stories

Real wisdom can often be found in the most unlikely places....not from teachers, coaches, professors and so on, but from ordinary people who have their own life experiences to draw on to help others.

Cleaning Up Your Act is a collection of the stories of one of these very special people.........

Minnie Kerchevsky is a so-called ‘ordinary woman’, a cleaner, a 'daily', with no pretensions, no super-ego... just a desire to make things better in any way she can; helping those around her to “clean up their acts” in her own unique and heart-warming way!

Minnie believes that what stops us being happy is thinking we don’t have choices - and that feel-good is a state of mind we can always choose to be in!

So in ‘Cleaning Up Your Act’, we gradually learn about Minnie’s own life and events - and how she dealt with challenges and learned how to see raindrops as sunbeams in disguise! - interwoven through the stories she shares about the people she impacts with the homespun wisdom that is the essence of who and how she is, because of who and how she has been.

Each of us has met Minnie, or someone like her, in our lives... and if we haven’t, we’re the poorer for it - so here’s our chance to put that right!


The Collection

1. Minnie >>

2. The Miriam Part Of Me >>

3. Melanie From Accounts >>

4. Getting It Off My Chest >>

5. Kids! >>

6. The Man On The Stairs >

7. Fat Chance! - My Lady In Chelsea >>

8. Having A Minnie Break >>

9. Thank You Terry Wogan >>

10. Maps! >>


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