Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Tales of my Childhood - Christmas with the Shinhelms

Growing up in the ‘60s and ‘70s in a suburban neighborhood, we had next-door neighbors named the Shinhelms. Mr. Shinhelm was the stereotypical “get off my lawn” mean old German. His grown daughter who lived with him wasn’t much better. Pray to God your baseball/frisbee/wiffleball didn’t go into their yard—there would be hell to pay. They mostly kept to themselves and browbeat the neighborhood kids. We used to have a profane nickname for them based on both syllables of their surname—I’ll leave that to your imagination. They had a well-deserved reputation of being unpleasant, and for the most part the neighborhood kids stayed well away from them. On Halloween, their house was always dark and foreboding. No visitors were welcome.

Every Christmas, my lovely stay-at-home mom would bake banana bread for the neighbors,  mostly for her friends and parents of the other kids I played with. I lived on a long street and it was packed with kids my age. One Christmas, when I was around 10, mom made a few extra loaves and asked me to drop one off at the Shinhelms. I really didn’t mind—it was Christmas. I thought they might not even answer the door when they saw it was a kid. I went around the neighborhood one Saturday morning on deliveries and many of the intended bread recipients weren’t home. I had around four loaves left in a big picnic basket when I got to the Shinhelms—I figured I would just give them their loaf and deliver the rest when the other neighbors got home.

When I got to the Shinhelm’s door, I nervously rang the doorbell. Miss Shinhelm opened the door and said “What?” with all the friendliness of an IRS agent beginning my audit.

“My mom baked some banana bread for you,” I explained.

Her attitude changed instantly. She invited me in. The old man was on the couch and seemed a little less menacing than usual. A little. They fawned over the bread and me a bit. Regaling me with how much they loved banana bread, she took all four loaves out of the basket and thanked me. I started to explain that all four weren’t for them, but something popped into my brain and told me not to. They were so friendly I didn’t have the heart to tell them the remaining loaves were for other people. Or to try and take them back.

When I arrived at home with an empty basket, mom asked, “Oh, was everyone home?” I had to explain that no, I gave four of the ten loaves to the Shinhelms. Mom didn’t lose her temper, but was understandably agitated. She had baked all day the day before to give gifts to many friends and neighbors, not just the mean folks next door. Now she would have to make more and had wasted all that work! I felt horrible, but I really didn’t have the words to explain why I gave them all the bread. I felt guilty about wasting mom’s time and upsetting her.

A few minutes later, the phone rang, and mom went to get the call. When she came back, her eyes were watering and she told me what I had done was totally okay. “Miss Shinhelm just called,” she said. “She was in tears. They thought no one in the neighborhood liked them, and then you show up with multiple loaves of their favorite bread for Christmas. Now she’s crying at what she called “such a generous gift.” She couldn’t stop thanking me for sending you over there. You know, giving them a loaf of bread was an afterthought. Now I’m glad you gave it all to them. I guess sometimes things work out for the best.”

I’m not sure what happened to the Shinhelms. They didn’t live in the neighborhood much longer. I don’t remember them being particularly nice after that, but I don’t remember them yelling at us anymore either.


  1. Oh my goodness, what a beautiful reminder of walking a mile in someone else's shoes. And how a small kindness can make such a big difference in the life of another. Thank you for that!

  2. Thanks for the kind words! So many reasons to love Christmas. And pie!

  3. I know what happened them. They all died from the poisoned banana bread!

  4. That's not very Christmassy, Matt! :)