A Little Praise Goes a Long Way: A Christmas Gift Never Forgotten
By Hobie Morris
To give pleasure to a single heart by a single act is better than a thousand heads bowing in prayer.– Mahatma Gandhi
The influence of each human being on others in this life is a kind of immortality. – John Quincy Adams
For 96 years, a great Utican has been silently standing at the very busy intersection of Genesee Street and the Parkway. Each day thousands of vehicles speed by, their occupants too rushed to notice this solitary man. His anonymity not always so. If you look carefully, his left hand is reaching toward a pocket. The sculptor knew why, as did a young boy at Christmas many years ago.
It is a bitterly cold Christmas Day morning more than a century ago. The young boy is dressed for the harsh weather. A heavy canvas bag filled with tightly rolled Utica newspapers hangs heavily on his thin shoulders. His patrons are waiting anxiously for their large Christmas paper. Snow is falling heavier now as he continues his long route.
The man’s beautiful Genesee Street home – imposingly standing above Oneida Square – suitably reflects its owner’s importance not only in Utica and this state, but also our nation. His prominence and affluence far different from the paperboy’s whose immigrant parents are living on Miller Street. A street, among many in Utica containing struggling immigrants all trying to make a new life in the land of endless opportunities.
His full name is James “Sunny Jim” Schoolcraft Sherman. Sherman is a former Utica mayor, political leader, influential member of the U.S. House of Representatives and the 27th vice president of the United States. Unquestionably, he was one of Utica’s great native sons.
The boy kicks up snow as he walks up the snow-covered sidewalk leading to the elegant house’s wide porch and massive wooden front door. He grabs a paper and is about to place it on the door sill when the door opens. He hands the paper to a well-dressed man. The lad is turning to leave when the man says “wait.” When the vice president of the United States says it, you do it.
The paperboy stops and looks up at the imposing but kindly man. Reaching into his pocket, he pulls out a shiny silver dollar and hands it to the boy. Sherman thanks the lad for his good work… A big grin comes to the boy’s rosy cheeks and an excited “thank you” to his lips.
Kind words that this young paperboy never forgot, long after the silver dollar was spent.
Sherman’s equally famous friend Elihu Root said of Sherman, “His life made men happier, and his example is making men better.”
“Success is all about being able to extend love to people…not in a big capital-letter sense but in the everyday: little by little, task by task, gesture by gesture, word by word,” wrote actor Ralph Fiennes.
The boy grew up to be a handsome young man. Like James Sherman, he graduated from Hamilton College and became a lifelong Utican, an attorney, a political and community leader.
We will never precisely know what may have precipitated this son of poor but proud immigrants to excel in life. Could it have been such praise and encouraging words on that snowy Christmas day?
Editor’s note: Hobie Morris is a Brookfield resident and simple country man.