A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Lyn Hacker: Giving she likes in abundance, but taking – that takes a lot of getting used to

So it started as an all right kind of day. The sun was out, and that was great, and it was comparatively warm, and that was even better. I drove to Wal Mart to get some dog food for Holly, yogurt for me, and pumpkin pie for Bob and was on my way home when I decided to treat myself with a coffee from Starbucks.

I pulled around to the drive thru and ordered my all time favorite, an Americano with no sugar, extra cream, then drove on around to pay. I rolled down the window, and the fresh-faced kid inside handed me my coffee, and uttered the words I never in a million years expected to hear, “No charge,” he said, waving my card back. “The lady in front of you paid for it.”

I was flat out stunned. Stuff like that never happens to me. I was, “wait, wait,” and then thinking I should go out after her to thank her, when it occurred to me, first, she was gone, and second, due to that, this was one instance I was just going to have to suck it up and accept being treated. One would not think that was such an issue, but they obviously don’t know me.

To any that know my background, (daughter of mountain folks who came to the city after the war), the concept of “charity,” was an anathema to us. We would give – happily go through clothes and toys at the end of the year, gather them all together and head to the mountains where we could give them out to relatives who could use them. We’d also pick up hand-me-downs various relations thought we “should have.” That was not considered charity to us or to our relatives – the concept of “hand-me-downs” was part of our culture, and in many ways expected. We were always trading clothes around, as well as dishes, tools, car parts, seeds, etc. So that wasn’t charity.

But an outright stranger, giving something to us for no reason, never expecting a thank you, was something we would do to others, but we could not have accepted from others, if that can be understood. We couldn’t have accepted “charity.”

Fast forward . . .

Fast forward to present day. I have an elderly relation who lives nearby, and who could use a thing or two, or some help at times. This is a remarkable woman who has spent much of her life on her own, working sometimes two, sometimes three, humble jobs, many hours a day, most days of the week, and has hewed out of all this her own house, her own car, and an independence and determination that belies issues life has dealt her. Her spirit is indomitable – she has no need of affirmations or protein drinks or even coffee (which I MUST have). Now elderly and disabled, sometimes she could use a little help with things. I have no problem wanting to help her in any way I can, but the problem is how hard she makes it on me.


She considers everything that anybody else does or gives to her as “charity,” and as a mountain-bred, mountain-raised woman of independent means (now living in the city), she’ll have none of it.

Now if I were to fall sick and wind up in the hospital, she’d be the first one to trade off 12-hour shifts, sleeping in a chair, watching over me, despite her age and health. Always a woman of taste and style, if she has good shoes or outfits she’s not wearing, she’s the first to find a new home for them – touting excuses such as “I can’t fasten the strap,” or “the pants are too short for my legs.” (She has the same aversion to things that I have, that aren’t being “useful”). Turn it around, though, and it’s a whole new scenario.

So I bring her a heat and massage mat I’ve not used for over seven years, and she starts in with, “Here, let me pay you for that…,” reaching for her purse or her checkbook. “No, no, no,” I say, and she rejoins with, “Well, let me pay you for your gas for driving in…” “No, no, no,” I’ll say again, “I was coming to town anyway.” “Well, let me take you to lunch, then,” she pushes. It’s like talking to a brick wall. It’s one of the most frustrating things I’ve had to learn to deal with in my old age.

The ‘payback’ syndrome

I know she gets, that we, in the family, love her and are more than happy to help her out in whatever way we can. What she can’t get around is that we don’t want compensation for it, and certainly don’t expect it, especially if it hasn’t cost us anything to make such a gift or do such a service. This has led me to realize, (because I suffer from the same “payback syndrome”), it is a gift in itself, and something of an art, to graciously accept a gift from someone else, something that is given for no particular reason, and for which there is no expected payback.

It’s been a subject of several psychological treatments, such as the one by John Amodeo, PhD, MFT, author of Dancing With Fire: A Mindful Way To Loving Relationships.

He has classified it an article called “Five Reasons Why Receiving Is Harder.”
-First, he says, it is a defense against intimacy. If we can keep people distant, we can defend our hearts against being hurt;
-Second, it is a letting go of control, that receiving invites us to welcome a vulnerable part of ourselves. To “welcome” a vulnerable part of ourselves – wow, that’s one to wrap your insecurities around;
-Third is a fear of strings attached;
-Fourth is a belief that it is selfish to receive, that religion, perhaps, has taught us that we’re selfish to receive;
-Fifth is a self-imposed pressure to reciprocate, to protect one’s self from being in someone’s debt.

“Letting ourselves receive deeply and graciously is a gift to the giver,” Armodeo writes in his article. “It conveys that their giving has made a difference — that we’ve been affected.”

The greatest gift

Well, I’m not going to change my relation at this point in the game, although I wish she could accept whatever I, or any one else in the family wants to give her, more easily. I have mostly worked in care-taking sorts of jobs, such as taking care of racehorses, foaling mares, breaking yearlings, and then working in the medical field helping people with breathing problems. Now retired, I find I miss the ability to minister to those that might need something I can offer, so I do consider it a gift to be able to do just that – give without thought of recompense.

To me, it is a great high to be able to solve a problem for a friend, give something that is needed to them. It is highly frustrating to have that answer or that something that is needed, and have to climb walls to accomplish giving it. And yet, on a deeper level, I understand. And we are who we are, and are not here to meet each others’ expectations, so I am left with the realization that this is just one of those things I’m going to have to deal with.

Maybe that, after all, is the greatest gift I can give her.


Lyn Hacker is a Lexington native raised by Appalachian parents to be not only educated but proficient in the living arts – working very hard, playing music, growing gardens, hog farming, orchard management and beekeeping. The UK graduate has been a newspaper staff writer and production manager, a photography lab manager, a Thoroughbred statistics manager, a Bluegrass singer and songwriter, a registered respiratory therapist, a farmer, a Standardbred horsewoman, a Red Barn Radio promoter and a beekeeper. She lives on a farm in Sadieville.

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