Editor’s Note: Dennis Lamb graduated from the Chelsea Public High School, and then received his B.A. in Russian from the University of Iowa and his M.A. in Slavic Linguistics from the University of Colorado. After teaching Russian and German at the University of Alabama and Colorado State University, he joined the CIA in 1972 and retired in 2002.
In Prague in 1990, I noticed a woman with a boy about seven years old and asked the woman if it would be alright to give him a piece of candy. She concurred and told the boy it would be okay for him to take the candy. As I watched the boy grope around eagerly for the candy, the woman explained that he was blind. To the delight of the boy and woman, I gave them all I had on me. Surprised and saddened that such a fine looking young boy could be disabled by blindness, I regretted that I did not have more.
In walking along a street in Minsk, Belarus, in 1993, I noticed a large building that looked like a hospital but had a cross on top of it. Curious, I walked in and was told that before the Bolshevik Revolution it had been the town’s Catholic Cathedral. After the Bolshevik Revolution, it had been turned into a training center for Soviet gymnasts. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Minsk’s Polish Catholics mounted a seven month candlelight vigil on their knees outside the building, requesting the return of their cathedral. This included the winter months and several people reportedly ended up in the hospital with frostbite. The Belarus Government finally relented and returned the building to the Polish Catholics.
Before leaving, someone apparently applying scorched earth tactics, smashed the walls with sledge hammers, leaving the lower walls looking like WWII just ended.
In pulling out a wad of the local currency to pay for some religious material in back of the church, I noticed a girl about seven years old looking at it. I then reached into my pocket, pulled out a couple pieces of candy and held them out toward her. She tugged on the dress of the woman she was standing with and obviously asked if it was okay to accept them. The woman smiled and gave her consent. After the little girl retrieved the candy, I went over to speak to the woman, who turned out to be the girl’s aunt. When she learned that I was an American, she noted that the little girl was studying English and encouraged her to try to speak to me in English. The little girl, however, hid behind her aunt’s back. “That’s okay,” I said to the aunt. “Little girls are supposed to be shy.”
Switching from Russian to German, the aunt asked me if I spoke German. When I replied that I did, the aunt then explained that the little girl had been born without a right hand and was embarrassed about it. I had not noticed this when she retrieved the candy, but the cause was obvious – the 1986 Chernobyl disaster that had left much of Belarus glowing in the dark.
About this time, the Polish congregants stood to sing. Believe me, you have not heard anything until you have heard 150-200 formerly repressed Polish Catholics raise their voice to God. I had not heard anything like it before, nor have I since.
I am not ashamed to admit that the affect on me of seeing a young girl born without one hand and then hearing the Polish Catholics singing with all the power and glory of a mighty heavenly host caused tears to well up in my eyes. I subsequently converted to Catholicism.
The moral of this story is that one never knows how great an impact a small act of kindness can have on other people and the returns such kindness can have. The children and impoverished people in Eastern Europe to whom I gave candy and money in the early 1990s were clearly pleased and cheered by these small gestures, gestures that would never have happened had a long, sad face not leaned over and given a dime to a small child in 1947. And had Lob not been so kind and generous, he would not be remembered and read about today.
For my part, I would not have met so many interesting people and had so many interesting experiences. I only regret that Lob does not know the impact his kindness had on me and perhaps some people in Eastern Europe. But maybe he does.
Here’s a toast to Charlie “Lob” Chaloupek.
Thank you for your kindness and service to our country, Charlie! And thank you for enriching my life and making me a better man.
Now that I know where you are buried, I’ll either return your helmet to you or give it to a veterans’ organization with a plaque on condition they place the helmet and plaque in a place of honor to your memory.
And maybe I’ll just stop by the one remaining tavern in Chelsea and buy the patrons a round to your memory.