Thirty Indianola teens had come up with a special plan to celebrate Homecoming. But a stranger’s random act of kindness turned out to be the highlight of the evening.
“Since Homecoming was cancelled, some of my friends and I just decided we were going to kind of do our own,” said Tearani Peters, a senior at Indianola High School.
The Sept. 19 football game had been celebrated as “senior night,” but the usual Homecoming activities, including a dance, were cancelled in light of COVID-19.
But Peters and her friends were determined to have a night to remember, even if it wasn’t what they’d always imagined for their senior year. On Saturday, Oct. 3, they dressed to the nines and paused for a group photo before heading to Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse in Des Moines.
“We wanted to make our own and have fun,” said Ashley Selvage, of their unofficial Homecoming. Most in the group of 30 were IHS seniors, she added.
Even their fancy dinner out was rearranged a bit by the pandemic. They weren’t able to sit all together, but spaced apart at three tables of 10. A couple sitting at a booth near Peters and Selvage asked what the occasion was.
“They asked where we were from and everything. We told them Indianola, and they said, ‘Oh! Our granddaughter goes there,’” Peters said. “We just got to talking, and they told us to have fun.”
Then the pair left. But that hadn’t been their final word.
“At first, the waitress asked us if we knew who they were. I thought they had dined and dashed,” Peters said, chuckling.
The youths were stunned when the server revealed why she was curious: “She said they paid for our dinner, but didn’t want us to know until they had left,” Selvage said. “We were all very surprised. We wished they would’ve been there so we could’ve thanked them!”
But, true to a random act of kindness, the givers wanted it to be not only a surprise, but a mystery.
“They were so humble about it,” Peters marveled. “They told the waitress not to tell us after they left because they didn’t want it to seem like they were just doing it for the gratification.”
Some of the youths did their detective work, though. Wasn’t it this certain couple from Indianola?
Their sleuthing was spot on. The man who treated the group to dinner confirmed his identity to the Indianola Independent Advocate.
And, as it turns out, he has a bit of a history with random acts of kindness. In the past, though, he’s tended to anonymously pick up the tab for people in uniform.
“I’ve done some little things like that. You know — military and police officers. So this wasn’t totally out of the blue for her,” he said, referring to his partner.
She did, however, point out that this would be a random act on a grander scale: “She goes, ‘There’s 30 of them,’” the man recounted, laughing. “We kind of did some quick math.”
The couple had been at Johnny’s to celebrate 20 years together. He’s a truck driver. She’s the co-owner of an Indianola business.
Since they have a granddaughter who’s a senior at IHS, they’re cognizant of how much students have missed, thanks to COVID-19. Even still, he said, none of that was going through his mind while pondering picking up the bill.
“That’s the weird thing,” he said. “Really, none of those thoughts popped into my head. It was just purely a random act.”
Of course, on the drive home, the pair chatted about how “these guys have had a rough year.” At about the same time, the teens at Johnny's were already in the process of paying it forward.
“We all automatically were like, ‘OK, we’re leaving a huge tip,’” Peters said. “That was our immediate reaction.”
Little did they know that the tip was extra generous. Their benefactors had already left the server 20-percent gratuity.
After dinner, the youths went to one of their homes for a bonfire. The next day, life went on as normal — the “new normal” of a pandemic, anyway.
But, according to Selvage, her circle of friends can’t shake the urge to keep the kindness ripple effect going.
“The friends that I was with that night — we were talking about how we should pay it forward somehow and do something for somebody else,” she said.
Their benefactor said he hadn’t thought of them paying it forward when he’d decided to treat them, but “if I could tell them anything, that’s what I would want them to do. … Do it for somebody else who isn’t expecting it.”
His other special request? Think of him when they see other truckers. Business has been good for him, even amid COVID-19, but there’s a stinging stigma toward his profession.
“Sometimes truck drivers can put out a bad image. If there would be anything,” he said, referring to how the teens might thank him, “if they’re around trucks, be courteous.”
Peters said that she and her friends won’t forget him anytime soon.
“Literally, some of the girls at my table started tearing up because it was just an unbelievable feeling,” she said. “Someone just spent hundreds — maybe even a thousand dollars — on just some teenagers at a steakhouse. … It really was just the kindest thing I think I’ve ever experienced.”