The Idle American: What Happens to a Good Deed?



This week, my route to productive missions was sidetracked by a proverb dating back 900 years and a Portuguese custom which faded from practice some 300 years ago.     

As productivity lessens in later life, one is sometimes guilty of over-analysis, probing the depths of understanding too far.

Been there lately? If not, maybe you’re not old enough, or perhaps you’ve learned to downplay interest in the “I-wonder-whys” of life.

This week, my route to productive missions was sidetracked by a proverb dating back 900 years and a Portuguese custom which faded from practice some 300 years ago….


   I will deal with each topic forthwith, hopeful that you’ll choose other pursuits if neither of them piques your interest.

First, the proverb: “No good deed goes unpunished.”

Second, the long-abandoned practice in a monastery near Lisbon, Portugal. In the 1700s, monks and nuns there used egg whites to starch their cassocks, clerical collars, robes and habits…..



Don Newbury

 I confess that my mind goes into “tilt mode” when confronting some words and phrases. I can never remember if there is a difference in “flammable” and “inflammable.” When trying to remember the difference in “imply” and “infer,” my mind scrambles. (Don’t try to make me understand. Experts have tried, concluding that my corral of understanding is–in reality–the size of a pig pen, with big gaps in the fence.)

On the “good deeds” thing, I think I have a current example that helps me to understand the meaning of the phrase–one which seems to be a mishmash of Biblical references….


   Here goes: My wife and I – living in the first of 10 homes built on our cul de sac some 20 years ago – are beneficiaries of generous neighbors who suit us to a “T.”   The “T” is a perfect alphabetical choice; they truly are Trophy neighbors.

Soon after moving in, the man next door–claiming to desire “more exercise and more sweat”–asked if I minded his mowing and edging our yard. Minded? During half of my professional years, yard care was provided. I immediately granted him permission; We don’t even own a rake!

He was heaven-sent; I imagined hearing the rustle of angel wings as he spoke. He has mowed/edged dozens of times–methodically and punctually–the way perfectionists do….


   That said, he has continued this good deed weekly in all growing seasons. We’ve offered “thank-you’s,” which seem minor indeed, and handed off some foodstuff from time to time. I’m sure, though, that he’d keep right on mowing without thought of reciprocation. He mentions regularly how much he enjoys these labors. (Good for him!)

Surely the “good deed” thing fits in because soon, he was punished!

He and his wife, planning a two-week vacation in Florida, asked if we’d keep an eye on things, pick up packages delivered to their front porch and ARRANGE FOR SOMEONE TO MOW OUR YARDS….


   I agreed, engaging a student to mow and edge at the end of week one. He was unavailable for the second mowing, however. Others begged off, most with lame excuses. On mowing day, there was a cool breeze, with a temperature in the low 80s. I decided to mow their front yard, with rest stops, if needed. It was, at most, a 30-minute job. I was a bit flagged. But, I proceeded non-stop, perhaps a bit short of “flying colors” and a flag that wasn’t noticeably limp.

I plumb forgot that our neighbors have one of those “see all” security cameras. Moments into my mowing venture, they spotted me on their phone screens, almost a thousand miles away. My “good deed” could well have been punished. They sent texts to “cease and desist” mowing immediately. (I did, right after that last swath.)

They didn’t call the sheriff, nor even initiate the conversation upon returning home. We apologized, of course, promising to be more specific about arrangements in the future which will NOT involve my participation….


  Now, the egg-white starching.

Maybe real starch came along. Maybe they ran out of ways to use egg yolks.                                                 ‘

Uh, maybe the “yolk’s on us.”….


   Dr. Newbury, longtime university president, writes weekly and speaks regularly at venues throughout Texas. Phone: 817-447-3872. Email:

Please click to find Don’s humorous and inspirational memoir on Amazon.

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