Tootsie Pop Personas

 by Joanie Butman


There is no denying the tootsie pop personas of Northeasterners: hard coating on the outside with a soft, chewy center. Being one of them, I felt compelled to write something in our defense. Surprisingly, that same southern friend who provided the material for last week’s Have a Coke and a Smile also offered the answer to the familiar question,“How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?” Less than she originally thought.

Undoubtedly, Yankees have a hard protective coating – perhaps as a carryover from all the layers we need to wear to shelter ourselves from the cold. Maybe that explains the scarcity of smiles my friend noticed. It’s hard work keeping yourself bundled up like that!

The fastest way I know to melt away that tough exterior is with any small gesture of kindness. It’s just so unexpected, we don’t usually know how to process it. As I mentioned last week, our first reaction is often suspicion. “Is she talking to me? Is she for real? What does she want?” But when people realize the answers are “Yes, yes and NOTHING,” they are pleasantly surprised and usually warm up immediately. For example, one Valentine’s Day I handed the cashier at the grocery store a rose, and after her initial confusion, she burst into tears. It is a tradition I continue, and she cries every time.

The reason I revisit the subject is because my southern friend wasn’t just bashing Northerners. She also told me a story that reveals that gooey center everyone can’t wait to savor. There is a family in town who recently lost their home in a fire. The Boy Scouts were preparing for their annual tag sale, and my friend was working on the setup team. Being the kind-hearted soul she is, she suggested to the leaders that maybe this family could come and shop before they opened for business. They lost everything so needed to equip an entire house quickly. The Boy Scouts embraced the idea and welcomed the family into their temporary “outlet.” When the family went to check out, the cashier waved them through saying, “You’ve been taken care of.” Outside, a team of family friends waited with pickups to transport the bounty to their new rental house so that it would be ready for their arrival later that same day.

I got goose bumps for two reasons:

  1. That northern outer shell had cracked wide open to reveal the best of ourselves to a skeptical Southerner.
  2. She just summed up our shared Christianity in one short sentence. "You've been taken care of." So much for my 15 years of Bible study.

Only because I was talking to a Southerner did I feel comfortable sharing that second thought. Northerners DO NOT discuss their religious beliefs openly for fear of being politically incorrect. Those are best kept for Sunday mornings. “A place for everything and everything in its place.” In the south, EVERYONE talks about God. For instance, here in the north our first question when meeting someone at a cocktail party might be, “What do you do?” as opposed to the southern, “What church do you attend?”

Regardless of their religious beliefs, the Boy Scouts lived up to their slogan:  Do a good turn daily. They explain it on their website:

DUTY TO OTHER PEOPLE: Many people need help. A cheery smile and a helping hand make life easier for others. By doing a good turn daily and helping when you're needed, you prove yourself a Scout and do your part to make this a better world.

I wonder if I can plagiarize that into the Choose Wisely! mission statement. It compliments so beautifully the mission we've been given  to “encourage one another and build each other up.” 

The Scout’s, by illustrating their commitment to make this a better world, taught that family firsthand just how sweet and delicious the center of a Tootsie Pop can be.

We may be a serious bunch, but don’t be deceived. There is a surprisingly soft, sweet side at our core. It’s called heart. We just guard ours more closely than our southern counterparts. It might take a little extra effort, but when you melt away the layers of protective veneer we've spent years polishing, you will find deep, lasting relationships that we protect just as fervently.

We may not all be Boy Scouts, but we can all certainly choose to do a good turn daily wherever we reside.

Do you have a story about someone choosing to do a good turn and how it helped make our world (or just one person’s world) better?