The seeds of the kindness, in full bloom during Monday's latest snow dump, were planted years ago.
"We bought it in 1985 from a garage sale. It's nothing fancy, but it keeps running," Jim Sieburg says as he adjusts the choke and brings his 5-horsepower snowblower to life on the first pull of the starter cord. Still a relative newlywed back then, Tammy Sieburg spotted the old Montgomery Ward castoff and figured correctly that her husband would want it.
The seeds for what the Sieburgs do with that snowblower in their Des Plaines neighborhood were planted years before that.
"It's just being nice," Tammy says in explaining why her husband is clearing snow from the driveway of the widow across the street. "His parents were the same way. They'd help everybody."
Of course, Tammy recognizes her late in-laws' kind deeds because she grew up with the same kind of parents in Art and Pat Lukowicz. Growing up just a block from where she lives now, Tammy remembers her father using his snowblower to clear their neighbors' sidewalks.
"He'd just walk with that snowblower down the walk to our place," she says. Now that her dad is 80 and uses a walker, Tammy says "we were thinking of taking the spark plugs out" to keep him from clearing the neighborhood.
"They threatened me," quips Art, who moved into the neighborhood in 1961 "when I could stand on the roof and see Elgin" and bought a quality snowblower after the Blizzard of 1967.
"I would do the entire sidewalk and then the street," remembers Art, whose cul-de-sac generally is one of the last city streets to be plowed. "After it died, I bought a new one and only got to use it two years."
He hired a service this year, but his neighbors sometimes beat them to the punch. "One of our neighbors keeps reminding me that it's payback time," Art says. "We've got good neighbors."
The suburbs are filled with good Samaritans. By the time that my family puts on boots and grabs our shovels, the sidewalk in front of our suburban home is usually clear, compliments of neighbors (one a Democrat and the other a Republican) who own massive snowblowers. That inspires us to clear the side sidewalk for a neighbor who has been dealing with health issues.
Doing good deeds is not something he sets out to do, says Jim, who started clearing the snow after every storm for one neighbor whose husband was sick -- he's now been dead for a dozen years. He used to clear another widow's drive, until she died.
"I just went and did hers because she lived alone," Jim figures. "I like snowplowing."
A carpenter, Jim admits to getting a little cold during one of this winter's bigger snowfalls when he needed nearly eight hours to hit all the spots. His wife, a substitute teacher, and their two sons -- Troy, 27, a patent attorney, and Cory, 26, who is getting his master's degree -- provide backup as needed, especially since Jim's new job with the CTA has him working afternoon and evenings.
Tammy prefers summer and says she likes mowing even more than Jim likes snowplowing. But their sons, who played hockey during their years at Elk Grove High School, and their three English Springer Spaniels (Foster, 13, Katie, 10, and 4-year-old Link, who finished second in the nation in an agility competition last year) all can handle the snow and cold.
After Tammy had to leave the big snowblower in the street because it was too heavy for her to push back up the drive, "I got her a smaller one," says Jim, who figures his wife and sons will have things in good shape without him. They could consider it part of the celebration for his 57th birthday today.
In addition to clearing the sidewalks and drives for some of his neighbors, Jim might be clearing a path to his own future.
"Hopefully," Jim says, "when we're older, people will do this for us."