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Friday, 08 July 2011

Surprise Letter

By Mary B Summerlin who keeps a photostream at Flickr

My sister, brother and I went to a three-room country school. There were outhouses for bathrooms; no lunch system, you brought your own from home; the heating system was wood stoves in each room and the students and teachers kept the fire going.

We all thought Flat Rock School was the very best in the world. The building is now gone but the spirit of the past students is very much alive. As we’ve aged, there’s been talk of trying to get us together for a reunion. Perhaps we’re a step closer because of the surprise letter.

Sister Jean got a surprise letter from Ray. He was in her class at Flat Rock. He is now somewhere around 70 years old. Over the years, Jean and Ray have not been in touch or kept up with each other. They have gone about their separate lives.

Their only common ground is our brother Smith. Smith still lives in the same community and has an auto shop there. Ray still lives in the same community and takes his car to Smith for tune ups and whatever it might need. He must have gotten Jean’s address from Smith.

In the letter, Ray confesses to stealing a dime from Jean when they were in the fourth grade. This has bothered him ever since. He is so sorry and ashamed of his behavior. He knew better and has felt guilty ever since. His parents raised him better that that and he asks her forgiveness.

I interrupt Jean telling me this story to ask if he sent the dime back? Jean said, “No, he sent a $100.”

Well, Jean’s first thought was, it’s found money. What luxury shall I buy or do and she began planning. Then she realized this was special money, it couldn’t just be frittered away. Something special, something with meaning would have to be done with this money.

Jean taught school in Greenville County during her career as a teacher. She taught the disadvantaged, juvenile delinquents, homeless, children who were deprived in most every way. She was devoted to this work.

When she retired, several friends started a scholarship fund in her name at one of the group homes where she taught. When she thought of that, she immediately knew what she would do with the money.

One afternoon a few weeks later, she went to that group home which was for high school girls and held a house meeting. There she explained about her school as a child, she talked about Ray and who he was. Then she told about the letter.

She said that “stealing that 10 cents” became a great burden, one that he had carried around since fourth grade – about 60 years. Then she pointed out that now he was trying to make amends and had sent her $100.

Jean told them that she first thought about spending the money on a day at the spa, or all the ice cream she could eat for a year, or the most expensive meal at a fancy restaurant. Then she told the girls that while that would be great fun, none of those would leave her satisfied. None of those would leave her with the feeling of money well spent.

“So, then I thought of you,” she said with a big smile and smiles from all were returned. “I give you this $100 to buy new books for yourselves – ones you can pick out, ones that you like, ones that you can keep and read and read.”

The girls smiled and cheered as they envisioned new books for themselves. Children who had been so deprived were getting a gift that had been in the making for 60 something years.

Jean left feeling very satisfied. She went home and began to write Ray a thank you note and tell him how the money was used.

First of all, she said she forgave him if that was necessary but she felt awkward doing so since she had no memory of the incident. Either she never knew of the missing dime or the memory of it had faded over the years.

The letter was ended by Jean suggesting that she, Ray and Smith plan a reunion of the Flat Rock Folks for next year.

Last I heard, Ray was gathering names and contacts, Smith had donated the use of our home place for the reunion and Jean was filling in wherever needed. Seems there will be a Flat Rock Reunion next year - another dividend that came from one person trying to clear his conscience.

That Surprise Letter had far reaching and unexpected consequences.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Mary, what a beautiful story. And what a satisfying conclusion. I hope it works out to be a truly joyful occasion.

If more of us had sisters or brothers like yours, the world would be a much better place to live.

Mary, what a great story and such a good lesson for us all.

What a heartwarming story. Thanks Mary for sharing it.

Oh, how wonderfully delightful. Thanks.

Ray should get a medal for being the most responsible person on the face of the earth. Imaging carrying around all that guilt for 60 years and then repaying the theft with interest. Nonetheless, it led to a very happy ending.


I really loved this story.

In fact, you had me at "my sister,brother and I went to a three- room country school."

From that first sentence,I was hooked and enjoyed the conclusion the most... Ray was,er,IS a great guy!

Thank you all for your caring comments. I'll pass them on to Jean, Smith and Ray.

Don't know how I missed this wonderful piece..thank you for sharing it..life has some wonderful moments, many more than we ever know..hope the reunion is grand...

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