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Kagan McLeod for Reader's DigestA SOLDIER’S SUPRISE
by Gail Litrenti-Benedetto, Park Ridge, Illinois
It is spring of 1943 during World War II. Standing among hundreds of new soldiers at Camp Grant, in Illinois, my father, Sam, just 18 years old, waits as a truck slowly drives by. A full field pack is randomly tossed to each soldier. “How strange,” my father thinks, as he sees his last name, Litrenti, marked on each item in his pack. “How did they know it was me when they tossed the pack?” He was impressed! Beating all odds, my father was tossed a field pack from World War I—his own father’s.
by Dan Rolince, Golden, Colorado
On a cool night lit only by the orange glow of fire, we rushed to my grandfather’s home as his decades-old barn burned to the ground. The firemen let us stand nearby as they pumped water from the creek a quarter mile away. We watched the barn go up in flames, which stirred memories of jumping off foot-wide wooden beams into the hay below. The real sadness came as my elderly grandfather, who did not get out of bed, quietly asked if his cows were safe. He hadn’t had dairy cows in a dozen years.
A MOTHER’S WISDOM
by Lori Armstrong, Kelseyville, California
I have always worn my children’s birthstones around my neck. One morning, when I was late for work, my infant son Larry’s topaz birthstone fell from my gold chain. I frantically searched for it, whispering to myself, “I lost my Larry, but I will get him back.”
That day, Larry’s cardiologist called with test results from one of his first checkups. He would need emergency heart surgery. Happily, the operation was a success, and I whispered in Larry’s ear, “I thought I lost you, but I knew I’d get you back.”
Kagan McLeod for Reader's Digest
THE GOOD DOCTOR
by Danica Helfin, Tifton, Georgia
Toto was a white dog with a small red tongue, and his stuffing was red as well. When his seams began to come apart beneath his knitted collar, it looked to my six-year-old eyes as though he were bleeding. That night, my father left for his shift in the emergency room with Toto wrapped in a blanket. The next day, Dad showed me the X-rays and Polaroid photographs of the
surgery. Beneath the bandage on Toto’s neck was a clean row of stitches. I still have the injury report! I love you, Dad.
A SMALL FORTUNE
by Ron Fleming, Fort Drum, New York
While walking across an open, grassy field, I became excited as my hand swooped toward the ground like an eagle attacking its prey. I picked up half of a $5 bill. I continued to walk around looking for the other half but thought to myself it would be impossible to find it on such a windy day. As I lifted my head, I spotted the other half of the bill tangled in crabgrass. Somehow, finding two halves of a ripped $5 bill felt better than working for a twenty.
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by Suzanne Cifarelli, Albany, New York
Don’t let her sleep in your bed.” That’s what I heard over and over after my daughter was born.
So I didn’t, unless she was sick. Now my baby is almost six, and every night, after we read and sing songs and turn off the light, I lie down with her before she falls asleep. We whisper to each other, and I watch her eyelids start to flutter. I smell her hair and kiss her forehead. And I wish I had done this every night.
by Angela Bradley-Autrey, Deer Park, Washington
I was four, playing outside in the humid Kentucky air. I saw my grandfather’s truck and thought, Granddad shouldn’t have to drive such an ugly truck. Then I spied a gallon of paint. Idea! I got a brush and painted white polka dots all over the truck. I was on the roof finishing the job when he walked up, looking as if he were in a trance.
“Angela, that’s the prettiest truck I’ve ever seen!” Sometimes I think adults don’t stop to see things through a child’s eyes. He could have crushed me. Instead, he lifted my little soul.
THE LONG LIFE OF ROOM 1108
by Laurie Olson, Dayton, Nevada
A long flight of weathered steps led to a hollow wooden door with rusty numbers beckoning us into room 1108. Inside, we barely noticed the lumpy bed, faded wood paneling, and thin, tacky carpet.
We could see the seashore from our perch and easily wander down to feel the sand between our toes. We returned again and again until the burgeoning resort tore down our orange-shingled eyesore. Forty years later, my husband periodically sends me short e-mails that declare the time: 11:08. “I love you, too,” I write back.
A Date With Fate
by Emily Page Hatch, Wilmington, North Carolina
In a kitschy bar in Cambridge, he asked to sit at my table, though later he would insist that I made the first move. I was intrigued by his tattoos. He thought I went to Harvard. All we had in common was that we’d both almost stayed home. Friends had dragged us out on a frigid February evening. We still never agree on anything, except that it’s a darn good thing we sucked it up that snowy night. Our wild blue-eyed son always stops us in our tracks, reminding us that fate is just as fragile as our memory.
Kagan McLeod for Reader's DigestPERFECT DAY
by Marybob Straub, Smyrna, Georgia
We went looking for a wedding dress on Sunday. Laughing, we made for the door of a bridal shop. This would surely be the first of many stores before we found the perfect gown. Having witnessed other brides and their mothers, we vowed to be happy in these moments. Unexpectedly, my mind went back to the day we brought her home some 27 years ago. I said a silent thank-you to the young mother who, by letting her go, allowed her to be mine at this precious time. Two hours later, there she stood, in the dress of her dreams. My beautiful girl.
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by Pat Guthrie, Pulaski, Virginia
My elderly sister decided for the first time to stay up until midnight on New Year’s Eve in New York City to watch the ball drop. The next morning, she reported that she was disappointed. When I asked her why, she said that on the news the day before, the reporters had talked about the crystals inside the ball and what a piece would be worth if someone got ahold of one. But then the ball descended very slowly. She’d expected it to crash and that people would scramble for the pieces. She’d wanted to see that!
by Julie Liska, Seward, Nebraksa
Dad auctioned off his faithful red tractor, rented out the land, and retired from farming in 1982. He and Mom moved to town. But they reserved a small plot of land for a garden and returned each week of summer to tend it. Winter brought new challenges. Dad had his hips replaced, bypass and cataract surgeries, and a stroke. Yet each spring the garden was planted, watered, lovingly tended—the bounty shared with all. Now Dad is 93; his pale blue eyes dodge the sun as he gingerly plucks red tomatoes from the vine. “What will you remember about me?”
Kagan McLeod for Reader's DigestDARK WATERS
by Daryl Eigen, Portland, Oregon
Night wreck diving in Micronesia is scary. One hundred feet down, the water is the blackest. Two of us dived toward a sunken ship that soon loomed large in the dark water. We felt the ghosts of the Japanese sailors who had died with this WWII freighter. Swimming deeper into the ship’s bowels, my buddy suddenly hit a layer of reflective silt, blinding us. Together we groped through the ship, breaking through the uninterrupted, silent blackness of the sea. Watching our bubbles, we rose to the surface, where I ripped off my mask to breathe the tropical air.
Kelly Hennigan, Lacona, New York
A wee bit of a kitten, she meowed louder than a freight train from behind the shelter’s cage. “Can we get this one?” asked Katie, age seven. “I don’t know,” I said. “A black cat may not be good luck.” To her, I was the young live‑in girlfriend and sometimes the one claiming her dad’s attention. A week later, we picked up our loud but little black kitten and named her Jasmine. Twenty years later, Jasmine’s old and loved, and when Katie comes home to visit, she greets me with a hug. We both agree: Black cats aren’t bad luck!
Aaron Hampton, Seattle, Washington
As a child, I had awful night terrors—at one point, I stopped sleeping. Then my dad’s younger brother lost his job and had to move in with us. Uncle Dave slept in the room next to mine. From then on, he was there to comfort me, sometimes even sleeping on the floor beside my bed “to keep the monsters away.” After he landed a job, he could have moved into a nice apartment, but I begged him not to go. When my parents asked why he was staying, he smiled and replied, “Monsters.”
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by Eileen Dougharty, Chicago, Illinois
“Ticket is $287. But all of that is a problem.” She’s referring to my luggage cart, stacked with suitcases, boxes, and a bag full of shoes. “One bag is free. Everything else is $100 each.” I tell her I packed my Volkswagen after discovering my boyfriend was cheating. Fried the engine. Hitchhiked to the airport in flip‑flops. She left her cheating husband recently, hardest decision she ever made. She checks it all, charges me nothing. As I leave, I don’t feel the crush of having no plan, only the weightlessness of being free.
Jennifer Thornburg, San Tan Valley, Arizona
I started quilting so I could spend time with my aunt. I didn’t accomplish much until my little sister was put into the hospital. She lived 13 hours away, which meant I couldn’t be at her side, but I could pray, and I could make her a blanket. Every stitch was sewn with prayer and tears, memories woven in between layers of cotton and polyester. Doctors said she was going to die at least three times. I sewed faster. By God’s good grace, I delivered that blanket two years ago, and my sister still sleeps under it today.
Babette Lazarus, New York, New York
I was riding the subway and happened to be seated between two young guys. The one on the right eyed the slightly grungy Band‑Aid on my thumb and said, “You should really change that, you know. You have to keep it clean.” Then the one on my left said, “Here, I have one,” and pulled a fresh Band‑Aid out of his knapsack. “I keep them on me because I’m always hurting myself.” Incredulous, I thanked him, changed my bandage, and got off at my stop feeling pretty good about people, life, and New York City.
Kagan McLeod for Reader's DIgestLOVE, EDITED
by Mahjabeen Daya, Brampton, Ontario
When I was raising my 14-year-old son as a single mother in Toronto, he helped me publish a magazine. One day, an incredibly handsome, soft-spoken, well-mannered visitor from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, visited my office. We shared our experiences as volunteer editors. When he left, my son whispered, “Mom! Now, that’s the kind of man you should marry!” I blushed and laughed it off and didn’t think about it again. Eight years later, I met the same man again. He was now a widower. We married and are still together nine years later, coediting an international magazine.
THE YELLOW HOUSE
by Rose McMills, Woodridge, Illinois
I’ve lived in my condo 15 years now—long enough that I don’t even see it anymore. I started dreaming about moving into a house, where I was bound to be happier. I fixated on little yellow houses somewhere in the suburbs of Chicago and watched for them from the train on my commute. “Oh, look—there’s one!” I’d say as it slid by. Then one day, sitting in the sun on my patio, I looked up and realized the outside of my condo was done in yellow siding. I already had a yellow house. And I was home!
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by James Gates, Watertown, South Dakota
We’d divorced three years earlier and hadn’t seen each other since, but for whatever reason, I never took her off my emergency contact list at the nearest hospital. After my accident, I was put in a medically induced coma, and when I woke, she was the only person in the room. She sat in a hospital recliner, watching The View, looking unshowered. She turned her head casually as I slowly came to. “It’s just like you to have something like this happen,” she said. “I’m here, so I figure I’ll get us something to eat. What do you want?”
Kagan McLeod for Reader's DigestSS SERENDIPITY
by Vernon Magnesen, Elmhurst, Illinois
In July 1915, Henry and his eight-year-old daughter, Pearl, were excited for the company outing the next day. That evening, Henry had a violent argument with his landlord, ending with the landlord spitting on a painting of the Virgin Mary. Henry was so upset, he fell ill and canceled their trip. He and Pearl missed the cruise on the SS Eastland, which sank with over 800 people on board—but not my future grandfather and mother. Thanks to that miracle argument 100 years ago, 22 descendants are alive today.
CLEAR EYES, FULL HEARTS
by Stephanie Adair, Metairie, Louisiana
Every day, upon picking up my 11-year-old son from school, I would ask, “How was your day?” For years, I got the same response—“Fine, fine”—with no eye contact. His autism, it seemed, was going to deprive me of the normal chitchat parents unconsciously relish. One early spring afternoon, I asked the question, expecting the same answer. “How was your day?” My son replied, “Good, good.” Then he looked at me and said, “How was your day, Mom?” With tears streaming down my face, I said, “It’s really good—the best day ever.”
Monte Unger, Colorado Springs, Colorado
A neighborhood kid with branches and leaves sticking out of his pockets and a headband came into our front yard. He looked like a little soldier in camouflage. “I’m acting like a tree so butterflies will come,” he said. As he waited on the grass, I brought out a huge blue preserved butterfly I’d purchased in Malaysia and hid it behind my back. I walked over, kneeled, pulled out the butterfly, and said, “A butterfly has come to see you.” He gasped, and his eyes widened. His wishes won’t always come true, but one did that day.
Kagan McLeod for Reader's DigestWHO GOES THERE?
by Nettie Gornick, Butler, Pennsylvania
In 1943, I was 19 years old and worked at a barbecue located about a mile from my home. It was a beautiful, warm June night, so I decided to walk home from work rather than take a bus. As I walked up the back porch steps, I heard a male voice: “Kiss me, or I’ll scream.” After my initial shock, I turned around to see a young soldier in an Army uniform. I kissed him softly on the cheek. He smiled. “Thank you,” he said, and walked off into the night.
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BIG SHOES TO FILL
by Theresa Arnold, Tioga, Texas
I cleaned out Dad’s closet yesterday. There were two things I couldn’t box up: his work shirts and his two pairs of Red Wing boots. He couldn’t remember birthdays or anniversaries, but he remembered the date on which he’d bought his first pair. I
remember it too—April 16, the day after Tax Day. What does a child do with her dad’s favorite boots? I think I will make a planter out of them or use them to store something valuable. You can’t throw away a man’s favorite boots. You’ve got to keep them and pass them down.
A GUIDING HAND
by Grace Napier, Greeley, Colorado
En route to work, I turned right to leave my yard when a firm hand restrained my right shoulder, shoving me left. No one else was present. I followed a longer route to a traffic light intersection on Lincoln Highway, where traffic was not moving, and headed for my work site. At the end of the workday, I returned home and learned of the accident that morning only minutes after 8:00, when two vehicles crashed, pinning the crossing guard between them and killing him. I would have been in that accident. My guardian angel had preserved my life!
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More: Inspiring Stories
Last summer, I made a promise at the end of a blog about participating in College Summit, a program that prepares inner city high school students to attend college: I announced I would return to the program in 2015. And I kept my promise! From July 23-26, 2015, I worked with four student leaders to find their unique stories and put them down on paper. I was inspired by all of them in different ways, and I’d like to share their stories with you.
As you read about these young leaders, consider the things that stop you in your life. My four students each encountered situations that could have brought them down, but they did not give up on themselves or their dreams. Here are their stories (complete with typos and grammatical anomalies). Their names have been changed for purposes of this article.
Benita, in an initial writing exercise, referred to a “family situation” but did not say what it was. We told her we wanted to know more, and she said she didn’t write more about it because she would cry. I told her it was okay and welcome if she cried. In the next exercise, she revealed, tears streaming down her face, that her dad was arrested in front of her eyes when she was 12 years old, and then was quickly deported. He had been trying to do what he could to put food on the table.
After her dad’s departure, Benita quit playing soccer; she and her two siblings quit school; and her mother quit eating for seven months. But the family ultimately was able to turn their lives around. Benita rejoined the soccer team; all the kids went back to school; and her mother opened a dance studio.
Benita’s dream: to become a history teacher in the neighborhood where she grew up. How remarkable that this young woman wants to give back in the setting that holds so many painful memories. She is creating new and more positive ones.
My dad would take us to Disneyland once a month or even once every week. Our family was very cheerful and probably the happiest people anyone knew. When we would be home or somewhere else we didn’t really have enough food for us to eat. But that didn’t matter to us, all we cared about was being so happy and energetic family.
Jorge’s brother Paul was the first in their family to graduate high school and to go to college. He was Jorge’s idol. When Paul dropped out of college, Jorge began to doubt whether he himself had what it took to make it through college. He spoke about how he started to give up on himself, but he said it looks likely that he will graduate this year. What he didn’t mention (and what I found out from one of the college coaches at the program) was that he has a 3.8 GPA and super high SAT math scores for someone from his background.
Jorge is passionate about computer science and he has started to regain confidence in himself. I see every reason why he is going to be the first in his family to graduate from college.
First period I had a computer science class in which we created our own website, our own game, our own graphics and pictures, and a program for a small robot made out of Legos. Most people thought that this class was boring and pointless, but I honestly thought that this was one of the most fun classes. I wish that I had a computer with all the programs at home to finish it or continue onto something else on my own.
A fireball from the moment we started working together, Jennifer never shied away from the task at hand. This girl from the ghetto is tired of walking by drug addicts every day. She wants more for herself and for her friends and family. Daring to be different from her neighbors, she has excelled in music and theater wants to be an obstetrician. She’s the one who bandages up the bleeding when her family gets scraped up. And I’ve never heard someone so excited while talking about mitosis! Jennifer is unafraid of the 13 years of schooling she will undergo to reach her dream.
Being happy with what I do is an awesome feeling but knowing that it could take me places I could never imagine is even better. I am Jennifer Johnson. I’m from the ghetto. And despite all the negative things that are happening around me I did the things that made me the happiest, and became somebody.
I wouldn’t have guessed that this tiny quiet girl, who at first was reluctant to talk and told us all she had nothing to write about, was captain of her school’s 4-time winning cheer team. Her story of how she got there was inspiring, and even more inspiring was watching her unfold into a true writer.
I compete to fight to the top, although there is no path there. I like taking a step forward knowing I can trip. My shoes aren’t always tied, and there will always be cracks and bumps on the floor, but I will tie my shoes, and nothing will stop me from taking another step forward and wanting to run.
If you let your untied shoes, your role model’s downfall, your background, or a family crisis stop you from playing full out for your goals, I hope the spirit of Benita, Jorge, Jennifer and Sandra inspires you to keep reaching, fighting, and celebrating.