Your True Stories, in 100 Words

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june 2016 true stories soldiers surpriseA 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.



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.”

may 2016 true stories


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.

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.

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.

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.

december january 2016 true storiesPERFECT 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.

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?”

october 2015 true storiesDARK 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.”

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.

true stories pen paper loveLOVE, 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.

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!

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?”

july aug 2015 true storiesSS 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.

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.

june 2015 true storiesWHO 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.

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.

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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may 2015 true stories guitar

by Paul Anderson, Mt. Pleasant, Michigan

For my brother, my sister, and me, Guitar Hero was a competition of who could score the most points on the hardest level. Mom, on the other hand, would play the ten-minute “Freebird” on the easiest level while we kids prepared for our next showdown. When Mom restarted the song after missing a note, we all shouted our disapproval. “Rock stars do what they want,” she said, and we laughed because we agreed: Mom was a rock star. That’s why, later, her funeral felt more like the last stop on a farewell tour, with “Freebird” as the perfect send-off.

by Anum Wasim, Karachi, Pakistan

When I was in first grade, my father lovingly brought home a colorful schoolbag for me. I shouldered the new empty bag like a prized possession for an hour; then I heard a barely audible clunk from within it. I sifted through every pocket until I found a little clown man and a red fish. Even though today my tiny red fish can’t swim in water anymore and the clown can’t move in funny circles anymore, I can still feel the ultimate joy of those unexpected little toys.

by Ken McBride, Chesterfield, Missouri

The Vietcong lobbed mortars into our base camp. My friend and I were asleep when a shell hit close by. He had a tattoo on his left arm, a bulldog with the letters U.S.M.C. underneath. We were both wounded and evacuated, and I did not see him again until months later when we encountered each other at Great Lakes Naval Hospital. I noticed his Marine Corps tattoo was completely gone. He said the mortar shell had sliced it off with the precision of a surgeon’s scalpel. There you have it: free tattoo removal courtesy of the Vietcong.

by Jerrold Schwartz, Pompano Beach, Florida

One morning, I walked down the path to my car and right into a huge spiderweb that had appeared overnight. I felt foolish for not having seen it, rid myself of the web tendrils, and went on my way. The next morning, the very same scenario occurred, and I felt even more foolish. On the third day, I was careful to look for the web—the spider had rewoven it, but this time off the path in the bushes. How humbling to realize that the spider and I had learned the exact same lesson in the same amount of time.

by Belinda Nicoll, Westerville, Ohio

Geriatric intensive care unit—heart failure. I watch my mother’s labored breathing as she holds on, mouth grim, trapped in a lifetime of memories. I wait, knowing the cycle is near completion. “Go in peace,” I say. In another hospital ward, a new phase of my life awaits. Neonatal intensive care unit—meconium aspiration. I welcome the sight of the mechanical ventilator, knowing it’s easing the newborn’s distress. Soon, my granddaughter’s bad start will be a mere memory. “Welcome, little Olivia,” I whisper.

airplane illustrationFIRST IN FLIGHT
by Kay Lockridge, Santa Fe, New Mexico

The little Cessna had just cleared the pattern in its climb to 1,500 feet when my father said, “OK, we can land now.” With my newly minted private pilot’s license in hand, I had wanted him to be my first non-instructor passenger. I’d planned to circle the Michigan State University campus and come back to the university‑owned airport. I reminded him of this, and I’ll never forget what Dad said, more than 40 years ago: “I’m not fond of small planes. I just wanted you to know that I have confidence in you.”

by Bill Coulson, Logan, Utah

My wife, Loretta, who had terminal pancreatic cancer, received a package containing a beautiful white ceramic swan. It had cost $100, and our bills were multiplying rapidly. “How could you do this?” I burst out. “I ordered it a long time ago. I really wanted it,” she replied tearfully. “It’s all right,” I said, ashamed. “I love you, Bill, and I don’t want to die,” she said. “I love you too,” I said. The darkness of my scolding turned into a bright moment of mutual love. Twenty-five years later, the swan remains. That moment is etched upon my heart.

by Judith Spargur, Cody, Wyoming

They were the best cookies I’d ever baked, the ingredients more expensive than a state dinner’s, a mix of my son’s favorite recipes. I wrapped each cookie in plastic, sealed the box, affixed the customs declaration form, and presented the parcel to the postal clerk. Destination: Afghanistan. She pointed to an uncompleted section of the form. “If non-deliverable: Abandon; Return; Redirect.” If non-deliverable—an incomprehensible phrase. I stood stone-faced. “My son’s in the military,” she said quietly. “You can check Redirect, then write Chaplain to redistribute at his discretion.” Our mother‑eyes met. I nodded. Thank you.

by Laurie Whitman, La Grange Park, Illinois

When I came home after the birth of my granddaughter, I found a tattered copy of Charlotte’s Web on my kitchen counter, along with a rosebush in a gallon jug, cookies, and a card—gifts from my neighbors. I was puzzled until I read the note: “Thought you might want this back.” I had given them the book years ago, when their kids were young. The inside cover had my daughter’s name written in her fourth-grade cursive. My granddaughter’s name is Charlotte. And the rosebush is thriving.

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by Elana Pate, Palm Bay, Florida

In mythology, humans had four arms, four legs, and two faces. Fearing them, Zeus split them into two, forcing an eternal search for their other half. Zeus failed. When my (now) husband arrived at my house for our first date, I opened the door to my other half, dressed exactly like me, head to toe: aviator Ray-Bans, Levis, Timberland boots, the same yellow ski jacket. After our amazed laughter, he said, “One of us has to change.” I changed my clothes but not my mind. I knew we’d be together forever.

by Deborah Kahn Schreck, Sayville, New York

I volunteered at Ground Zero after hometown firefighters responded but never returned. Lt. Timothy Higgins was one of them. I felt Timmy’s presence during dark moments, guiding me along every path. Working in sight of the burning piles, I met a fire marshal named Steve. I told him I was from Freeport. Steve said he’d been a firefighter with a guy from Freeport. I asked, “Who?” He replied, “Tim Higgins.” I followed this path and married Steve in 2005. I think of Tim every day. He must have been a shining light. Certainly, he was my beacon.

by Kathleen Curran, Canyon Country, California

Having just cemented a new bridge, my dental-assistant mother said to her patient, “Your girlfriend’s going to love your new teeth.” He replied, “I’m between girlfriends right now.” She said, “Don’t go anywhere. I have two daughters, Kathy and Vicky. Let me get their pictures from my wallet.” Dan was still reclined in the dental chair with his bib onand wasn’t going anywhere. Rushing back, she showed him her daughters’ photos, saying, “Here is our phone number. Give Kathy a call—she’s the older one.” He called, and we’ve been happily married for 39 years. Thanks, Mom!

by Brianna Blanchard, Springfield, Massachusetts

Coming from a destitute family, my brother and I were used to having very slim Christmases. We expected nothing more one Christmas morning, as we scooped wrapping paper from the floor. “Grab the blanket hanging over there and wrap it around your mother when she comes in here and tell her how much you love her,” my father whispered deviously. Grabbing the blanket and pouncing on our mother, we noticed two upright guitars that the blanket had been draped across. Those guitars became the sole form of expression all throughout our growing-up years—and up to this day.

by Andrew Caruso II, Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio

Ruth was in the end stage of Alzheimer’s disease. She could no longer move nor speak, but she had always loved to sing, her husband said. At the facility’s Christmas party, we sang our favorite carols. When we got to “Silent Night,” Ruth squeezed my hand, smiled, and then began to sing. She sang every word clearly in a beautiful alto voice. When the song finished, she grew silent again, but the smile never left her face. These moments are the reason I go to work every day.

by Jim Griffin, Chickamauga, Georgia

Christmas Day, 1969, Vietnam, 101st Airborne Division. On a hill somewhere around Hue, the supply chopper comes in, usually loaded with mail, C rations, ammo, and sometimes clean clothes. What is this? An ammo canister full of beef stew. We have no utensils to serve the stew, so the platoon leader uses his hand as we go through the line. When he finishes, he has stew up to his elbow! What a pleasant surprise that leaves a lasting memory.

by Diane Rhodes, San Jacinto, California

Our relationship lasted just five years. He was a gentle, caring man who put me at ease when I was stressed and made me laugh when times were tough. He was the kind of person you want around all the time, yet I will not miss him. In fact, our last day together was one of the happiest days of my life; a cause for celebration. I smiled as I hugged my oncologist goodbye after five years of being cancer-free.

by Lauren Belski, New York, New York

Brian and I have been married three years, but we’ve been together ten. We met as AmeriCorps volunteers on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in Porcupine, South Dakota—a tucked-away place with a scattered population of 1,000. He taught computers and played guitar. I taught English and wrote poetry. In the volunteer house, we courted each other by making a phone out of tin cans and a string. I still remember his voice in my ear. Automatic goose bumps. A year later, our mothers discovered we were born in the same hospital in New Jersey, 1,600 miles away.

by Priscilla Hartling, West Allis, Wisconsin

My mother was my best friend. She loved cardinals, the male red ones. When she got sick with pancreatic cancer and knew death was near, she told me to always look for the red cardinal—that would be her. I never paid too much attention to that statement; I was too busy becoming an adult. Twenty-five years later, every time I feel at my wits’ end, there is a cardinal flying past me or in a nearby tree. Is it coincidence, or my mother, all these years later, letting me know that everything will be OK? I’ll take the latter.

by Angie Ruan, Los Gatos, California

One summer during college in Beijing, I visited my grandma in Tsingdao. I was one of her favorite granddaughters since I lived the farthest from her, and she let me stay in her bedroom. There on the wall was a big color poster of a white lady with a gentle smile. I never dared ask about this poster. When I brought my mom to America years later, as we left the airport, she asked if I would take her to a church. I realized that my grandma’s family had hidden its Catholic identity for the last 40 years.

by Marissa Reay, Peoria, Arizona

The hummingbird was lost in the supermarket, exhausted, starving, and near death as it spiraled towards the ground on helpless wings. I snatched her away from the crushing carts, cupped her in my hands, and rushed for the exit. She was tiny and soft against my palms. I ran out towards the flowers. She was too weak to perch; I cupped her in my palm and held her up to each flower to drink. Slowly, she perked up and her claws tightened on my finger. Then she spread her wings and flew on her own: a tiny, sweet miracle.

by Vrinda Vasavada, Cupertino, California

I sat in the comfort of my grandparents’ house, enjoying the rain and the “Cat Concerto” episode of Tom and Jerry with my grandfather. Munching on one of my grandmother’s fresh, scrumptious rotis, I saw a monkey suddenly swing onto the bars on our door. My grandfather encouraged me to offer it my roti; it gently accepted the gift. Peering in, my new friend stared with interest at the TV. The curious monkey, my grandfather, and I watched the rest of Tom and Jerry’s adventure together, astonished at the harmony that exists between humans and animals in our world.

by Barbara Whapeles, Spokane, Washington

At 12, I believed honesty was always rewarded. One afternoon, I hit a ball through a vacant apartment’s window. The sound of shattering glass was followed by kids running in all directions screaming, “Run! No one will tell.” I went to the manager, expecting praise for being so honest. He laughed, saying, “I’ve never had a kid snitch on themselves. Kind of dumb.” I didn’t understand until my mother said, “How did you feel when you told the truth? Remember that instead of what he said. Pride in yourself will always be your reward.”

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hook holding rings
Kagan McLeod for Reader’s Digest

by Donna Kelsey, Lake Nebagamon, Wisconsin

One summer day in 1957, we headed to the courthouse for a marriage license. My husband-to-be, Steve, asked the clerk for a fishing license. She advised him a fishing license cost $1.50 and a marriage license cost $2.50. With some thought and a smile, he chose the marriage license, and so our life together, later filled with two children, began. Whenever we had a disagreement, I would remind my husband that he could have saved money had he chosen a fishing license, and it would have expired in a year. The extra dollar cost him 53 years of wedded bliss.

by Karen Chipman, Lynn, Massachusetts

When I was 39, my longtime foster mom and her new husband were planning their retirement future and decided the time was right to officially add me to their newly blended family. They asked if they could adopt me. I was quite touched. Just before leaving for family court that morning, I was getting my kids ready for school. My son (age 11 at the time) looked at me quite seriously and said, “Mom, I think it’s nice that Nana and Papa want to adopt you, but … we sure are going to miss you around here.”

by James Didlow, San Antonio, Texas 

A friend told me that as a kid, his father—a poor farmer and binge drinker—became abusive when drunk, forcing the family to escape into their cornfield, with him frequently shooting after them with his .22 rifle. Their neighbor, an elderly Amish farmer, came by one day explaining that rats had been in his corncrib and asked if anyone could sell him a .22. After a bargain was struck, my friend followed the neighbor and observed him crossing the river bridge, stopping midstream, and dropping the rifle and ammunition.

by Mary Beth Asenjo, Timberlake, Ohio

Several years ago, my tire went flat while I was driving with my young son asleep in the backseat. It was a heavily traveled road, so I pulled over. I looked in my rearview mirror and saw that a man had pulled up behind me. He offered to help. As he installed the donut, we talked. He explained that he was from a long distance away. His face was kind, his voice gentle. My son awoke, and I went to care for him. When I looked back, the man was gone. Do angels walk the earth? I believe they do.

by Maria Cecilia Hular, Legazpi City, Philippines

Once, a filthy stray kitten just appeared in our kitchen. She looked so weak and thin that I knew she would die soon. I adopted her; surprisingly, she lived with our family for a whole year. One night, I knew she was dying. I listened to her weak breaths and watched her attempts to respond to my gentle touches. For the last time, I held her and felt proud to see how beautiful and healthy she had become. I was ready to let her go. She looked at me one last time, smiled, and died peacefully in my arms.

by Bill Harris, Cincinnati, Ohio

I was fishing all week in Canada with Dad and my brother, with no luck catching anything. We decided to set our poles in rocks, our lines in the water off the front of a small island in the lake, and swim naked off the island’s back. Just as an unattended line bent with the weight of a fish, a boat full of guests from our lodge came by the front side of the island. Faced with a decision between catching the fish and enduring dinner-table gossip that night, Dad chose the fish. Sometimes, man’s primitive instincts must be served.

by Nancy Perkins, St. Johns, Michigan

My dad died unexpectedly at age 78, leaving our family heartbroken. During the funeral mass, my sister felt her phone vibrate in her purse. She was a little surprised that someone would be calling her, knowing she was at dad’s funeral mass. Afterward, she found there was a message: “Hi, this is your dad,” said the male voice. “I wanted to let you know I made it home.” The caller obviously had the wrong number, but the message was clear. My dad had completed his journey to heaven and wanted us to know. Thanks, Dad—until we meet again.

by Susan Horn, Nanuet, New York

Thirty-two years ago, I had hoped to see my daughter’s second birthday. Well, I’ve seen 30 more than that! On September 13, I even danced at her wedding. I had been diagnosed with breast cancer and my prognosis was not good, but I had no intention of leaving my handsome young husband a widower with a beautiful baby daughter to raise. I’d rather leave that for a Lifetime or Hallmark movie, thank you very much. And I look forward to the day when once again I’ll hold a beautiful baby in my arms: my grandchild.

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by Tari Jacobson, Wasilla, Alaska

A woman in front of me rummaged through her purse looking for a gift card to complete the remaining $14 of her grocery purchase, which was just over $30. When she found her gift card and the cashier swiped it, the card was empty. I slid $14 to the cashier. She tried the gift card one more time, then acted as if the transaction had gone through successfully. The woman got the groceries that she needed without finding out that I’d paid the remainder of her bill.

by Lorraine Fox, Caldwell, Idaho

It was September 14, 2001. I had gathered the class for a story to end our labors of the day. Suddenly, a crack of thunder came from above. A little boy across from me began whimpering. I whispered a few calming words, but more children joined in, some with tears in their eyes. Soon, all 28 first-graders were crying. I realized it was not a storm above, but the gamut of emotions from millions of people in the infinitely longest and saddest week in American history, funneling down to the hearts of tender little children.

by Cora McClure, Dallas, Texas

My sister was 16 and I was seven. On summer days, our mother would allow her to drive to the drugstore to buy a fashion magazine. Cissy would call to me, “Do you want to go with me?” What a thrill! Off we would go. When we arrived, she would hold out her forefinger for me to hold. The finger had a tiny wart on it. I am now 85, and she has been gone 22 years, but I can still feel that finger with its little wart, held out in loving kindness to a little sister.

by LoyAnn Rossel, Lincoln, Nebraska

When we first married, my husband was in Big Brother program. His Little Brother, John, was 10 years old. They had two great years together until John’s mother had to move out of state. We wondered about him over the next 30 years—his name was so common that we had no way of finding him on the Internet.

One day, our garage door broke. As the repairman answered the phone and repeated my husband’s name, standing next to him at that moment was John. He was married with three wonderful children, and had been looking for us, too!

by David Charvat, Wheeling, West Virginia

My Aunt Caroline, whose strength was slipping, lived in my hometown. Occasionally she fell, and I would lift her back up. When I began dating Sarah, who’s now my wife, A-Caroline kept up with our relationship. She wasn’t shy. The first time I invited Sarah to my house for a meal and a movie, A-Caroline knew every detail. At the end of our date that evening, A-Caroline called and asked if I would come over after Sarah left. When I got there, I found her on the floor. She had fallen hours earlier, but didn’t want to bother our date.

by Fred Hoffman, Tampa, Florida

I volunteer at a free café feeding homeless and hungry people. One day, a frail lady in her late 40s wearing many layers of clothing walked up and down the line of people waiting to be served, handing out little candy hearts. She sat at my table and told me her story: Once her children were grown, her husband had severely beaten her and cast her into the street. After she became homeless, she learned that he had given her AIDS. She knew she was dying, but gave out candy hearts to try and bring happiness into every person’s day.

candle illustration
Kagan McLeod for Reader’s Digest

by Jean Smidt, West Milford, New Jersey

When I was a child, during the Great Depression, my mother sent me to the store to buy candles because our electricity had been turned off. I gave the clerk in the store my pennies for the candles, and he sarcastically said, “Didn’t pay the electric bill?” I held my head up high and replied, “Of course we did, but we want to have dinner by candlelight tonight.” I still laugh when I recall our “candlelight” dinner and the look on the clerk’s face after my retort. We didn’t have much money, but we had pride.

by Sherry Lawrence, Amarillo, Texas

My brother, my two sisters, and I started a serious conversation one day, which is unlike the playful ones we normally have. We started talking about what we would ask God if there were a telephone in heaven and we could each ask him only one thing. My sister, Dawn, won: The one thing she would ask God was, “May I speak with my Daddy?”

by Carmen Marden, Campbell, New York

He left a single red rose on my windshield. He wasn’t allowed to send me flowers at work, since my husband had died only six months before. When the time was right, he sent me flowers on my birthday, Valentine’s Day, and eventually every anniversary. The guys at work told him he made them look bad. They were joking, but he wasn’t. He kept sending me flowers. He made me breakfast in bed. But most importantly, he invited my daughter and her three children to move in with us after she split from her then-husband. What’s more romantic than that?

by Edna Peters, San José, California

“Mom, I’m having heart surgery tomorrow and know I’m not going to make it. I’m just calling to tell you goodbye and ask you to forgive me for all the heartache I’ve caused. I know I’ll have the smallest funeral ever because I don’t have any friends left. Please forgive me.” He died three days later in prison, loved and not forgotten by friends. A Facebook posting resulted in his funeral not being the smallest one ever, as he’d feared. His childhood friends, neighbors, and extended family members were there, and the chapel was full to the brim.

by Katie O’Brien, Hoquiam, Washington

When I was about two, we visited Aunt Dorrie’s house. She had a large oval willow basket like the one my mama always used for laundry. Standing on tiptoe, I peeked into this basket, and there was a baby! I was breathless with astonishment. How could laundry turn into a baby? I never asked, but for years after that, I checked Mama’s basket frequently, in case hers had that same baby-producing capability. It didn’t seem to, but I always felt it might if I could catch it at just the right moment … And I still believe in magic.

by Tuan Tran, Taunton, Massachusetts

The uncooked noodles were left on the porthole by someone who no longer wanted it. By the looks of it, no one else would want it, because it had become moldy. I didn’t care, I was hungry. Our riverboat had been on the South China Sea for days, battered by a typhoon, making its way to freedom, to the Malaysian shores. We were escaping Communism during a premature post–Vietnam War decade, seeking anything better­—my parents told me we were “going to visit Grandma.” The noodles tasted bitter but gratifying. We made it to freedom two days later.

by Jean Poeschl, Apple Valley, Minnesota

We met in 1966: two little girls. The adventures we’ve shared in our 48 years are exquisite. Buying the kitten, hiding her in Denise’s bedroom for a week. We weaved tall tales at the playground. Teen angst set in; we “ran away” from home, taking a Greyhound bus on a Friday night with a paper sack of clean underwear and Oreos. In 1978, a road trip to California, just two naive girls with a tin can of cash and my Plymouth Scamp. We’re moms now. Our children shake their heads as we laugh, giggle, and embarrass them. Grown-ups we’re not!

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by Heather Krizovski, La Vista, Nebraska

1) Have doctors who believe you’ve just got a bladder infection during your ninth month. 2) Scream at your husband to run to get doctor-prescribed bladder medication. 3) Start to panic when you realize a human is emerging from your body! 4) Have your mother-in-law scream that even though she has had five children of her own, she has never seen it from this angle! 5) Plead with your mother-in-law to catch the baby! 6) Close your eyes! 7) Welcome baby girl. 8) Have the best true
story ever.

by Lucia Paul, Plymouth, Minnesota

My dad was a gardener before it was cool. He would proudly tell people, “I can grow just about anything.” He could—except for my beloved lilacs. He tried everything, with no luck or lilacs to show for his efforts.

One night when I was a teen, it was raining in that way it does in Minnesota in April: violent and cleansing. I heard the creak of the side door, and he stood soaking wet, etched with scratches, holding an abundance of lilacs. “I found a secret lilac spot,” he said. “It wasn’t easy, but I got them.”

That’s how he got everything.

by George Rucker, Glenside, Pennsylvania

As an 11-year-old African-American boy growing up in Philadelphia, playing baseball outside was my passion. My neighborhood was mixed black and white, and no one cared how anyone looked. We just played together. One spring day—April 4, 1968, to be exact—my world changed. My mother ran outside and told me to get in the house. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been shot and killed. As I sat on the floor and watched the fires, riots, and looting on the news, I knew I was different. My innocence was now forever lost.

by Terry Wells, Surrey, British Columbia

My wife, Barb, and I love camping. We go many times a year, rain or shine, and we carry a huge, industrial tarp. On one such trip we were camping with our best friends, Rick and Jo-Ann. The weather that day was, to say the least, unstable. The tarp was up to cover the campground, but I pulled it back when the weather cleared. After a few hours, having pulled back the tarp twice, I finally sat in my camping chair.

“What are you doing?” Jo-Ann asked.

I replied, “I am playing chess with God, and it’s his move.”

by Lisa Mizzell, Cropwell, Alabama

It feels good to move back home after two years. It was the last place I saw him alive, the last place I kissed him goodbye, and the last place I would hear him say, “I love you, Baby—see ya tonight.” He died that day of a heart attack shortly after arriving at work.

Tonight the fireflies came out for the first time this summer. As I planted flowers, a grandpa and his granddaughter walked by on their way to fish at the lake. I guess life goes on with or without us. It’s good to be home.

by Susan Cerbone, Newtown, Pennsylvania

At 21, I was proud to have moved by myself from Nebraska to New Jersey, but it took me several months to work up the courage to venture into New York City alone. The subway sign over a solitary doorway near my apartment building promised to deposit me in the Big Apple, and I finally got brave on a crisp Saturday morning. Heart pounding, I flung the subway door open, only to find a receptionist surrounded by shelves of beauty products. I had summoned all my courage to enter the strangely windowless Subway Hair Salon.

by Rick Bennette, Tequesta, Florida

The moment I met Denise aboard the Love Boat, I knew she was someone special. She became my first love, but we lived 90 miles apart. After the cruise, we maintained our love affair through handwritten letters. Eventually, geography took its toll. We went on to separate lives, yet I thought about her quite often. Thirty years later, we reunited in Grand Central Station. I hired a violinist to play our love song as we held each other for the first time in three decades. After wishing to be with her all those years apart, we finally married.

by Lois Sims, Sun City, Arizona

On a beautiful summer day, I was volunteering at a Special Olympics event. I was assigned to help a 20-something-year-old man throughout the day. He held my hand as we walked around. When he wanted candy, we went up to the refreshment stand and bought a chocolate bar. He took the candy, broke it in two, handed me half, and said, “Lois, eat.” What a special moment to share with a stranger.

illustration of hands
Kagan McLeod for Reader’s Digest

by Sandra Dopierala, San Marcos, California

I was thinking I’d be alone forever after a terrible time in my life, when there he was. While I sat soaking in the fresh air after a two-week bout of bronchitis, he stood watching the waves roll in. He asked if he could sit next to me. “Sure, why not?” I said. We people-watched and talked about which dog breed was our favorite. We watched the sunset together.  I didn’t know it then, but I’d found my husband—or rather, he had found me. We now return to that spot every year on our anniversary.

by Betty Heidt, Harrisonburg, Virginia

Cream puffs: I never realized how much love they would exude over a 40-year period with my family and friends. My dear mother-in-law, Norma, shared her secret, luscious cream puff recipe with me in 1974.

Annabelle, my dear friend who had terminal cancer, requested my cream puffs throughout her illness. They were such a comfort food to her every time she smiled and took a bite. Up until three days before she passed, I was baking fresh cream puffs for her. Now she is smiling down on me every time I bake them.

by Kamran Smith, Middletown, Virginia

He was a big parakeet in a tiny cage that forced his body into a stoop.  His water dish was dry and his food bowl was empty. A family had moved and left him behind, alone in an empty house. I transferred him to the biggest habitat I could find and filled it with parakeet toys: mirrors, balls, bells, chewing sticks. I named him Re for rebirth. Then one day I saw that he had straightened his body. He stood tall, gripping his perch with new strength. His green feathers shone, and his eyes were bright. Re’s rebirth had begun.

by Ruth Miele, Davisburg, Michigan

It was moving day for my son and his bride. As I drove the rented truck to their new home, one of the four rear tires blew out on the highway.  I pulled off into an empty lot of a private school. My son joined me, and as we waited for the repair, we sat in a beautiful courtyard laughing about our predicament, sharing our lives, and discussing his future.  What could have been a bad day turned into a special and private moment with my son.  I knew even at the time to cherish our time alone.

by Cecilia Hannes, Sheboygan, Wisconsin

Just out of the Navy, we were pulling our 29-foot-long house trailer through the mountains on our way to attend the University of Florida. When the car’s overworked clutch gave out, we found ourselves stranded on a dangerous curve. A truck driver pulled over, detached his trailer, and pulled our car to the next town where we got help. Before we could get his name or properly thank him, he was gone, back to pick up his trailer and continue the opposite direction. That was 50 years ago. I hope he reads this.

by Alan Daugherty, Bluffton, Indiana

“Stay out of the cellar!” Grandma called from her TV room. We crept into the dirt-floored room off her kitchen, which was filled with candy from Thanksgiving to Christmas. She knew each family member’s favorite and made them all.

Living next door allowed frequent dashes to snatch confections awaiting the next holiday. Grandma didn’t mind the thievery. We left behind bags of sugar in trade. It was our game. She laughed. We grew fat.

“I hear ya!” she yelled as we snuck back out her front door, drooling divinity. Dad had already exited ahead of me.

by Pat Ferry, Mesa, Arizona

I was flying with C-130 cargo planes for several months, moving cargo all over the world.  I would be gone for two to three weeks, home one day, then gone again for several weeks.  Upon returning home late one night, I knocked on our front door.

“Who is it?” My wife called out.

“Pat,” I answered.

“Pat who?” she snarled.

I got her point and applied for a desk job the next day.

by Mary Lazar, Sarver, Pennsylvania

A tree was given to our mother the week she gave our youngest sister a life-saving kidney. The Redbud tree, with its heart-shaped leaves, was the perfect tree to symbolize the gift of love. Our sister did very well with the new kidney for ten years. The tree thrived along with her.

Heartbreakingly, we lost our beautiful sister to eventual complications.  The tree outlived her, but lost its struggle to thrive. As our parents reluctantly cut down the fading tree, they noticed the stump was in the shape of a heart.

by Evelyn Smith, Greenville, South Carolina

In my 86 years, I sometimes wished I had grown up in one place knowing all the same folks. Now, I know I was blessed with a more unusual life. How many girls have lived in 13 different towns—or lived in apartments, a pole cabin, a houseboat, and a three-story home—all before marriage? I never knew a stranger. No, Dad was not a preacher or a military man. He was a baker by trade and only had eight years of school, but he knew travel was educational and was not afraid of change. He taught me well!

by Colleen Wolford, East Syracuse, New York

Twenty years ago, we got a handicap-accessible tag. You know the kind: a long, blue placard with a cartoon wheelchair.  As my husband hung it on the rearview mirror, my eyes stung. We needed it for our three-year-old son.

Twenty years have passed quickly. Tom is grown, and he is by all accounts a success. He volunteers, has friends, and is gentle with animals. When we go places, he sits up front with his dad and plays his music on the radio. We are very happy. And we still have our tag.

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by Jeannette Bram, Rockwell, Iowa

For 40 years, I had wondered about my baby sister. Does she look like me? Where does she live? I hope she’s happy. After eight babies, my parents had divorced. They almost reconciled several years later, but a pregnancy brought out the old problems. Mom did the hardest thing, and gave up the baby for adoption. We were dirt-poor, fractured, and dysfunctional, but we had love. Last summer, that baby girl decided to find us. She has now met five of the six remaining siblings. My heart is so full. And yes, she does indeed look like me.

by Robin Hynes, Slingerland, New York

My mom had a great sense of humor and a knack for making everything fun. One thing that resonated with me, even as a small child, was how much she seemed to enjoy her own company and found ways to entertain herself. As a kid, I remember her giggling while paying bills. What was so funny about bill paying? She would put humorous notes in the reference section of the check: For the electric bill, she might put “You light up my life,” and for the mortgage she’d write “Four shingles closer to owning it all.”

by Saveeta De Alwis, Colombo, Sri Lanka

The air smelled strongly of salt. My boyfriend had asked me to meet him at the beach. I love the beach, but today the sea breeze really wasn’t helping my hair. I grumbled as I made my way to the shore.

I saw the light of candles in the distance, but couldn’t make them out, as I’d forgotten my glasses. Why couldn’t he have picked another place for dinner?

I walked up to him and was about to open my mouth to complain, when he suddenly got down on his knee and said, “Will you marry me?”

by Bill Brusick, The Woodlands, Texas

Pets commonly express feelings through sounds and actions, but words by nature escape them. Sugarcaine, our blue and gold macaw, uses over 30 words and phrases, yet these are merely repetitions without thought or reason—or so I thought. For two weeks we boarded him with our vet, where he resided in the top corner of an examination room.  One day, a severely injured kitten was rushed in. The doctor and assistants worked dutifully, but to no avail. In reverent silence, as they stepped back from the lifeless body, a compassionate voice from the corner spoke: “I’m sorry.”

by Greg Hajduk, Valparaiso, Indiana

November 26, 1975. I was at a party with friends playing ping-pong. I was 15; she was 16. Her name was Joanne. I ripped a portion from a paper bag and wrote, “Can I kiss you?” She nodded yes. We left the party and went to our hangout spot. It was 6:30 p.m. and already dark, with huge snowflakes falling. I kissed her for the first time and saw fireworks. We married August 4, 1979, and this November 26 will be the 39-year anniversary of that first kiss. I still see fireworks!

by Buck Brkich, San Antonio, Texas

Christmas, 1962: I was at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe watching Liberace and a then-unknown Barbra Streisand. She sang and was fantastic. Later, at the craps table, I saw a girl with her hair in curlers wearing a scarf. I played by her, saying, “Ms. Streisand, I saw the show and think you have a great talent.” She said, “Yeah, sure, sure.” Later, she picked up her chips, touched my arm, and said, “Thank you very much.” I think she was so new to fame that she was embarrassed. I have been in love with her ever since, but that’s another story.

by Nancy Duderstadt, Woodridge, Illinois

After my father passed away, my brother was cleaning out Dad’s wallet and found a small American flag. As a young boy in Alice, Texas, my dad found the flag on the street after a parade. Even then, he loved this country and felt our flag should be honored, so he folded it and put it in his wallet. He carried it everywhere he was stationed, through Europe and Vietnam. My brother is retired military, but my other brother’s son, also an army officer, carries the flag now. I’m proud to be the daughter, aunt, and sister of Americans.

by Joyce Worley, Mauldin, South Carolina 

I wear a skeleton key on a silver chain around my neck. It is from an antique desk my mother gave me, which I never locked. My son Josh collected such keys, and I gave him this one. He loved it, especially since it had once belonged to his beloved grandmother.

Josh wore the key around his neck after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at age 33. He was wearing it when he died at 35. People often admire my necklace and ask, “Is that the key to your heart?” I say yes.

by Louis Corio, Mount Airy, Maryland

For most couples, it’s love at first sight. For me and my wife, it was love at first sound.

She called my apartment in a huff at 1:00 a.m., looking to tell off my roommate, whom she had just started dating. My roommate wasn’t home, and I happened to be standing by the phone, so she vented to me, the faceless stranger. We ended up talking for two hours, learning a lot about each other, and falling in love. Twenty-seven wonderful years later, her voice is still music to my ears!

by Hal Denton, Cookeville, Tennessee

When I was in second grade living in Indiana, my mother would frequently send me to the little neighborhood store. One day I went with a list, and when the storekeeper’s back was turned, I couldn’t resist reaching into his doughnut box on the counter and pocketing one. On the way home, I enjoyed it immensely. But over the years, my sin bothered me—so much so that when I spotted the old storekeeper at a football game during my high school years, I confessed. He smiled, held out his hand, and said, “You owe me a dime.”

by Denise Marra, Antioch, Illinois

Mom was in the basement, washing clothes through the wringer washing machine. Darryl, my brother, was four years old, playing with matches in my mom’s bedroom on the first floor. He accidentally set the large dresser drawers on fire! Smelling the smoke, Mom rushed upstairs to find the dresser in flames. Then, before my mother’s unbelieving eyes, the fire extinguished itself in a puff of black smoke. As the burnt dresser cooled, she opened the half-charred drawer to find a small, blessed crucifix slightly burnt on the tip of the arm.

by Steven Fehr, North Las Vegas, Nevada

One afternoon Mom and I took a walk around her neighborhood.  She had dementia and no longer recognized her surroundings.  It was like taking a child for a walk. The day was perfect, quiet and calm. I reveled in it. Mom’s care had become suffocating, but today I felt peaceful and enjoyed our leisurely stroll as I held her hand. A feeling came over me: Make this count. It won’t always be like this.

That was the last walk we ever took together in her neighborhood before Mom moved to assisted living. Less than a year later, she was gone.

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by Paula Hassler, Tempe, Arizona

My first job out of high school was in an office in downtown Council Bluffs, Iowa. On August 14, 1945, Japan announced its surrender and WWII was over. We heard the news and we all ran outside to join the cheering and singing crowds of people. Traffic was stopped in the middle of the street as drivers honked their horns and blared loud music from their car radios. Perfect strangers hugged and kissed.  Now, almost 70 years later, I still remember that day as an exciting time in my young life.

by Martha Goehner, Port Orange, Florida

While I was getting ready to move from New York to Florida, I decided to take some of my things to an antique dealer. It was hard, because a few things really did have memories attached—but it seemed senseless to have them boxed up. Today, I received a package in the mail from my girlfriend, Abby. It contained three old beaded bags I had sold. She had tracked them down, bought them back, and sent them to me. It is one of the most wonderful things anyone has ever done for me. Thank you, Abby—it means a lot.

by Allison Lee, Orlando, Florida

Homeschooling my children is the bravest thing I’ve ever done. Daily, I forge ahead with math, reading, spelling, and handwriting, wondering if I’m adequate. I battle impatience and discouragement. I fight against the lies that I’ll never be good enough to set my children up for success, for a lifetime of learning. I fail and then set my face toward the goal, committing myself to courage. And when my little boy asks me to hold him for the rest of his life as we dance around the kitchen during a break, I know I must be doing something right.

by Krista Swan, Columbus, Ohio

Our romance began with sparks. But over the years, our passion shape-shifted into smoldering resentment, periodically erupting into fiery altercations. Our two sons were in middle school when I moved us away from the inferno. We settled in my old hometown. My husband wrote me a letter filled with animosity for leaving. Then one day, everything changed. My husband called. “I realize now that nothing in life is more important than family, and I will do everything I can to keep ours together,” he said. “Please come home.”

So we did. That day was September 11, 2001.

by Erin Pope, Riverside, California

The phone was ringing. My palms were sweaty, and my heart was pounding. I was fearful that the recipient of my call would be angry. A pleasant-sounding woman picked up: “Hello?” “Can I speak with the parents of Sergeant Jones?” I asked. The woman paused and then replied, “I’m sorry. He was killed in Iraq a year ago.” I took a deep breath and said, “I know. I was the nurse who took care of him. I wanted to let you know that he wasn’t alone. I held his hand.” She wasn’t angry. I was relieved.

by Nancy Abeshaus, Wakefield, Rhode Island

Three times in my life I saw my father cry. The first was when his mother died. I was seven. The second was at the airport when my brother departed for Vietnam. The third was when my father was in his 80s. My mother, in late-stage Alzheimer’s, resided in a nursing home. He had visited her daily for ten years, except for three months when he broke his foot. Finally he could walk again. “I thought Mother forgot me,” he said, “but when she saw me, she smiled and said, ‘I love you.’ ” Then my father sobbed.

by Kathy Cornell, Haddam, Connecticut

Sometimes I tend to think about what I don’t have: a house on the ocean, a big career I could use to impress people at my high school reunion. Then I hear his car in the driveway. I think we’ll grill tonight. Later we’ll watch some reruns of sitcoms from a long time ago that remind me of when we were young. He’ll doze off, and it’ll be time for the day to end. We’ll say good night to the cats. We’re all still here, a miracle. When I’m very old, I will wish for a day like this.

by Tresa Matulewicz, Altamont, New York

“We’re having raccoon stew. I scraped it off the road.”

He’d laugh. As a little girl, I’d run screaming from him. As the years passed, roadkill jokes became paramount. I began to join in. We would gross each other out, a game that yielded two winners, me and my grandfather.

As illness slowly began to take him from me, we’d say, “Watch out for those raccoons,” even when his voice became a whisper. My beloved grandfather passed away on January 17, 2011. We had never said “I love you.” We always let the raccoons do the talking.

Originally Published in Reader's Digest