Your 100-Word True Stories: Contest Winners

More than 7,000 people entered our contest and gave us the Reader's Digest version of their lives. Here are the top tales of love, family, insight, and inspiration; plus, you can share your own here.

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GRAND-PRIZE WINNER: TIMELESS
By Michelle Brueger, Bennettsville, South Carolina

I’ve always been a daddy’s girl. On road trips, we competed over who sported the most hawks first. Our favorite competition was, upon seeing each other, who could say the words “I love you best” first. If I got him first, Dad would reply, “I’ll get you—just wait.”

My dad died the night before my 50th birthday. The next day, Mom brought me a gift, saying, “This is from your dad. He bought it for you five years ago.” Inside was a beautiful gold pocket watch. Engraved on the inside were the words I love you best—Gotcha.

Next: A Beautiful Mistake »

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RUNNER UP: A BEAUTIFUL MISTAKE
By Jeff Hamilton, Lake Havasu City, Arizona

My son was in Kuwait in 1991, fiercely battling the Gulf War. One awful day that year, a Navy car pulled slowly into the parking lot of my record shop. I froze behind the counter, unable to breathe. Two uniformed sailors quietly entered my store and began flipping through albums. Suddenly, one of them asked, “Do you have any Elton John records?” With a quiet sigh and a slight tear in my eye, I told them why I thought they were there. Both men apologized. It’s not every day you think you lost your son and get him back.

Next: What A Great Ride »

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RUNNER UP: WHAT A GREAT RIDE
By Barbara Rocchi, Neptune Beach, Florida

It was an archaeological dig. In cleaning out our family’s 12-year-old minivan to sell, I found LEGOs, ticket stubs, sports balls of every kind, church bulletins, a prom corsage, a lone shin guard … The heart of our married life, from the kids in their car seats to each kid in the driver’s seat flashing a learner’s permit. Our toddler’s protests as his milkshake, too cold for little hands, flew forward—whoosh—and hit the windshield—splat! Vacations in the mountains and at the beach. Doctor appointments for my sweet, aging parents. My mom-years leave with you, old van.

Next: Giving Kids Wings »

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THE REST OF THE BEST: GIVING KIDS WINGS
By Susan Keller, Largo, Florida

“It’s hatching!” The stage whisper floated across the classroom like a spring breeze. Noiselessly, the class of fifth graders was magnetically attracted to the screen-enclosed monarch chrysalis in the corner of the classroom. The whisperer stood silently, slack-jawed with wonder, as her classmates crowded around her. All eyes focused on the transparent chrysalis vibrating from the roof of the enclosure. The film cracked open, hair-fine legs unfolded, wet wings unfurled, a fat body stretched itself. As if on cue, 26 a cappella voices began softly singing “Happy Birthday.” I stood awestruck at my students’ wonder. This is why I teach.

Next: The Leave-Taking »

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THE REST OF THE BEST: THE LEAVE-TAKING
By Paula Buchanan, Windham, New Hampshire

We heard it before we saw it, coming closer with the squeaky brakes. My son was excited and happy with his new backpack, sneakers, and camouflage sweatshirt. As he headed off for his first day of school, I waved goodbye and tried to control my tears.

Standing in the terminal, I remembered that day so vividly. I hugged him tightly, not wanting to ever let him go. Then he walked away, very determined and proud in his camouflage. Once again, I tried to stop the tears streaming down my face.

I raised an American soldier.

Next: Why I Wear Black Pearls »

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THE REST OF THE BEST: WHY I WEAR BLACK PEARLS
By T’Mara Goodsell, St. Charles, Missouri

When I married, I wore white pearls. And when I divorced, I purchased a strand of black ones.

They don’t stand at picket fence perfect attention or march virtuously across my skin. No pearls of innocence, these. They are smoky, exotic. They are sultry, sunset-lustered and night-nacred. They are city lights in the rain. They are oil slicks after a race. They are the anti–June Cleavers.

They represent my vow that I will take me for better or for worse and honor me all the days of my life. That I will stay true to myself, always.

Next: Sing To Me »

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THE REST OF THE BEST: SING TO ME
By Alfred Geeson, Milledgeville, Georgia

My grandfather had just been buried, and the grave was being filled in when, surprisingly, my dad began to sing “Danny Boy.” Later, he explained that it was family tradition to sing this song at our deceased parents’ gravesides to sing them to sleep, and that when he and Mother passed, I would be expected to do the same.

Circumstances prevented my singing at Mother’s grave, but I did sing at my dad’s. I now live in America and have no living children; I often wonder who will sing “Danny Boy” at my funeral. Who will sing me to sleep?

Next: The Gift »

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THE REST OF THE BEST: THE GIFT
By Mary Elizabeth Paschall, Aurora, Colorado

In the late ’50s, I rode the bus ten miles to work. I carried very little cash and only enough bus tokens to last each week. One night as I walked to the bus stop, I met a beggar who had no legs. I stopped, opened my billfold, and discovered that I had no money and no bus tokens. I apologized profusely but, frankly, was shaken because I had no way to get home. The beggar reached into his pouch and pulled out a handful of coins. Embarrassed, I took enough for the bus, and he said, “God bless you.”

Next: The Language of Love »

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THE REST OF THE BEST: THE LANGUAGE OF LOVE
By Rebekah Aman, Tallahassee, Florida

Music is universal. I learned this while cradling a seagull unfortunate enough to swallow a hook. After calling the wildlife rescue center and learning that all its vehicles were out on other business, I carefully swaddled the wild bird in a towel and carried him to my friend’s car. The only way to keep him calm was by singing. For 30 minutes, I sang softly to the small creature until finally delivering him to those who could help. I’m not certain what happened afterward, but for that brief period, we connected—two vastly different species bridging the gap through song.

Next: Meant To Be Family »

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THE REST OF THE BEST: MEANT TO BE FAMILY
By Mary Pray, Wiscasset, Maine

“I am smart. I can draw and sing. I would be so kind to a mama and baba … Why does no one want me?” asked 12-year-old Levi in China. Levi has cerebral palsy.

My daughter saw that post. She and her husband were adopting four-year-old Jacob. Adopting two seemed crazy, but her heart felt Levi’s pain. They listed pros and cons. The pros won!

Was this emotion or divine intervention? Two days later, a new photo was posted showing Levi with his foster brother. It was Jacob! We knew then both boys were meant to be part of our family.

Next: The Route To Freedom »

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HONORABLE MENTION: THE ROUTE TO FREEDOM
By Thu Huynh, Honolulu, Hawaii

My story began one morning when I fled Vietnam with my father. We headed to China, hoping for a boat to Hong Kong. One night, we tried for a boat, but it was full, leaving us behind to wander the perilous dark. Nearby, buffaloes stood fixed, dogs barked, and crickets chirped. At one point, we stumbled over a grave site, and Father kowtowed for forgiveness. Then somewhere a stranger appeared and sheltered us. Another boat became available eventually, and in the end, I disembarked into a whole new world to begin yet another story of my life

Next: I Say Hello »

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HONORABLE MENTION: I SAY HELLO
By Patrick Wright, Powder Springs, Georgia

There she was. Beautiful, gentle, funny, and kind. Hands shaking, voice cracking, I say hello. Now we are married, with a house, a dog, and an amazing two-year-old son. Piles of laundry, piles of diapers, piles of dishes, and piles of laughter are all around us. Do we really want another? Yes, we do. My wife, tired and uncomfortable from this second pregnancy, says it’s time. Hand in hand we make it to the hospital. A little while later, I see her. There she was. Beautiful, gentle, a miracle. Hands shaking, voice cracking, tears streaming, I say hello.

Next: “Her Cheeks Are Pink!” »

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HONORABLE MENTION: “HER CHEEKS ARE PINK!”
By Alison Livingston, Saline, Michigan

At 23, I had a new six-inch scar across my abdomen and it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I had endured two years of end-stage kidney failure. My journey began with disbelief, shifted into determination, and culminated with my younger sister, my hero, saving my life. After a successful kidney transplant, a nurse wheeled her hospital bed into my room. My pale complexion had already changed and my sister’s first words were, “Her cheeks are pink!” Her kidney was working behind my beautiful new scar…and still is, eleven years later. Thank you, Shannon!

Next: I Held His Hand »

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HONORABLE MENTION: I HELD HIS HAND
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 Sgt. 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 replied, “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.

Next: I Did That »

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HONORABLE MENTION: I DID THAT
By Stephanie Rogers, Rico, Colorado

Hiking with my dog Arlo and thinking about what I was thinking about, I realized how much I judged people. The real, authentic truth was that there wasn’t anything else someone had ever done that I hadn’t done or thought of doing to a greater or lesser degree. So, I began looking for similarities instead of differences. I realized on a soul level how connected we all were. God spoke, I listened and acted on it. It is true that faith without works is dead and I have relished this gift. Thank you.

Next: 48 Years of Adventure »

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HONORABLE MENTION: 48 YEARS OF ADVENTURE
By Jean Poeschl, Apple Valley, Minnesota

We met in 1966; two little girls. The adventures we shared in our forty-eight 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. 1978 a road trip to California, just two naïve 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!

Next: What I Don’t Have »

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HONORABLE MENTION: WHAT I DON’T HAVE
By Kathy Cornell, Haddam, Connecticut

Sometimes I tend to think about what I don’t have; a house on the ocean, a big career that I could use to impress the 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’s 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.

Next: A Lifetime of Learning »

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HONORABLE MENTION: A LIFETIME OF LEARNING
By Ralph Pippert, Kiel, Wisconsin

From horsepower to moon rockets. I have learned acts of kindness changes both you and them. I pondered this: Trick? Secret force? Magic?

While teaching in Malawi, walking at dusk along a hillside overlooking the rift valley, I saw three specks of light.

My imagination answered my pondering: I saw a mother, babe at her breast, child at her knee, tending a meal at the fire.

Mothers’ love explains it all: the consequence of acts of kindness, dynamism of evolution, root of all culture. Mother love, master source of all love, explains it all.

It’s been a great 91 years.

Next: My Father’s Tears »

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HONORABLE MENTION: MY FATHER’S TEARS
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 eighties. My mother, in late-stage Alzheimer’s, resided in a nursing home. He had visited her daily for 10 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.

Next: Forgiven »

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HONORABLE MENTION: FORGIVEN
By Edna Peters, San Jose, California

“Mom, I’m going to have 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 feared. His childhood friends, neighbors and extended family members were there and the chapel was full to the brim.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest