STEPHEN SMITH: Column Brings About a Reunion
On Memorial Day, I wrote a piece about a boyhood friend, Donny Harper, who'd been killed in a traffic accident in January 1955. My intention was simply to write a remembrance, so I told what I knew about his death and the history of Donny's family. The Harpers had moved to Colorado in the late '50s, and tragically a second son was killed in a car accident a block from their new home.
Now comes the convoluted part, so hang with me.
My second double cousin -- figure that out -- lives in the town where I grew up, and she occasionally reads my columns. She remembered the Harpers' story and shared the column with friends.
It wasn't long before I received a bunch of e-mails from folks who fondly remembered the Harpers. One of those e-mails awakened an even older memory.
In January 1952, Donny's older brother Bobby had saved a 4-year-old girl from drowning. She had fallen into a pond a few blocks from where I lived, and Bobby, who was a Boy Scout, performed artificial resuscitation and revived her.
Here's part of that e-mail: "My name is Lois Dickerson. My maiden name is Kennedy. ... We grew up on Sycamore Avenue, which is one street over from Duke Street. Donny's brother, Bobby, saved my life when I was 4 years old. I fell into a deep water-filled hole behind our home. ... My dad jumped in and pulled me out. I was unconscious. My mom started screaming, and Bobby Harper was there. Bobby had just learned artificial respiration in Boy Scouts. I started to come to after he performed this procedure on me. ... I was hospitalized for a few days. I would like to e-mail Bobby and thank him for saving my life."
A few days later, I received another e-mail: "The years have been many. When we knew each other, I would have called you Stevie, and you would have called me Bobby. Bobby Harper, that is. ... I recently read an article you so nicely wrote about my younger brother, Donny. Thank you for doing that. My family feels so honored that you would do so. ... We all live in Colorado now. Mother is still living and is very active and healthy at age 87. ... God has been very good to the Harper family. The loss of loved ones has not deterred us from serving Him. We have currently five family members serving full-time in missionary service in various parts of the world. We have become an international family, quite unexpectedly. ... Thank you again, Bob Harper."
I wrote back to Bob and forwarded his e-mail to Lois. They corresponded, and a few weeks later Bob traveled east to meet with Lois and her family. Lois kept me apprised of the story: "We finally met, Bob, Jacque, Bill and me. We took a few pictures. I will mail you the negatives. ... They stayed two hours. ... I feel like my life is complete because this is a meeting I waited so long for. Lois."
The sad events that brought about this reunion happened long ago and far away, and the sentimental thing to say is that it was destiny or fate or whatever. And maybe it is.
I don't know why, after 50 years, I decided to write about Donny Harper's short life. It occurred to me when I was researching the story that there might not be anyone, other than Donny's family, who remembered him and that probably few readers in the Sandhills would care. I worried, too, that I might be reawakening an old anguish. But I felt compelled to do it anyway. I suspect that we were all entwined to begin with.
Newspaper op-ed writing is often the catalyst for anger, so it's heartening to learn of lives made more complete because of a simple column.
This is the last e-mail I received from Lois: "Here is a little something funny that I told Bob and Jacque today. I actually wrote a letter to Oprah and never mailed it, about my life story. I thought she could locate Bob Harper for me and we could have a 52-year reunion on TV. But who needs Oprah, when God showed me the way."
Stephen Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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