It Takes So Little

After I graduated from high school, I enrolled in the local community college. The girl I was dating at the time had an older sister who’d also gone there, and she gave me some of the textbooks she’d used. I remember a psychology text and a literature anthology. The latter was still in use at the time I attended. I kept those books a very long time, so long that I became a man approaching seventy, and my girlfriend became someone else’s girlfriend and eventually his wife, and her sister had a family, mourned her husband’s passing, and died herself this past week. Her death took me back to those long-ago days when I had no idea who I was, and I remembered how generous she was, not only with the gift of those books but also with her kindness. She was living at home then, and often she’d be there those nights when her sister and I would sit on the front steps, holding hands and listening to music. We were just kids, and it would have been easy to look at us with amusement and to make fun of our puppy love, but my girlfriend’s sister never did that. She let us have our space. She respected us and what we felt for each other.

I’m thinking about this in part because I’m turning the corner toward the end of another school year, and, as I always do, I take stock of the students who are about to graduate and move on to the next stages of their lives. I’m remembering people like my former girlfriend’s sister who made a difference in my own life. At the time I lived in this small town (population: 1,000), it wasn’t uncommon for everyone to be invested in the futures of its young people. It wasn’t just the teachers, the ministers, the law enforcement officers, it was also the neighbors, the store owners, the nurses, the oil field workers, and everyone who had a stake in this little town and wanted to help its young people thrive.

Maybe, when my former girlfriend’s sister gave me those books, she was only thinking she didn’t need them anymore and here was an opportunity to give herself more space by letting them go. If that’s all it was—a little tidying up—that’s fine with me, but I prefer to believe she saw something in me that told her I’d make good use of those books. I like to think she saw something about the road ahead of me that I couldn’t yet see myself.

She and I were Facebook friends, and I just now went back and looked at our direct messages over the years. There aren’t many, but the one that stands out for me is the first one, when she wrote to say, “Hi, Lee, I don’t know if you remember me as _____’s big sister. I have enjoyed reading your books for years and just wanted to say thank you for remembering our little town of Sumner and some of the characters we grew up with.” Of course, I remembered her, and, when I answered, I reminded her of the books she gave me, which, I told her, played a part in my development as a writer. I also thanked her for always being so kind to me, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to do that.

It takes so little to play a role in a young person’s life—an act of generosity, a kindness, a way of saying, “I believe in you.” That’s what my former girlfriend’s sister did for me—gave me a way to see what might be possible—and even though I now join countless others in mourning her passing, I’ll never forget her and the time she took to let me know I mattered.


  1. Terri DeVos on April 8, 2024 at 12:05 pm

    Beautiful words and memories!

  2. Charlotte Tressler on April 8, 2024 at 2:26 pm

    After my mother died, a friend of hers started corresponding with me. It made me feel so special to exchange letters with a grownup, and even more special when she and her husband invited me to visit over the summer. Those trips to their ranch in East Texas became an annual event and were the highlight of my year from age 10-16.
    I moved to California and, decades later, my husband and I visited her with our small children. I visited again with my daughter when she was 12. The feelings I had were just as wonderful as I remembered, and my daughter, now 31, has great memories of that trip.

    • Lee Martin on April 10, 2024 at 4:02 pm

      I LOVE your story! Thanks so much for sharing it.

  3. Rhonda Hamm on April 8, 2024 at 7:08 pm

    Lee you are generous to all students and with praise to those who help you. That is pretty exceptional in this world. Thank you for your kindness

    • Lee Martin on April 10, 2024 at 4:01 pm

      Thank YOU for your comment and your own kind spirit.

  4. Phyllis Pool Usher on April 8, 2024 at 8:09 pm

    Love this! Just got home from Berryville and watching the eclipse at the winery. Went past your old lane and thought of you!

    • Lee Martin on April 10, 2024 at 4:00 pm

      Phyllis, thanks for this comment. If I remember correctly, the tasting room at the winery was built from our old barn wood.

  5. Shiv Dutta on April 13, 2024 at 7:05 pm

    What a beautiful story, Lee! It tugged at my heartstrings!!

    • Lee Martin on April 14, 2024 at 5:28 pm

      Thanks, Shiv. I hope you’re doing well. We miss seeing you at VCFA.

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