The speaker was the vice president of Kiwanis International, a worldwide service organization. He was speaking to a delegation of members of the organization. After the usual formalities expected from a visiting international officer, he began speaking in subdued tones about his life.
He had been introduced to the audience as the owner of a successful business in Illinois, and a respected leader in his community who had now risen to fill one of the highest offices in the international service group.He told of his birth as a twin in a small industrial city nestled in the granite mountains of Vermont. His immigrant parents had come there from northern Italy to work in the granite quarries, but after a serious injury his father moved the family to a small truck farm.
When his twin sons were only 3, the despondent father, who had become an alcoholic, took his own life, leaving his wife who spoke no English to care for a 7-year-old daughter and the twins.
Unable to take care of the farm, the mother moved her family into a nearby city, but could only afford a small home near a river and on the other side of the railroad tracks. During these years of the great Depression, times were hard, and often there was little or no food. Vagrants frequented the railroad yards, and often would break into the home, causing the children to run and hide from them.
Shortly after the family moved into the home the area experienced one of the worst floods in Vermont's history and the home was destroyed along with its meager contents. No one helped the struggling family. They were left alone to cope with life.
When the twin brothers were old enough to pull a wagon they sold soft drinks and chocolate milk to the workmen in the granite quarries. Often older boys chased them away, broke the bottles, and called them derogatory Italian names. During the winter months they sold candy bars in the offices and work areas near the quarries.
On the day before the twins were to celebrate their 12th birthday anniversary they decided to sell some candy bars to get enough money for a small birthday celebration. It was winter, and there had been considerable snow. As the boys started to cross the railroad tracks one of them slipped and before he could get up was run over by a moving train and killed. "No one will ever know the trauma of that accident that killed my brother," the speaker quietly said.
The newspaper in the city carried the story with the headline, "Twin Killed in Train Accident." A man came to their home and because the mother could speak no English she called her son to find out what the man wanted.
He explained that he was the Boy Scout leader of one of the local troops. He had read about the accident and wanted the young man to join the Scout troop. After listening to the man, the young boy told him he couldn't afford to join because he didn't even have enough for the 5 cents dues.
The Scout leader persisted and said not to worry about the dues or other costs because he would take care of them. He just wanted him to come and be with other boys.
Shaking and frightened, the young recruit went with the man to the meeting, and found friendship and people who cared. "My 12th birthday was the first time in my life that I felt somebody cared about me," he said.
He stayed in the Scout troop, even though he had to work at three jobs while going to high school. As he spoke he said he had been registered in Scouting now for 50 years and was most grateful for what the Boy Scouts of America had done for him.
He told of finishing high school, being drafted into the military during World War II, of his marriage, settling down in his wife's home town in Illinois, developing his business, rearing his family, and serving in various Scouting positions.
And yet, he said, he harbors one regret. He never took the time to write a letter of gratitude to the man who came to his humble home and cared enough to invite him to join a Scout troop.
"In the next 24 hours," he said to his rapt audience, "take 10 minutes to write a grateful note to the person or persons who may have helped you. It could be one of the most gratifying notes you have ever written."
Whether it be through Scouting, the Church, or in some other way, each of us must look for those who need our love and concern. Reach out to help, and remember the words of the Master: "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these . . . ye have done it unto me." (Matt. 25:40.)