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Many years ago, my father told me a story, one I've been thinking about off and on for about half a century. 

I have no idea if it's even true, although my dad wasn't the sort for tall tales. I heard it only once, and there were no details or embellishments. 

True or not, I can't get it out of my head. 

Here's how I remember it. In the early 1920s, my great-grandfather and one of his brothers were working in the fields when a letter was delivered. The brother read it and walked off. 

And never came back. 

Nobody knows what was in the letter. Not then and certainly not now. 

I understand in some families that would be a pretty tame story, but we're a pretty placid clan – not a lot of scandals or adventures in our family tree. I'm not saying they don't exist, just that if they do, the parties involved keep them all on the down low.  

There was a period in my life when I spent a few hours staring at the ceiling, wondering what was in that letter? Was it from a lover, a disgruntled husband or even scarier, a disgruntled banker? A can't-miss business opportunity or a debt he had no hope of paying? 

I hadn't thought about it for years, but it popped back into mind after an experience I had last week. I've been busy settling all the business parts of my father's estate. For some reason he owned some shares in a company called Duke Energy, and I've been trying to sell. Reams of paperwork – death certificates, trust documents, letters of instruction, etc. - have been sent. One thing I had to do was prove that I'm actually me. I sent off a form with my name and social security number on it and a few minutes later I got an email asking security questions. What year is your GMC Canyon, in what city is the house on 11th Street located, and what is the square footage of the house I live in? All information about me that’s apparently floating out there on the internet.  

It certainly gives me pause for thought. I mean, I haven't wanted to run away from home since I was six, and now, even if I change my mind, that option is gone, because it looks like there is no way to be invisible anymore. 

On the other hand, if he wanted to, my great-great ancestor could have moved fifty miles, changed his name from Charlie to Charles, and for all intents and purposes just start over with a clean slate. 

Clean slates are a lot harder to come by these days. Every debt you haven't paid or any dumb thing you said in college that was said within sight of a cellphone can come back to haunt you. Shoot, one of the first things I see in the morning is my computer showing me what I posted on Facebook ten or twelve years ago. 

It reminded me about a girl I met in college. She introduced herself as Margo and that's what everyone called her. A while after I met her, I saw someone from her hometown and inquired about her. The name drew a blank, but after I described her, a light went on and he exclaimed, “Oh, you mean Margaret?” 

Now, Margaret is a perfectly fine name, but it makes me smile to think of a young woman getting on a Greyhound bus as a Margaret and getting off a few hours later as a Margo. 

I have no idea what was in the letter that made my great-great-ancestor decide to be somewhere/someone else.  

But good for him. 


Copyright 2024 Brent Olson 


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