If you have a moment, I would like to tell you about a good friend of mine. His name is Jonathan Ackerman. He is a wonderful man with a beautiful family and loving wife. But something happened in his life that was really remarkable.

I first met Jonathan more than 30 years ago when we were in college together. He was studying psychology at the time, expressing a desire to become a clinical psychologist, but ultimately did not go into that field. Instead, upon finishing his studies, he decided to pursue a business venture by opening a carwash and detailing service in town. The venture provided Jonathan with a modest but reliable income.

Although the carwash did not bring Jonathan great wealth or prestige, it did provide him with a wife, as strange as that may seem. How, you ask? You’ll barely believe the circumstances.

One sunny day, a young woman drove up to the carwash in an extremely filthy vehicle. She explained that she had parked directly under a large tree at the Miami Marina while visiting a friend, not realizing that the tree was a favorite roost for hundreds of local pelicans. During the subsequent six hours, the vehicle became the repository of more than 20 pounds of viscous, putrid, tenacious fecal matter totally resistant to all amateur attempts at removal. The case clearly called for an expert.

As Jonathan assessed the ceraceous crust on the roof of the vehicle, which at this point vaguely resembled a landfill, he also had the opportunity to assess the sweet charms of the driver of the vehicle. A deal was proposed: dinner that evening if the vehicle came out sparklingly clean. And, as they say, the rest is history.

But that is not the remarkable event that I wanted to tell you about.

When Jonathan was eighteen years old, his parents sat down with him for a talk. They told him how fortunate they were to have him as a son, how they love him dearly, and that he was the answer to their prayers. But, he had to know one important fact about his origins. They were not his biological parents. Jonathan was adopted as an infant. In addition, they did not have any information regarding his biological family.

Although Jonathan loved his adoptive parents and did not feel any type of betrayal or sorrow, he was, nonetheless, extremely curious about his biological familial ancestry. And as time passed, the curiosity became much more acute, gradually transforming into an obsession.

For many years, Jonathan scoured State vital records and the internet in a failed attempt to learn his origins. Through sheer determination, Jonathan even hired a genealogy detective to continue the search, without success. After more than a decade of investigation and research, he had reached a virtual dead end. There was simply no information regarding his ancestry. And the lack of this knowledge left Jonathan crestfallen and empty.

Despite the failure of his quest, Jonathan had much to value in his life. His three children were growing and developing beautifully, and he truly loved them. His relationship with his wife remained strong and faithful. Yet, he remained tormented by his unrequited desire to know more about his genetic underpinnings.

One day many years in the future, there was an Autumn chill in the air, and Jonathan walked home briskly from his carwash business. As he approached his home, he noticed an older woman vendor on the corner of his block, offering for sale a variety of chestnuts roasting gently on a small stove. As he slowed his pace, his eyes met the older woman’s gaze, and something twisted within him. An intense pang of recognition and emotional connection roiled within his innards, his breath momentarily halted.

After a brief few seconds, Jonathan regained his composure. Although he initially wanted to blurt out a series of questions, he realized that it might appear threatening or bizarre. After all, how do you ask a stranger, “Hey, did you ever give up a child for adoption?” Instead, he asked the woman for one order of chestnuts, which she happily dispensed. The sign on the front of the stove gave the price for one bag of chestnuts: $3. Jonathan handed the woman a $20 bill, and refused any change.

Arriving home, Jonathan mentioned to his wife the brief encounter and his suspicion that this woman could be his biological mother. His wife was more than a little incredulous.

“Jonathan, the odds of this woman being your biological mother are so remote that I highly doubt the possibility. But, if you really suspect it, why don’t you just ask her?”

Jonathan responded, “Honestly, there are two reasons I didn’t ask. First of all, I admit that the odds are very small. My feelings are based only on a hunch. There is something about her manner, her appearance, and way she looked at me that somehow connected with me. But that’s a very tenuous reason for my hunch. Secondly, I’m not sure she would want to know me. After all, if she is the one, she gave me up for adoption and never tried to contact me or even provide information that could allow me to contact her in the future. Perhaps she just wants to be left alone.”

Jonathan’s wife asked, “So, what’s your plan?”

He stated, “I’m just going to take it as it comes. But, if she is my biological mother, I feel really bad that she had to live her life in such obvious poverty.”

Following that first evening’s chance encounter, Jonathan made sure to walk down the same block at the same time every evening on the way home from work. And every evening, there was the woman, selling her chestnuts. And every single evening, Jonathan would ask for a bag of chestnuts and pay $20 while not accepting any change.

This same pattern continued for weeks, then months, and as time went on, the two became more conversant and familiar. The woman would often ask how Jonathan’s wife and children were doing, and Jonathan would ask her gently about her background.

That evening, while having dinner at home, Jonathan said to his wife, “Honey, I‘ve been chatting with Sophie the chestnut lady every day. I decided I’m going to ask her tomorrow directly if she ever gave up a child for adoption.”

Jonathan’s wife suggested, “Yes, I think it’s time. Would you like me to walk with you?”

Jonathan responded, simply, “No, I think being alone is better. Perhaps less intimidating.”

The following day, Jonathan excitedly finished his work at the carwash and walked determinedly home, reviewing mentally how to broach the subject. He felt that he and Sophie had achieved a level of familiarity that made such questions perhaps more appropriate.

As he turned the corner and strode down the block to the usual chestnut station, he immediately noticed that the woman and the cart were not there.

Jonathan quickly approached the neighboring vendor and inquired, “Excuse me, but have you seen Sophie the chestnut lady today?”

The man responded, “Yes, she was here earlier, but there was some type of medical emergency. She was taken by ambulance to Mount Sinai Hospital about one hour ago.”

Jonathan, now in a sheer panic, ran the entire three blocks to the hospital, gasping for air while thinking to himself, “Oh, please, don’t let this be bad. I can’t lose her again."

Arriving at the emergency room, and after catching his breath, Jonathan urgently walked up to the nursing station and inquired about Sophie’s condition. The charge nurse told Jonathan to have a seat and wait for the treating physician, who would come out shortly.

Within a few minutes, the doctor arrived.

“Hello, Mr. Ackerman, I’m Dr. Pete Roycraft. Mr. Ackerman, are you a family member?”

Jonathan answered, “Well, to be honest, I suspect I am her biologic son, but it’s not confirmed.”

The doctor continued, “I see. Well, we haven’t been able to reach any other family members yet, so I’m going to accept that you are a next of kin. Mr. Ackerman, I’m really sorry to tell you that your Mom was brought in in cardiac arrest. She received more than 30 minutes of CPR. We tried everything, including four separate defibrillation shocks and numerous intravenous medications. But, in the end, we couldn’t resuscitate her. We pronounced her about 15 minutes ago.”

Jonathan’s eyed filled with tears. He tried to speak, but initially could not overcome the emotional torment of the moment. He finally answered the doctor through an anguished voice, speaking and sobbing at the same time.

“Doctor, I had a strong suspicion that Sophie was my biological mother. I was hoping to ask her definitively tonight whether it’s true.”

Dr. Roycraft held out his hand, which contained a white envelope.

“Mr. Ackerman, your Mom left this letter for you. We found it in her coat pocket as we tried to find some identification when she was brought in. Your name is on the envelope.”

Jonathan stared at the envelope for a moment, then accepted it from the doctor. He sat down on a chair in the emergency room vestibule and gently unfolded the single sheet.

“My dear Son,

I decided to write this letter to you since I suspected you were uncomfortable having a discussion on the street.

Jonathan, firstly, forgive me for giving you up for adoption when you were an infant. Your father and I were very young and we both felt you would have a better chance of a good life with a more affluent and established couple. I knew the couple who adopted you and stayed in touch with them through the years, but asked them for their confidentiality. But later on, once they were gone, I wanted to contact you and, if possible, become part of your life.

The reason I began selling chestnuts on your block was specifically to see you again and learn more about your life and family. I have always loved you. Despite our early life difficulties, your father and I eventually became quite successful. We were the founders of an exotic metal extraction company that has since gone global. Your father died several years ago, and we never had other children. Therefore, you are our sole heir and you are in our will to inherit our company, which is at this point a multi-billion dollar corporation.

Your obvious kindness and compassion for me every night gives me such happiness. It provides me with the feeling that my life is truly worthwhile. Because, of all traits, kindness and compassion are the only ones that mean anything in life.

Jonathan, I would love nothing more than meeting your wife and children. If you care to do so, please let me know and I will be thrilled. You and I have a lot of catching up to do, a lifetime of experience to discuss. I will wait to hear from you.

Love, your Mom Sophie.” 

January 15, 2023 17:23

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20:17 Jan 15, 2023

Hi, Wendy, Thanks so much for your nice comments. Coming from a very talented writer like you, it means a lot to me. The story is totally fictional.


Wendy Kaminski
21:49 Jan 15, 2023

Thanks, Bruce, very kind. :)


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Eileen Turner
20:29 Jan 25, 2023

I try to read every submission, and in the process look for certain writers, like you. You never disappoint.


01:09 Jan 26, 2023

Hi, Eileen. That’s such a nice complement! Thanks so much.


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David Sweet
13:20 Jan 16, 2023

I enjoyed this story. It almost gave me a Paul Harvey's "Rest of the Story" vibe. Thanks for sharing this with us.


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Wendy Kaminski
19:28 Jan 15, 2023

How bittersweet, Bruce! Your writing is done so well, this really impacted me. (I will forgive you for making me cry, someday! ;) I cannot tell, in fact, whether this was nonfiction (creative or not), though it certainly comes across as a real experience. It is a helluva story, either way, so thank you for posting something so interesting and a reminder of what many of us take for granted.


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