Going forward, remembering my anonymous benefactor

It’s been a while. I’m starting a big writing project, no, continuing a project I’ve been working on my whole life.

Here’s my request: if I tell snippets of a story will you let me know what questions you have, what confuses you or what you’d like to know more about? A little online workshopping since I’m not about to apply for an MFA program.

Here goes: When I opened Oz Books in 1982 my dream was to have a real business, one that provided an ongoing income. My bigger dream was to make a difference, bring great books to kids, share a love of reading in my community. That happened.

Anybody ever seen the old TV show “The Millionaire?” The anonymous benefactor’s bearer of good news (his name was something like James Jay Fertipton) comes to the door of some poor shlump’s home, hands her  check for $1 million.

Nobody gave me $1 million, but I didn’t need that.

It was 1997. I saw the writing on the wall. With a new Borders Books an hour away, money-grubber landlords who had me paying the brunt of all the tenant’s rent, and my being an orderholic who didn’t have the heart to reduce employee hours, I had no choice but to close Oz after 15 years.

It was heartbreaking. I had already returned to teaching part-time at Mt. Desert Island High School. I don’t remember what the season was. Was the sun shining, ice bearing down on tree branches? Was I talking about the Supreme Court or were my U.S. history students working on their Bill of Rights Amendment projects, hovering over each other in small groups?

The intercom phone buzzed loudly. Picking it up, I figured one of my students needed to go to the office.

“Sheila, you have a phone call,” the office assistant said. “Oh, please get a number and I’ll call back,” replied, thinking it was a credit card company telling me my payment was overdue.”

“You better take this. It’s from the Fiduciary Trust Company in Boston.”

“Uh, oh. This is really bad,” I told her.

I was so wrong. On the phone was the trustee of my anonymous benefactor, a summertime philanthropist who loved my bookstore, appreciated all I had done for reading, for kids, he said. There had been a recent story in the Bar Harbor Times about Oz closing. She had read it. This quiet woman, a real-life philanthropist in her 70s, wanted to help.

I walked back down the hall to my classroom in a daze. The Cox twins, Rachel and Kate, were heading toward me. I think Ethan was with them. “Someone wants to save OZ,” I blurted, letting it sink in. We put our arms around each other, started jumping up and down, not being at all quiet in the hallway but who cared. “She wants to save Oz! She wants to save Oz! Woo hoo,” we hollered.

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10 Responses to Going forward, remembering my anonymous benefactor

  1. Sheila says:

    argh, don’t stop here. I want more of this delightful story.

  2. Cathleen Pintek Becskehazy says:

    Yes, I remember that show and am delighted to have my view affirmed, that there are people among us who care, and that the financially advantaged do use they money to demonstrate that caring.

  3. Tina Baker says:

    What a great idea you have. OZ is gone from MDI, but the inspiration OZ gave to so many of us continues in many forms. We still miss it, and you! OZ is the reason we bought a house on MDI 14 years ago. We are still here, and your legacy continues, Sheila. Bravo and keep going!

    Warmest appreciation from one OZ/Sheila beneficiary.

  4. Claire Doheny says:

    Tell more! I want to hear more!

  5. sheilawill says:

    All in due time, all in due time, deah. Thanks Claire!

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