A SIMPLE ACT OF KINDNESS
Written by Rick Archer
2015, Richard Archer
AN ACT OF
people are familiar with the Parable of the Good
to this parable, we have come to associate the name
"Samaritan" with kind, decent people.
Strangely enough, back in Biblical times, the
Samaritans were reviled by the Jews as some sort
of pagan half-humans.
Jesus told the story of a Jewish man traveling
Jerusalem to Jericho.
In the desert, this man fell among
robbers. The robbers beat him and stripped
him of his clothes. They departed, leaving
the man to die.
chance a priest was going down that road.
When the priest saw the
broken man, he never even stopped. Later a
Levite passed by without stopping as well.
Later a Samaritan came upon the man.
When he saw the dying Jewish man, he had
Samaritan took the broken man in his arms and
oil and wine to cleanse his wounds. Then
he bound his wounds. Next the Samaritan
placed the half-dead man on his horse.
they passed an inn, the Samaritan purchased a
room and spent the night restoring the man's
strength. The next day he took out a day's
wage and handed it to the innkeeper.
Samaritan said, "Please take care of this man.
Whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I
come back this way."
Parable of the Good
Samaritan, Jan Wijnants (1670)
the impact of what Mrs. Ballantyne did for me, one
can imagine why
I love the story about my
coincidental parking lot meeting with Mrs. Ballantyne so much.
contend her actions embodied the teachings of
Mrs. Ballantyne had chanced upon
the lowliest child in her realm. A high and mighty
woman who occupied the same lofty social status as the
Levite and the priest, Mrs. Ballantyne could have easily excused herself and left
the parking lot without a word. No one would have ever been
the wiser... including me. Mrs. Ballantyne
owed me nothing; I expected her to leave at any
Instead Mrs. Ballantyne, ordinarily a very busy
went out of her way to stay and take care of me.
She spent 30 minutes at a minimum with me and quite
possibly longer than that. She refused to leave until my strength was restored.
She asked nothing in return.
century later, this
incident remains the closest thing to a religious experience I have
ever had. Nothing in the past fifty years has changed my
mind that something extraordinary took place that
chance meeting was
not "chance"? What if it was arranged by a hidden hand?
In my heart I cannot shake the feeling that Mrs. Ballantyne
was intentionally steered my way by someone special to put me out of my suffering. Nor do
I believe that 'someone' was a human being.
spent my entire life believing some sort of higher power sent Mrs.
Ballantyne my way to help me snap out of my depression.
There is no
other explanation that makes any sense to me.
The easiest way for me to explain the
impact of her visit would be to compare her intervention to that
Clarence, the angel in Jimmy
Stewart's "Wonderful Life".
Clarence was sent to help George Bailey in his hour
of greatest need.
I was in practically the
same fix. I was spiraling out control.
For that single moment in my life, I needed Mrs.
Ballantyne just as much as George Bailey needed Clarence.
At that moment, I felt like the whole world was stacked up
my strength to continue.
That is how important this
healing event was to me.
did I stop worrying about college tuition, I also let go of the
destructive bitterness I felt towards my classmates. My
talk with Mrs. Ballantyne opened my eyes to the possibility that
many people at St. John's were actually very nice.
Our conversation allowed me to release the
resentment I felt towards practically everyone at
Most of all,
Mrs. Ballantyne helped me regain my self-esteem.
During our half hour talk, Mrs. Ballantyne's kind words of praise made
such a difference.
At the time,
there were several aspects to that conversation where I
was simply too young and too naive to understand.
I could not understand why Mrs. Ballantyne was willing
to pay so much attention to me. Keep in mind this
intervention was accomplished in a random
encounter between two people who began the conversation
as complete strangers. I kept asking myself why
Mrs. Ballantyne stuck around. Anyone else would
have been gone by now, but she showed no signs of
Yes, I was grateful
that Mrs. Ballantyne stayed, but
puzzled at the same time.
It took me a
long time to figure it out, but I think I have an answer.
convinced that Mrs. Ballantyne was surprised in her own
right. Surely she had no idea why this strange,
unusual boy who reminded her of her own childhood had
appeared before her eyes. However, once she
assessed the situation, there can be no doubt she
recognized a child in great distress. It is to her
credit that her heart went out
to me. No doubt she made a snap decision to try to
help in some way.
As her son
Michael would point out to me in a 2009, Mrs. Ballantyne had great empathy. In Michael's words, due to
her own difficult upbringing, his mother became a true
champion of the underdog.
Mrs. Ballantyne told me her life story during the
parking lot conversation because she wanted to explain
that no matter how upset I was at this moment, I had a
bright future awaiting me. Her own story served as
the perfect example of why I should hang in there.
After all, when her mother died and her father deserted
her, she was in just as big a fix as me. And when
George left her to go to college, she was certainly just
as lonely as me.
empathy born of that experience is the best explanation
why Mrs. Ballantyne stayed with me for thirty precious
minutes. Once Mrs. Ballantyne recognized the young man
standing before her was in desperate need of the parenting skills she possessed in
abundance, she rolled up her sleeves. On the spot, Mrs. Ballantyne
willingly responded to my unspoken plea for help.
During Mrs. Ballantyne's
conversation with me that day, she performed sheer magic. She
literally put me back on the path when my life was on the brink of
disaster. Once she took me under her wing, my life headed
in a totally new direction.
Responding to her mother's
touch, I was able to emerge from my terrible depression. As I
would one day discover, there was indeed a remarkable life awaiting me
further down the road. However, I am not sure how I would have
gotten over my giant hurdle without her help.
strange similarity in our childhoods surely took her off
guard, Mrs. Ballantyne knew from her own experience that I had a
bright future ahead... as long as I didn't do something
the research done on the alarming frequency of teen
suicide, we all know how vulnerable moody kids can
be. Wouldn't it be nice if each of those
victims had the wisdom of someone like Mrs.
Ballantyne to calm them down before making a rash
Due to the
importance of that moment, I have found
myself examining every angle of our meeting ever since.
conversation impacted me throughout my life.
This moment served as the strongest evidence I have ever witnessed that unseen hands
might have been involved.
The entire reason I began asking questions about fate
and karma can be traced directly to this life-changing
encounter. I felt such an intense curiosity
over possible explanations for her "mystical" appearance
that I spent two solid years during college exploring
concepts such as fate and miracles.
might ask if I learned anything. Well, to be
honest, I didn't find the solid proof I was looking
for. But I did find enough circumstantial
evidence to develop a firm belief there is more to
this world than meets the eye.
exist? That is a question I ask myself every day.
Blind faith is not in my nature. Although I want
to believe in the existence of God, I am the kind of
person whose faith requires evidence. Considering
the astronomical odds against the appearance of Maria
Ballantyne that afternoon, perhaps I have that evidence
right before me.
series of unusual coincidences in my life can hardly be
considered definitive proof of the existence of God, I
must say this coincidence... and several others... has left me extremely
open-minded to the possibility.
FURTHER MEDITATION ON COINCIDENCE
"When you live your life with an
appreciation of Coincidences and their meanings, you connect
with the underlying field of infinite possibilities."
"The more frequently one uses the
word ‘Coincidence’ to explain bizarre happenings, the more
obvious it becomes that one is not seeking, but rather
evading the real explanation."
-- Robert Shea
& Robert Anton Wilson
convinced you to take a closer look at coincidences?
Well, here's another one.
February 1978, Mrs. Ballantyne and I had a second
accidental meeting. Although it lacked the
fireworks of the first meeting in 1968, in its own way this
encounter was just as precious.
second meeting took place on a Saturday morning on a
very bitter winter day. It was already cold
outside and about to get worse. Since a serious cold
front was sweeping down from Dallas, the night was
predicted to get into the low twenties. This
was unusually cold for Houston. There were
some winters when the temperature never even went
below freezing, but not this year.
In the ten
years had passed since our meeting at the parking
lot. I had not seen Mrs. Ballantyne once since
then, not even at my high school
Our second random meeting took place at Stevens of
dance studio where I had been working for
about eight months.
Thanks to Saturday Night Fever, Disco
was in full swing. I had recently started my
career as a dance teacher. One Saturday morning as I taught a
private dance lesson at the dance studio, my mouth dropped open in shock
when I saw Mrs. Ballantyne walk into the dance
studio. It was 11 am.
noticed Mrs. Ballantyne before she noticed me.
I couldn't believe it was her.
Some of the exact same
thoughts that had crossed my mind ten years earlier
now crossed my mind again. How improbable was
this? What is Mrs. Ballantyne doing here? Did she
come here to see me?
Finally the disbelief began to wear off.
It was definitely Mrs. Ballantyne. I was
tempted to welcome her with the classic Bogart line from
all the gin joints in all the towns in all the
world, she walks into mine..."
this was another one of those special
"Coincidences" that bedevil me so. In a manner
identical to the parking lot meeting ten years
earlier, Mrs. Ballantyne had popped up out of nowhere.
walked over to greet her, Mrs. Ballantyne recognized me immediately.
She was just as
surprised to see me as I was to see her. She
obviously had no idea I was here.
talk about "once in a
lifetime" chance meetings. Well,
this was twice in a lifetime. Although today's reunion
sidestepped the high drama of the
first meeting, this day would turn out to be
very special in its own right.
improbable was our second meeting?
I would say it was just as remote as
the first one. I had never
seen Mrs. Ballantyne here in
the eight months of my employment.
Stevens of Hollywood was located on
Westheimer and Shepherd about a mile from Mrs.
Ballantyne's River Oaks home.
Although the dance studio wasn't particularly out of
her way, I had no idea why she was here today in this unlikely
I regret to say I don't
even remember her reason for being there that
morning. Whatever the reason was, it was
unremarkable. It had to be something random
because over the next two years I worked there, I never saw her
enter this dance studio again.
do remember is that once Mrs. Ballantyne recognized
me, she was very happy to see me.
never seen anyone turn the energy on faster than her.
Mrs. Ballantyne instantly had me backing up with her enthusiasm.
first words were something like, "Rick Archer, of
all the people! Where the heck have you been?
Why haven't you been to see me?"
me laugh. I had spoken to this woman one time
in my life and now she greeted me like we had known
each other forever. The thought crossed my
mind that maybe we had known each other forever.
had passed since that unusual meeting in the
Weingarten's parking lot. Mrs. Ballantyne immediately
began peppering me
with questions. As I had just begun my dance
teaching career, this was an exciting time for me. Mrs. Ballantyne was
genuinely pleased to see I was doing well in my
life. In fact, she was so curious that she
wanted to talk more.
Unfortunately I had my dance student waiting
for me. Unwilling to part without
learning more, Mrs. Ballantyne asked if I was
free for lunch.
course I was free. I would have dropped
anything I was doing just to have another talk with
her. This lady had no way of knowing the
degree of her importance in my life. After all, I had
spent two solid years back in college thinking about
the implications of our
said yes, but could we make it a bit later? I would be through at 1 pm.
Would that work? Mrs. Ballantyne smiled
and said that would be fine.
expected she would suggest some nearby coffee shop,
but to my surprise, Mrs. Ballantyne invited me to her River Oaks
I felt flattered. This was quite an
I had never been to her house before, I knew exactly
where it was. Back in 1968 when I lost my Jones Scholarship
to Katina Ballantyne, I had become
so bitter that I had looked up her address in the
St. John's directory. Overcome by my
Rich Man-Poor Man grudge, I wanted to confirm with
my own eyes what kind of house Katina lived in.
After school the next day, I had driven by their
house. It gave me a grim satisfaction to confirm
that the Ballantyne family indeed lived in an
attractive River Oaks home. This gave rise to
the grudge that my loss had been nothing short of
that terrible grudge had disappeared long ago. Now as I
pulled into her driveway at 1 pm, I felt nothing but
joy at reuniting with my special benefactor.
was inside, I was
surprised to see the house was empty except for Mrs.
Ballantyne and her maid. As I looked around
for signs of even one of the seven children, Mrs. Ballantyne
grinned and said a lot had changed in ten years.
Her children had all moved out long ago. They were
busy pursuing their own lives. She added that
her husband Jay was here, but he was doing
something up on the roof and was too busy to join
us. So lunch would just be the two of us.
Mrs. Ballantyne began by
telling me how proud she was that I had received a
full scholarship to Johns Hopkins. That was
interesting... not once today had I told
her about that scholarship. How did she know
about my scholarship? And how did she know
where I went to college? So I asked her.
Mrs. Ballantyne replied she had made
a point to learn more about me following the parking
As I mulled over her
reply, I could not
help but wonder if Mrs. Ballantyne had energy on our
strange meeting ten years earlier. Looking at
that event from her perspective, I imagine Mrs. Ballantyne had been
genuinely shocked to meet a young man who reminded
her so much of herself.
Was it possible that
in her private thoughts Mrs. Ballantyne was
as curious about the metaphysical
possibilities of that meeting as me?
dying to ask her that question, but felt it
was too aggressive. Better to wait for an
I was in for a surprise.
After she caught up on my story...
college, getting thrown out of graduate
school, my lucky break with the dance
teacher job... Mrs. Ballantyne took the
occasion to pick up her life story right where she
had left off ten years ago.
reminded me what she had said ten years
earlier... money was tight in her home when she was
growing up and that she had
faced a desperate college situation nearly identical to mine.
she ever be able to pay for college?
resigned to finding whatever work she could after
high school when out of nowhere an offer to pay her college tuition
came from a highly unlikely source - an underworld
She asked me
if I remembered her saying that.
Mrs. Ballantyne had no way of
knowing I had every word she had
said that day memorized like the
Lord's Prayer. I also
remembered that Mrs. Ballantyne had barely whispered
that a mobster had paid her way to college.
Now today for some reason she spoke openly about the man.
She identified him as Sam Maceo, the
Godfather of Galveston.
said Sam Maceo was the most powerful man in
Galveston when she was a little girl.
who she was because her
father occasionally did small jobs for the Maceo syndicate.
In addition, Maceo
visited her uncle's restaurant on occasion because he had one of
his gambling operations there.
always seemed to
go out of his way to greet her. Maceo would
spot her as she walked through the restaurant after school and smile
at her. She liked the man and would smile back. Then
one day he waved at her and invited her to come over. He
asked her how school was going and if she needed anything.
He handed her a dollar and told her
to spend it wisely. After
that, she got in the habit of going over to his table to
chat whenever she saw him. They struck up a friendship.
Starved for attention, Mrs.
Ballantyne said she was grateful to anyone willing to be nice
She was 12 at the time.
Ballantyne paused, then made sure I understood there
was nothing improper here.
Mrs. Ballantyne said a
real low point in her life came after her brother George enrolled up at Texas
A&M in 1935. After her mother had died in 1932, her father
had forced her to go live with his sister Virginia and her husband
Gus. Now with George gone, Uncle Gus and Aunt Virginia
decided this was a good time to move to San Antonio.
strongly objected to leaving Galveston. However, since she was only 14, what choice did she have?
Mrs. Ballantyne said the
next two years in San Antonio were the loneliest years of her
life. She never dated and didn't make any friends at her new
school. Instead she kept her nose in books whenever she
wasn't playing tennis.
Mrs. Ballantyne made good grades,
but it all seemed futile. As she was about to finish high
school, her college chances looked bleak.
That is when Sam Maceo
unexpectedly stepped in and
offered to pay her way
to the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, a women's school in Belton,
why this man had done this for her. That was
quite a gesture.
"That's a good question. Mr. Maceo had
helped my brother George out of a really tough
spot a couple years earlier. George was in
danger of getting kicked out of school for lack
of tuition. My father didn't have a dime,
so he decided to ask his boss if he could help.
Mr. Maceo asked him a question. 'How well
is this son of yours doing up at school?'
father replied, 'George is the top student in
his class, sir. He really studies hard!'
that, Mr. Maceo reached in his pocket and handed
my father the money.
found out later that Mr. Maceo had someone check
with Texas A&M. When he found out that
George was indeed at the top of his class, he
was impressed. Mr. Maceo was an immigrant
just like my father was. He knew how tough
it was to make it here in America. So to
find the kid of my father, a dubious character,
was the best student in his class, that was very
unusual. Very few children of the
immigrants here in Galveston were good students,
so that set George head and shoulders above the
Unbeknownst to any of us, Mr. Maceo also kept tabs on
me after I moved away to San Antonio.
He would occasionally ask my father how I was
doing. One day my father explained that I
wanted to go to college, but they didn't have
enough money. Typical of my father, he
quickly added that since I was girl, what
difference did it make, I could get a job as a
Maceo smiled and informed my father he would
like to pay my way to college.
that's how I went to college!"
I couldn't help myself,
so I asked. "Wasn't it risky taking money from a
the curious expression on my face, Mrs. Ballantyne
shrugged her shoulders.
was strange that my education was bankrolled by
a mobster, but I didn't care. In
the eyes of many, Sam Maceo was seen
more as benefactor than evil presence. I admired the man.
He came all the way from Sicily without any
money and education, yet here he was the
most important man in the city. He knew
how tough it was to be an immigrant.
time, I didn't really understand why he was
helping me. George and I talked about it.
George believed that Mr. Maceo understood the
importance of education as a way to give the
children of immigrants equal footing.
Greek, Italian, it didn't matter to him.
He wanted the children of the immigrants here on
the Island to succeed. He felt a
connection to lift us up.
mattered to him was that George and I were good
kids. And he also knew what my father had
done to us. To him, that wasn't right.
we had gotten a rotten break, he was impressed
that we worked hard in school without any
encouragement. Mr. Maceo felt for us both.
Thanks to George, now he wanted to help me too.
I could not be more grateful. Now I had my
chance just like George did."
Impressed by George's performance at Texas
A&M, Sam Maceo decided to help out the pretty but shy Greek
girl as well. Maceo paid her way to Mary
Hardin-Baylor for all four years.
Mrs. Ballantyne said she
loved college, but continued to remain the shy, quiet, unwanted
girl. Since meeting men at this women's college was something of
a challenge, Mrs. Ballantyne said she didn't bother to date. She said it was
easier to concentrate on her studies instead. Then, with a
smile, she added, "I played a lot of tennis in college too."
I smiled ruefully at
that comment. Mrs. Ballantyne had no way of knowing her line
about using tennis as a substitute for dating had never left my mind
since the parking lot meeting. I had spent four years at
Hopkins thinking of Mrs. Ballantyne every time I visited the gym to
use pick-up basketball as my own substitute for
not dating in college.
Thanks to my lousy love
life, I had become quite a basketball player.
That memory raised an
idle thought. What kind of effect had Mrs. Ballantyne's
life had on her tennis game?
Curious, I asked a
"Mrs. Ballantyne, when I
first met you ten years ago, you mentioned you never dated in high
school. Now you just said it again. Is that true? If
so, why was that? Why
didn't you ever date?"
Mrs. Ballantyne laughed.
"That's a funny
story, Rick. Tennis was the story of my life when I was
growing up. My brother George was two years older than me.
George became the most important person in my life after my mother
died and my father split the family up. He became my
constant companion due to how lonely I was.
After my father
split us up, we lived in different homes and went to different
schools. George made a point to come look me up after
school practically every day. George loved tennis with a
passion; he couldn't get enough of it. Tennis and
astronomy were the two great loves of his life, oh, and fishing
too. But tennis was everything.
Every day he would challenge me to another game of tennis.
This became a daily curse.
Don't get me wrong,
ordinarily George was wonderful to me, but tennis was different. George was pretty mean when it came to
tennis. He refused to let me win and loved to rub it in
how superior he was.
George was older, taller, and faster than me. I couldn't
beat him to save my soul. You have no idea what it is like
to lose time and time again to someone."
Well, actually I did
know what it was to lose all the time.
When I was 13, there was once an older man named Neal I despised.
He was my mother's live-in boyfriend. Neal tormented me with his
chess skills. I could not beat him... until I studied like mad
in secret and turned the tables on him. However I lost enough
times to know what Mrs. Ballantyne was talking about.
is, I was a very good player. None of my friends had a
chance against me. but I didn't care about beating
them. All I wanted to do was beat
wasn't going to let that happen. No way his kid sister
would ever beat Mr. High and Mighty. I lost every game
we ever played and George teased me about it.
He made me so
mad! I wanted to quit so many times I lost count, but
the next day I would be out there playing him again. I vowed
that one day I would beat him. Didn't know when, didn't
know how, but someday I would beat George. It became a point
of honor for me. The thing that irritated me is that I was
getting better playing him all the time, but George was
also getting better playing me! I couldn't catch up to him.
three years of this torment, George went off to college up at
A&M. My Aunt and Uncle decided this was a good time to
leave Galveston and move to San Antonio. Like I said
earlier, I was furious.
This forced me to leave my hometown and what few friends I had.
I decided I would find a boyfriend and handle my loneliness
I was in the 11th grade now and I
wanted to start dating. I made the mistake of telling
George. Dumb move. George was fiercely protective of
me and didn't want me dating anyone unless he could check the
out first. I argued with George no end that I was old
enough to take care of myself, but he wouldn't listen. I
couldn't believe George thought he had the right to order me
around like he was my father.
I wrote him a letter
and I said I was going to start dating whether he liked it or
not. Since he was up at A&M, George was in no position to
control me. Or so I thought.
Well, George pulled
a dirty trick on me. One
day he showed up at the house with my two older brothers Johnny
and Christie. They completely ganged up on me. All
three brothers were terribly overprotective. In their
minds, I was this naive little Catholic girl who needed to be
protected from all those dangerous school boys. They didn't
want me dating when they weren't around to inspect the boys
first and keep their eagle eyes on me. Their solution was to forbid me to date period.
So my brothers gave Uncle Gus and Aunt Virginia explicit orders
not to let their sister date anyone without their consent.
I was sitting right
there in the living room listening to them. They said it
was for my own good! I could not believe the words that
came out of their mouths! My brothers made me so damn mad!
was about to lose my temper, so I stomped out of the room and
ran out of the house to cool down.
when I came back, those were the rules. No dating in
high school. I was stunned.
Now, don't get me
wrong. I love George from the bottom of my heart and I know he
thought he was doing the right thing. But I didn't agree
with him. It was my life he was interfering with. I was trapped.
Here I was in San
Antonio without a friend in the world and forced to live like I
had been sent to a nunnery. Everyone at my school dated
George, I was a hermit. So I got mad. And
because I was mad, I played tennis. And more tennis.
It was the only thing I could do to control my frustration.
Sometimes I challenged the boys from the school tennis team.
I was encouraged when I started to beat some of them.
I was getting better. Every time I played tennis, all
I could think about was how I wanted to get even with
bless his soul, had written to tell me he had become captain of the tennis team at Texas
A&M. He was so proud of himself. George added that he was virtually
unbeatable. That was a mistake. George shouldn't
have told me he was unbeatable. Now I practiced even
George is in the
middle wearing the A&M tee-shirt
I was so mad at George for not letting me
date, I decided to teach him a lesson. From his letters, I knew he was
struggling hard to make enough money to stay in school.
I figured if George was that busy, there was no way he could be playing much tennis. That gave
me an advantage because I had all the free time in the world
thanks to his knucklehead idea that I couldn't date.
George called the house to apologize for not coming to see me.
He mumbled something about the Aggie football game with Texas as
his excuse. Then he promised to come see me at Christmas.
I smiled because that was exactly what I wanted to hear.
I played tennis
every day against the toughest players I could find. When I wasn't playing tennis, I trained as hard as I
possibly could. I walked to and from school and jogged in
my spare time. I was in the best shape of my life.
When George came to
San Antonio to visit me over Christmas, it was time to
spring the trap. I casually asked him about his
game. It was the dead of winter and George told me he hadn't played in months. He
was busy working odd jobs and studying constantly, so he had to put
tennis on hold till spring. I smiled. Just like I
Meanwhile George had no idea I
played constantly. Plus I was older now and more physically
mature. I was also a lot faster than he realized.
However in his ignorant mind, I still looked like his little kid sister,
a weakling too frail to keep up with the likes of him.
So I casually asked
if we could we play. Well, sure, George was more than
happy to play his favorite patsy.
I was so nervous.
When I took my jacket off, I was scared to death he would notice
that my Greek skin was practically black from all that time practicing in
the sun. After all, it was Christmas. Why would I
have a tan? Fortunately George was a boy. Boys are
too stupid to notice anything that obvious. George never
suspected a thing.
I jumped all over him.
George never knew what hit him. I got to balls he had
never seen me reach before. Not only was George out of
shape, he was in shock over how much I had improved. Before he could recover, I
had too big a lead for him to catch up. I
beat him soundly in the first set. I was so thrilled! I had
never taken a set off George before.
George was not used
to being whipped. Oh no, not by a long shot. George was so mad! Now George was bent
on revenge. When I saw him set his jaw and get that
determined look of his, I knew I was in trouble. No more
element of surprise. Sure enough, he beat me handily in the
second set. However, I noticed he was really huffing and
puffing towards the end.
After his victory, George
was ready to give me a big hug and call it a day. He smiled and
said, "Hey, let's call it even, Maria. Nice job on
the first set."
I said, "No way,
Buster, you're not getting off that easy. You know the
rules... tie-breaker. One more set."
The third set was the battle of century.
Neither of us could break the other person's serve, but I
noticed George was tiring. He wasn't chasing down balls he
would normally get to. He just let them go for winners
because he was too tired. That was so totally out of
character for him. Ordinarily George chased everything in
sight, but not today. That really encouraged me, so I refused to give up. My goal
was to wear him down and it worked. I
finally broke through in a marathon match, then held my serve
for the victory. George was so tired he could barely move
in the last game.
Afterwards George was numb.
This could not have happened!! He stared at me like I was
an alien or something. He couldn't believe his little
sister had beaten him. George was so glum, it was
wonderful. I started to feel sorry for him, but then I
remembered all that teasing. Then I remembered he wouldn't
let me date either. Let him suffer; George deserved it.
I never beat George
again, but it didn't matter. For some reason, my one
victory rankled him more than anything. He had countless victories over me,
but he couldn't seem to accept that one day 10, 20, 30 years ago
through some bizarre fluke his weak little sister had beaten him,
Mr. Invincible, the
best tennis player in Texas.
I have spent the
rest of my life teasing George unmercifully about the upset
victory. It still bugs him every time I bring up
the subject. So naturally I will never let him forget!!"
Maria Ballantyne finished
college while World War II was still in progress.
After college, she returned to her aunt
and uncle's house in San Antonio.
This is when Maria Ballantyne finally blossomed.
Once she started working as an executive secretary, for the first time in her life she became popular.
She had become quite a beauty.
Guess what her favorite activity was? Mrs. Ballantyne said she loved to dance.
With a grin, she said her friends referred to her as "Maria
Every chance she
got, she danced with a big grin on her face to the big band
music of that era. In addition to her love of Big Band Swing
dancing, she developed a reputation as a flamboyant performer in traditional Greek
No doubt her provocative style certainly got her noticed.
As a beautiful Greek woman with a strong, athletic figure honed from years of tennis, she was soon much in demand with the young professional set of San Antonio.
I asked Mrs. Ballantyne how she met
replied that this was an interesting story. She said she met her
husband Alando "Jay" Ballantyne in the swimming pool at a San Antonio air force base.
Jay was so handsome
he took her breath away. However, once she discovered he
was a flight surgeon, Mrs. Ballantyne was convinced he was way
out of her league.
Her future husband begged for her phone number, but she refused to give it to him.
Mrs. Ballantyne said she hesitated due to a failure of
This young man
was so well-educated and so good-looking that every girl at the
could not take their eyes off of him. What chance did she
The young Maria chose to withhold
her phone number because she could not figure out what he saw
in a shy girl like herself.
I smiled quietly. I was having a hard time picturing this
beautiful, vivacious woman as 'shy' and 'lacking confidence'.
That said, I appreciated her modesty.
Ballantyne would not take 'no' for an answer.
Undeterred, he went behind her back.
When she wasn't looking, he got the coveted phone
number from one of Mrs. Ballantyne's girlfriends at the
learned that her suitor was a very impressive man. Graduating
Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Arizona, Jay Ballantyne had been
awarded a scholarship to Columbia Medical School.
War II, Ballantyne served as an army captain and medical doctor.
He was stationed at Randolph AFB when he had the good fortune to
meet Maria at the swimming pool.
They began dating and
were married three months later.
for the whirlwind decision to marry was typical of young
couples that age during the war...
received orders to report to Hawaii. Uh oh. It was
married or be separated.
Ballantyne winked at me. "We had not known
each other long, but I was so in love. I could not bear
the thought of letting him leave. If something
went wrong... another Pearl Harbor... I could never
forgive myself. However I didn't dare know let him know
I would follow him to the end of the earth. I
played hard to get. I told Jay ordinarily I
would make him wait longer, but if it was Hawaii, maybe
I would reconsider."
Ballantyne said their time in Hawaii was the happiest
she had ever been in her life.
Following the war, her
husband's training took them to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.
In 1947, Dr. Ballantyne became the
first resident at the new M.D. Anderson Hospital in Houston.
would become a highly respected cancer surgeon at M.D. Anderson
and would serve as a teaching professor for the University of Texas
medical system as well.
At this point
Dr. Ballantyne moved his growing family to Houston, Texas.
Now the conversation drifted to the story of her home.
smiled at the memory of how her family was able to move into Houston's prestigious
River Oaks area.
"You know, Rick, people always think we are rich,
but we have everyone fooled.
We aren't rich, we're just lucky.
All the mothers at St.
John's assumed that since my family had a nice big home in River Oaks and
I had seven children at the school that my husband must be filthy rich.
This was my family's big secret.
We weren't wealthy, we were
We only lived in River Oaks thanks to a generous
gift from my brother and a couple of lucky
In the late Fifties, George, Mrs.
Ballantyne's brother, had bought an undeveloped property on the edge of River Oaks.
Dana, Mike, Marina, and Katina in back
Christie, Dr. Ballantyne, Lisa, Mrs. Ballantyne, and George
Located on the banks
of muddy Buffalo Bayou, the lot was inexpensive by River Oaks
There was a reason for that... the property was a veritable jungle at the time.
with oak trees and dense underbrush, the lot was infested with
mosquitoes, snakes and countless squirrels.
George, now a prosperous Houston oil
man, had thought about building there himself, but changed his mind and sold it at a fair price
to his sister's family.
Soon after, the City of Houston
bought an easement down to Buffalo Bayou. The money from the
purchase nearly paid for the whole lot. This gave them enough money to
Now came another lucky
break. A German architect offered to build the family home at a significant
discount. The architect wished to build a showcase home in the
exclusive River Oaks area. In this way, he could demonstrate his talent to the booming Houston
real estate market.
As it turned out, the lot and house together cost only $60,000.
Although this was a lot of money in the early 1960s, the
price tag was still far below what one would have guessed.
Getting this house had been quite an
Now the Ballantyne
family owned a prestigious River Oaks address in the land of the uber-rich although at best her husband's earnings at the time were
no better than upper middle class. She added his salary was
stretched very thin with seven children to support.
She added with another wink that the kids ate her out of house
The next step was
finding new schools for the children. Mrs. Ballantyne looked to nearby St. John's School for her
oldest son Michael. Referring to him as her "Trailblazer", Mrs. Ballantyne said that Michael was very
intimidated by the wealth he was surrounded by on a daily basis.
At this point, Michael was convinced he was the poorest kid in the
looked at me and grinned.
"I have a
to make, Rick. You have no way of knowing this,
but back when we had our long talk at
Weingarten's, I almost broke out laughing when
you told me you were the poorest kid at St.
My oldest son Michael used to say
the same thing. I told Michael he was crazy, but he never stopped
arguing with me. He was so convinced we
were the poorest family at the school.
Michael was very
fortunate he was away at college when I met you.
Otherwise I would have
taken you home with me that afternoon and let
him meet you just so I could finally win the
admission to St. John's, the legend of the Ballantyne family at
St. John's School began.
self-described poorest kid in school, performed brilliantly.
Mike was a Senior when I became a Freshman. Mike was the
shining light of his class - a genius with many academic honors
and very athletic. Mike was so fast that he set a school
record in the mile that stood for over thirty years.
Mike was the
Trailblazer indeed. Mr. Chidsey was very taken with
Michael's combination of academics, leadership and athletics.
He wasted no time informing Mrs. Ballantyne that all of her
children were more than welcome at his school.
Mr. Chidsey arranged
a series of scholarships to make this possible. Following
in Michael's path, all seven brothers and sisters would get
their education at St. John's.
Now with a smile,
Mrs. Ballantyne looked directly at me and waved her hand in a
sweeping motion to call attention to her home and the pictures
of her family.
"It was always
my dream to marry a man I could respect. I wanted him
to be the kind of
father I never had. I wanted him to help me create the home I never had growing up.
Thanks to Jay, this dream has come true in more ways than I could possibly
imagine. My family means everything to me."
Although things were
much quieter now that the children were grown, over the years
this home had been quite the beehive of activity. Her home
was constantly filled with her children's friends,
then later on her grandchildren, plus people from all over the world who lived with
the family at various times.
"Who would have ever believed this was
When I was a little girl and my mother
had just died, things were very bleak for me. I never dreamed
it could get worse. When my father
sent me away, I was broken hearted. I
had just lost my mother and could barely
cope. Now my father didn't want me
either. I could not
understand why my own father would abandon me.
My father was a
real jerk. First he sent George away to his brother.
Then he turned
me over to his sister and said, 'Here Virginia, I can't take care of
these kids. I want you to give Maria a home.'
Virginia didn't want me. She had a
family of her own, but her older brother
bullied her into taking me. I thought
he would at least come to visit, but I was
that point, my father turned his back on me and started chasing
women. I was so angry at him.
After that, it didn't
take me long to realize that Aunt Virginia didn't have time for me.
She had her own children to worry about and
hated that my father had used guilt to make her take some little kid against her will. I was
only 11 years old and convinced my life was going absolutely
Then a few years later some gangster hands me a
college scholarship. It was the break of a lifetime."
Mrs. Ballantyne gestured
again to her
living room and the wall full of family pictures.
"I spent my entire childhood dreaming that I
would someday have a family like this.
You have no idea the pain I felt when my
family disintegrated around me.
father was a confused man. He had no
business walking away from his duty to George and I.
I was bound and determined that when I grew
up, I would create my own family.
Now look. I have my home, my marvelous husband and seven of the
best children any mother could ever hope for. I could not possibly
be more proud of my children. Who would ever believe a story
Then she smiled at me.
"Rick, I don't tell my gangster
story to very many people, but that was how I
escaped my trap and found a way become my
I could not
believe how lucky I was. I could barely imagine that a
man who barely knew me had paid for me to go to college."
I smiled back at Mrs. Ballantyne. Just
as her simple act of kindness had saved me in
the Weingarten's parking lot ten years
earlier, it was apparent that she too had
benefitted from a simple act of kindness of
What a funny coincidence. And what an
interesting coincidence that one day Mrs.
Ballantyne was given the chance to pass that
act of kindness on to me. As they say,
if you can't pay a favor back, then pay it
The one question I wish
I had asked Mrs. Ballantyne that afternoon was what her own thoughts had been
that day back in the parking lot. I was working up the
courage to do just that when Mrs. Ballantyne's husband made a surprise
appearance. Now our conversation ended.
Something was wrong. Dr. Ballantyne had a
huge frown on his face and he seemed upset.
He didn't say a word to me. In fact, he was so oblivious to my
presence I had to assume he was used to his wife
bringing unexpected guests to the house.
Mrs. Ballantyne got up
from the table to see what was bothering him. I watched quietly as Dr.
Ballantyne and his wife talked over by the kitchen. To my
surprise, Mrs. Ballantyne turned to glance over at me. Then
she pointed me out. For the first
time, Dr. Ballantyne seemed to notice me as well.
Something odd was going
on. What was this all
Mrs. Ballantyne said,
"Rick, could I ask you a big favor?"
"Sure. What do you
"There is a cold front coming into town this evening. Temperatures are
expected to hit the low 20s. Jay is worried
that the freeze could easily destroy our tropical plant collection. He has been up on the
roof all day trying to cover our open-air atrium with plastic for
protection, but he is getting
nowhere because it is a two-man job.
Do you have an hour to
spare to help him?"
I smiled. "Of
course. I'm not busy. I would be glad to help."
So up on the roof I
went. Brrr! I had forgotten how cold it was.
There was definitely a storm coming. It was ridiculously
chilly and the wind was brisk. The moment the cold wind
hit, I realized full well what Dr. Ballantyne was worried about.
Outlined by the
house on three sides, the atrium was
open to the sky to permit sunlight. On the ground below
were dozens upon dozens of warm-weather tropical plants vulnerable to the
The fourth side of
the atrium was open to the swimming pool and
expansive lawn. The gap between the two parallel sides was
across. In order to stretch the
flapping plastic properly
in the heavy wind, one man had to secure part of the plastic
while his counterpart walked his part
to the other side. Once the plastic was properly
stretched across the atrium, we could hammer in our respective sides.
Ballantyne wasn't satisfied with just one layer. He did
not feel the
individual rolls of plastic were thick enough to
guarantee sufficient protection, so the process had to be
repeated several times.
In addition, we had to drop
more plastic from the roof to the ground below. In this
way, the open side of
the house facing the swimming pool would be completely enclosed. Dr. Ballantyne placed
a 16 foot piece of wood across the roof, then using ladders we
nailed on more
plastic to finish enclosing the area with a temporary fourth wall.
During the project, Dr.
Ballantyne and I spoke little. Dr. Ballantyne was a formal man
who carried himself with great dignity. Unlike his gregarious wife,
I noticed Dr. Ballantyne was a man of few words. He
was very reserved.
Dr. Ballantyne was
quite the workhorse. Unwilling to take any chance of
losing his valuable plants, he refused to take a break until the
job was done. As the day progressed, I was amused by the
transformation in his features. Slowly but surely,
deep frown was replaced by a greatly-relieved smile.
As the darkness rolled
in, the temperature began dropping rapidly just as predicted.
It was freezing up there! I had spent the afternoon noting how beautiful his tropical
plants were down below us. I could understand why his plant collection was a source of pride to him.
Dr. Ballantyne had been wise to cover the open area or he would have
lost every one of those plants.
In all, we were on the
roof for three hours until we finished. It
was probably a good idea to avoid breaks because we finished not a
minute too soon. As Mrs. Ballantyne
handed us a reward of some much-welcome hot chocolate, I was pleased with my
good deed. Like the little Dutch
boy and the leaking dike, I had come along at a most opportune moment.
While I had been up there, I thought it was
strange that in a family of seven grown children, not one of them
was anywhere in sight today to pitch in. Nor did anyone show
up with the job in progress. What were the odds of
Not that I minded; this
had been a fascinating day for me. Not only did I learn more details
about Mrs. Ballantyne's life story, I had fulfilled a long-held wish by
inadvertently becoming a Ballantyne for a day.
During the project, an
odd thought had crossed my mind. It had been ten years earlier
when Mrs. Ballantyne had appeared out
of nowhere at a time when I greatly needed her help. Now out
of the blue ten years later,
she and I had "accidentally" re-connected at the exact
moment when her
husband needed my help.
In a sense, we had
traded a favor for a favor. That in itself wasn't unusual.
People do favors for each other all the time. However, in
everyday life, people typically ask each other for help directly
ahead of time... phone, email, letter, knock on the door, etc.
There had been no one to
arrange today's event. I just happened to be in the right
place at the right time. Very odd.
As I spent the afternoon
quietly repaying some of the immense debt I owed to Mrs. Ballantyne,
I could not help but wonder if this latest coincidental meeting had been
Karma in action. It was unusually convenient
that I just happened to cross Mrs. Ballantyne's path on a day when
I was free to help.
The realistic side of me
suggested we crossed paths by accident. However the mystic
side of me was convinced this encounter had been arranged by unseen hands
just like the parking lot meeting ten years earlier.
THE SEEDS OF
MY BOOK ARE PLANTED
Following the 1978 encounter, 27 years
in 2005 I noticed an email that suggested Dana Ballantyne, one of Mrs. Ballantyne's
four sons, was taking a Salsa dance class at my
studio. Salsa was my off-night, so I
never saw Dana. However, his name got
me to thinking about his mother again.
Busy running the studio and
raising my daughter, I had not
Ballantyne much thought these past years. Now
I couldn't get her out of my mind.
Recently I had begun writing stories for my SSQQ web
site. On the spur of the moment, I cranked out
the story of the parking lot meeting and
published it in my studio Newsletter. The
response was excellent. I was very
pleased with my story.
Shorty after I wrote
the 2005 story, out of the blue none other than Mrs.
Ballantyne herself called me on the phone. I was stunned. This was third time in
my life that Mrs. Ballantyne had appeared out of nowhere to
surprise me. She certainly had her way of sneaking up on
particular phone call was no coincidence.
Mrs. Ballantyne had a ready explanation.
She said that one of her
granddaughters had stumbled across this story on my
website while doing a Google Search on the name "Maria
That made sense.
More than likely, my story was Number One on
Google's list of website stories containing her name.
Ballantyne and her beautiful
Marina and Katina
Over the phone, Mrs.
Ballantyne said her granddaughter had been so
excited. She couldn't wait to tell her grandmother!
Mrs. Ballantyne was intrigued by her granddaughter's discovery. So she went to her computer and found my
story on the Internet.
Mrs. Ballantyne said my story was amazing. She was very flattered to
receive such kind words from me.
I smiled, then assured her I meant every word I said.
At this point, Mrs.
Ballantyne invited me to meet her for lunch. A few days
later, we met at a
restaurant near her River Oaks home. It
was good to see Mrs. Ballantyne. She
was 85 now, but just as vigorous as she had
ever been. I was pleased to see that
her daughter Katina had come along as well.
When I got the chance, I asked Mrs.
Ballantyne what she remembered about our meeting in the
parking lot 40 years earlier.
As usual, Mrs. Ballantyne had a surprise for me.
"Rick, you always thought you were so sneaky.
Back when you were just a little grade school kid, I
remember seeing you watch me. I noticed on
several occasions that you seemed to be
studying me from some corner of the Commons Room.
I never knew your
name or who
you were, so I called you my secret admirer. I always knew when you
were watching. I suppose as you grew
lost track of you."
revelation embarrassed me. I didn't realize my
distant admiration had been that obvious, but then I
suppose kids always think they are a lot sneakier
than they turn out to be. It also surprised me
to discover Mrs. Ballantyne had sensed my interest
in her went much deeper than the parking lot
meeting. Fortunately, Mrs. Ballantyne seemed
comfortable with my hero worship, so I relaxed.
"After your face broke out in high school, I
felt so sorry for you. However, I never
knew you were the same boy. I
never once made the connection between you and that
little boy who had been my secret admirer.
What I did know was that whoever you were, I
could see you were in tremendous pain. The
unhappy look on your face said it all.
Another thing I remember was that my heart went
out to you in the parking lot. In the parking lot that day,
it took me a while to realize that you were the same
boy that used to watch me. Once I
heard your story, I hurt for you so much.
Your story hurt me in another way as well.
You reminded me so much of the pain I went
through in my own childhood. If you
recall, I told you that day I had led a very
secluded and stressful life as a teenager."
nodded. How could I forget that conversation?
It changed the direction of my life. In fact,
that conversation led directly to the search that
cemented my belief in God. However, I was much
too shy around my hero to express thoughts as
sensitive as these.
Ballantyne's recollections had a deep effect on me.
At the time of the 1968 meeting, I had tremendous
difficulty understanding what possible reason the
most important woman at my school would take the
time to talk to a complete nobody like me. Now
she had answered my question... her sympathy and her
kinship with my story had connected us.
course I enjoyed seeing Mrs. Ballantyne and Katina,
but to be honest, I left feeling disappointed that
day. Mrs. Ballantyne's thoughts had left me
hungry for more information. I had twenty
burning questions that I was dying to ask. For
example, I wanted to ask if she had ever wondered
about the coincidences that brought us together.
Didn't she think it was strange how we met in the
parking lot that day? However, I had been far
too introverted to speak up. It was easier to
let Mrs. Ballantyne control the conversation.
To this day, I still kick myself for not speaking up
when I had my chance.
how much I talk about Mrs. Ballantyne (Chapters
15-17), it might come as a surprise that
I only spoke to the lady on five occasions.
could I describe our relationship? On the
surface, we were acquaintances. Mrs. Ballantyne had played a critical role
in my life, but I had not played a critical role in her
life. Due to the fact
that I was not part of her life circle, I respected
her privacy and did not seek her out.
Ballantyne was a very busy woman who had to budget
her time carefully. In addition to her wonderful
seven children, Mrs. Ballantyne had countless
grandchildren as well.
addition, her brother George had ten children plus
countless grandchildren as well. I saw some
pictures of their family reunions... rows upon rows!
Therefore, as one might gather, Mrs. Ballantyne did
not have time to spare for me. I respected
that and kept my distance.
said, Mrs. Ballantyne and I knew each other on a
profound level that made little sense given our
limited interaction. Because we had once
shared that special conversation, whenever we met,
she and I got right down to business.
Ballantyne, Dana, Katina, Marina, Lisa, George, and Christie in
the middle. Michael is in the picture.
Mrs. Ballantyne would let down her guard and talk about
personal things in a way that showed she trusted me.
From my perspective, each conversation with Mrs. Ballantyne
convinced me further that we were linked in a powerful way
that defied conventional explanation.
No doubt her
children were understandably baffled by our close
connection. However, Marina and Katina as well as
their younger brother Christie had the chance to observe
first-hand the warmth that I shared with their mother, so I
think they came to trust me.
Over the years,
I continued to get heart-felt compliments on the original
2005 story. Over time, I quietly came to realize that
someday it would become my responsibility to share the story
of Maria Ballantyne... and her brother George... with the
It has been an
honor to do so.