People and messages can find each other, against all odds.
This is a story about Edwin O’Shea. The year was 1986. I was sitting at my lake house, waiting on the arrival of my sister, Allie, who was coming to visit from Connecticut for a few days.
She arrived in her new Mercedes-Benz. She walked into the house, excited. She said, “Just as I was coming into the town, I passed a store in an old barn.” She loved old antiques and jewelry. “Let’s go down there and see if we can find some treasures!”
“This is rural New England,” I was thinking. “Give me a break. There are no treasures. If someone is letting it go, you can be sure nobody wants it.”
But she insisted, so I got ready, and off we went.
As we drove to the old barn, my sister was thrilled, pointing the way towards the barn. When we arrived, she started running around, looking at lamps, tables, and chairs. I was drawn to a big dusty box that I saw, filled to the brim with old books. I love books, and as I went deeper down into the box, I found some beautiful, old-looking ones inside.
Suddenly, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. There seemed to be a whole set of leather-bound gold-embossed books, each one with the name on the cover, “Edwin O’Shea.” I carefully picked one up and opened it.
It was a diary. The whole set was this man’s diaries, I realized, and they covered many years of his life.
“What are these doing here? Who was Edwin O’Shea?” I wondered.
I started to dip into them here and there, searching for clues as to who this person was. The diaries were mesmerizing, and so was the idea of a man keeping this many of them, and them somehow ending up here of all places, forgotten, in the bottom of an old box in an old barn.
I looked for dates, places, identifying details and whatnot. It was clear that they were old books—maybe between 50 and 75 years old.
I sat on an old bench, reading, absolutely enthralled with these old diaries. My sister would come by from time to time and want me to follow her to see things she had found, or to look at this or that around the store, but I told her, “No, that’s okay, thanks. I am good right here, reading.”
Finally, she said she was ready to go, admitting she was tired and needed a nap.
I went up to the counter and asked the owner about the price of the diaries. I braced for what he might say, given that the volumes were obviously unique and appeared to me to be valuable.
With a dismissive wave, he said, “They’ve been here forever. I don’t want them. Nobody wants them. Take ‘em!”
I thanked the man, and before he could change his mind, I put the diaries into my sister’s car.
We went back to the lake house, and Allie was a bit tired and in need of a nap on the porch. I started a more systematic search through the diaries, which I continued into the evening. The man wrote beautifully about his romances and his everyday life, always in an elegant style.
The more I read, the more I was convinced that Edwin O’Shea’s family should have this set of diaries.
From reading, I learned that he had lived in California. He was a professor of English at a college there. It remained a mystery to me how his diaries ended up in New England, of all places. My sister awoke, amazed that I was still absorbed in studying the old books. I explained that I was now on a mission to return these diaries the family of Edwin O’Shea.
I said to her, “I am going to make a couple of phone calls. I called the town in California and I reached someone—a woman who spelled her last name the same way as Edwin did. She remembered my Mr. O’Shea. He was a professor at the college where she worked as a domestic, as a young girl. She remembered him because he had noticed and remarked upon the fact that they spelled their last names the same way, and because he was always so kind to her. She went on to say that Mr. O’Shea was elderly when she, as a young girl, knew him. But, she said, “I am an old lady now.”
She also told me how Mr. O’Shea had retired to New England. That made a bit clearer to me how his diaries happened to end up in the old barn.
She said that she thought he would be around 100 years old at the time.
I called information to see if there were any relatives in the area, so I could return the books. Oh! There was one listing in the area that spelled “O’Shea” the same way. I called immediately.
A man answered the phone, and I told him how I found the diaries and how I wanted to return them to the family. He asked me to repeat what I was saying three times. At the end of the third time, the man said to me in a low shallow voice, “I am Edwin O’Shea.”
“Not my Edwin O’Shea. Is this his son? I asked.
“No,” he said. “Those are my diaries.”
Well, I had no hesitation. I immediately asked, “Where are you?”
He gave me the address. I was so excited. I told him I would be there in half an hour. In the background I could hear my sister saying “Oh wow! You found the owner? He’s alive?”
“Yes!” I said, and we set off together immediately, her interest suddenly piqued at my mysterious journey. She wanted to join me in my mission.
As we drove to see Edwin, I could hardly believe it was true. We finally arrived at a home for the elderly called Winter Haven. It was an elegant Victorian-style home with only a few patients.
I walked into the lobby and asked to see Edwin O’Shea. I had the diaries in my arms. The nurse looked at me and said, “Edwin has never had a visitor. Please hold on a minute.”
And then, from out of the back room, came another nurse, staring at the books in my arms. She then asked, “Are you here to see Edwin?”
I said, “yes,” and she asked me to hold on.
Out from the back room came four different women, all of them with strange looks on their faces, staring at my books. Finally, they took me up the stairway with my sister to see Edwin. As I walked into his room, he was sitting on the edge of the bed, tears streaming down on his face. I was crying too, along with my sister.
I knew much of this man’s entire life from reading his diaries. I told him that fact, and we embraced like long-lost relatives. Edwin told me how many years earlier, he’d had a stroke. He had no children, so his lawyer took all his belongings in his home and sold them. His diaries were hidden in a chest.
Edwin told me that he had tried to get them back but to no avail. He was sad, he said, because in those books were all the memories that he had so enjoyed.
I visited Mr. O’Shea many times over the next few months. His wife was with him at Summer Hill house. However, she was ill, unresponsive, and mostly asleep. She was 98, and Edwin was 99.
I went away on a two-week vacation, returning on July 5th. I immediately went to see Edwin. I so enjoyed talking with him and knowing him, having found him and connected.
When I walked in there was only one girl at the desk. She told she was filling in for the holidays. She informed me that Edwin’s wife died a week ago, and that he died the next day.
I was so sad, but I was also happy to have shared precious time and had this experience with Edwin. I asked the young girl if she knew what happened to his diaries. She said she had no idea. I let it go and went home.
Seven years later, I was renovating my home and getting construction bids from different contractors. On a blistering hot day, one of the contractors came to show me his plans for my home and to give me an estimate. I was curious as to why he was so fidgety and quick about things. I asked him if anyone was waiting for him, or if he had a dog that might need some water.
He told me that, in fact, yes, his girlfriend was sitting in the car, but she was too shy to come in the house with him.
“Okay,” I said “Just give me a minute.”
I went out of my door and ran up the hill to where the cars were parked. I saw the young woman sitting in the hot car and tapped on the half-opened window. She opened the window completely, and I asked her if she could please help me with something in the house. Without hesitation, she opened the door and walked with me down the hill to the house. When we got inside, I asked her, “Do you know how to make iced tea?”
She said yes, so I told her that was what I needed help with. Well, of course I knew how to make iced tea, but this plan was a way to get her out of the stifling car. I started to ask her about her life, just getting to know her and putting her at ease.
I asked her where she worked. She said, “I work in about 20 minutes north of here, in a place called Winter Haven.”
I was shocked to hear the name of this home again. “You really do?” I asked her. “How long have you worked there?”
She told me, “about 15 years.” So then, of course, I asked her if she knew or had heard of Edwin O’Shea.
Suddenly, this woman welled with emotion and surprise. “Oh my!” she said. “You’re the one who returned the diaries!”
I confirmed yes, that was me. She then burst in tears, telling me how, in the time before I first visited, Edwin would often tell the nurses, “You wait. One day someone is going to come in those doors and return my books.”
“We were so amazed that day when you showed up with the diaries in your arms,” she said. “We were shocked in disbelief. He always knew you were coming.”
Then I realized why the nurses all stared at me when I arrived with the books that day and had looked at the diaries in such amazement. It all made sense.
Then the woman helping with iced tea said to me, “Isn’t it wonderful, the message Edwin left for you?”
I was surprised. I had never received any message.
“Oh no!” she exclaimed “Edwin made it clear that if anything happened to him, we should get a message to you.”
I told her how I had returned on a holiday weekend, learned the news of Edward’s passing, and hadn’t been told of any message. I then sat down. I couldn’t believe that seven years later this young woman was in my home, 30 miles from Edwin’s nursing home, with a message from Edwin.
Tears ran down my cheeks as she told me that Edwin chose to be buried with his diaries. He wanted his memories always with him. The woman told me how he wanted me to know that he had prayed, and he had known that God would send me with his books, and how grateful he was that I was open to receiving God’s guidance. To this day, I still can’t believe his message got to me in my home so many years later.
I am so very honored to have known Edwin O’Shea.