A lot of people have written to say they were touched by last Sunday's column about Bill Young, my elderly next-door neighbor whose wife died recently and left him alone with the family dog and a house full of memories.
Now I am writing to say thanks, for Bill and me, because Bill received enough money to pay for the funeral costs and I received more kind words in one week than I have all year.
"Mr. Young, I hope you do not think that this $100 gift is charity -- it's not," one letter read. "You've done several good deeds for others and now it's our turn to help."
Bill chuckled with surprise, then wondered aloud who would send a $100 bill through the mail. But there was no signature. The letter closed only with, "Thanks."
Bill opened a letter that was sent to him through me. "I was touched by your article on Bill Young on the loss of his wife," it read. "Will you please see that Mr. Young gets the enclosed." There was $50 inside. It was signed, "From a Post reader."
There were at least 40 more letters to open, and Bill's eyes began to glaze as he fumbled through the stack. Too proud to cry, he folded his arms and tried to talk back the tears. "Who are these people?" he whispered.
"I am 76 years old and am blessed with health and a wonderful husband," wrote Judith G. Kesten of Washingon. "I am enclosing $10."
"I sent this check not as an act of charity but one of brotherhood," read one letter.
Bill had not asked for this. All he had wanted me to do was help him find someone to speak at his late wife's funeral, because he did not have the $100 that he was told would be required for such a service. I decided, then, to write a eulogy for no charge, and mentioned -- against Bill's wishes -- that he was broke, having stopped his work as a handyman to care for his wife during the final days of her bout with cancer.
The implication that preachers routinely charge a hundred bucks for speaking at funerals brought forth many men of the cloth, all wanting to set the record straight through demonstration of goodwill.
"I know I speak for my pastor, Arlie Whitlow, of the Community Church: There will never be a charge for any witness and service given to you on behalf of Jesus Christ," Marilyn Kirk of Sterling wrote to Bill Young.
The Rev. A. Knighton Stanley, pastor of the People's Congregational Church in Washington, was among many who called early last Sunday to volunteer. But it was Bishop Edward H. Moore of the United Fellowship of Churches, organizer of the storefront church movement in Washington, who got the nod from Bill. He was assisted by the Rev. Donald E. Jernigan, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Arlington.
Standing before about 100 friends and strangers at the Magruder Funeral Home in Southeast Washington on Monday, Bishop Moore eulogized from the Bible.
"Cast thy bread upon the water and it will return in many ways," he said. "We find that this lady, Olive Young, had done so much for her community, that she did cast her bread upon the water, and from the crowd we can see that it has returned."
Not long after the memorial service ended, Bill received a check and a letter from Lana J. Randall of Washington that said, "If by chance there is more than enough money for the expenses, please use it in any other way you wish."
This made Bill feel even better, because he had received nearly $800 more than he had needed. He was thinking about going out and trying some imported beer, Moosehead, he said, when the telephone rang. It was his life insurance company. He was two months behind, for a grand total of $790.
He would toast the good people of the Washington area with a Bud Light that night.