Abby Stern and her son Noah Stern (Courtesy Stern family)

Like many children with autism, Noah loves planes. When he was younger, he slept with a Southwest Airlines credit card the way other kids sleep with a teddy bear. Now 16, Noah still carries a palm-size die-cast airplane with him wherever he goes.

Last month, Noah came across a 2008 Matchbox Sky Busters Continental Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner on the computer and became totally obsessed. Although his language is usually limited to three or four words at a time, he led me to the computer and clearly told me “This is the little Continental you want!” Easy enough, I thought. I usually have no problem finding discontinued toys on eBay.

But this particular Matchbox Sky Buster, made only in 2008, was elusive.

It was not on U.S. eBay — or eBay in Britain, Canada, Australia or New Zealand — all places from which I have purchased hard-to-find toys for Noah. Knowing that Noah would neither be able to forget about it nor understand that it was unavailable, I redoubled my efforts.

I spent hours at the computer searching for the coveted 787-8. I discovered several Matchbox collectors forums online, and over the next few weeks, I exchanged emails and calls with collectors from Pennsylvania to the Netherlands. Our prospects were not looking good.

Desperate, I reached out to Matchbox in California. My email made its way to Abe Lugo, lead project designer for Matchbox, who replied to let me know he was on the hunt for the 2008 Continental Boeing 787-8. Meanwhile, I affixed a picture of the plane to Noah’s calendar at home to help him endure the wait. Crossing off and counting the days was calming for him.

While hoping to hear good news from Abe at Matchbox, I continued my search. Despite weeks of no luck on eBay, I logged on again and was shocked to see a newly listed auction for Noah’s dream plane! I messaged the seller directly to ask if he would offer the plane at a “buy it now” price so I could stop the madness. He said no.

I placed the requested starting bid of $3.99, and set my bid to go as high as $50, which I was sure would be enough. I waited impatiently for the auction to end. Three days later, I logged on to watch the final minutes of the auction. Mine was the only bid! I could hardly breathe! Then, I watched in horror as I was outbid by $1 in the final five seconds of the auction. ONE DOLLAR. Noah’s stress and anxiety was palpable, and I was starting to lose faith in humanity.

A week later, I received an email from Abe saying he had a plane in hand for Noah and would be shipping it that afternoon! Astounded, I thanked him profusely in an email back, recounting my months-long fruitless search as well as my heartbreak at being outbid in the final five seconds of the eBay auction.


Noah Stern after he opened his package from Matchbox (Abby Stern)

I asked, “Was it packed away in a box somewhere in the back of the warehouse?” Abe wrote that in addition to searching the archives, he too had found the eBay listing. It was he who had outbid me.

Not knowing it was me he was bidding against, he set a high automatic bid to ensure that if he could not locate a plane at the warehouse, he would still have one to send to Noah as promised. He spent his own money to do it. I read and reread his email, astonished.

Last week, we got the package from Abe, the Continental safely tucked inside. Noah opened it. He held the toy plane close to his face, he held it at arm’s length. He turned it over. He sniffed it. He was overjoyed.

Noah now places it in his backpack every day before he leaves for school, and he sets it next to his bed each night when he sleeps.


Noah Stern’s Matchbox plane (Abby Stern)

We sent a short video to Abe, whom we haven’t met or even talked to on the phone. I wanted Noah to say thank you in his own words. Sometimes, Noah communicates by echoing what he hears others say. In the video, Noah says, “Thanks, Mr. Lugo. You’re welcome, honey.”

Abby Messinger Stern lives in North Andover, Mass., with her husband and two sons.

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