I read about Dolly Curtis six weeks ago. At 71, she married Phil and their honeymoon caught my eye; friends of 40-plus years, they had much in common, including shopping at Renys.

When they realized Renys “Early Bird Sale” collided with their wedding, Phil threatened to get up early to be at Renys at 6 a.m. sharp; time enough to buy his wedding attire for the Nov. 3 affair.

Dolly one-upped him, suggesting their honeymoon be a drive around the state, including a stop at all 17 Renys locations. Starting in Wells and crisscrossing Maine, they would drive 700 miles, buying their favorite items (wool socks) and Christmas shopping.

The couple was recognized in several stores because Renys included their pictures in a store-wide memo after learning of the plan. Phil’s songwriting daughter created a ditty (search Catie Curtis on YouTube) and they received sweet gift baskets along the way, and a tip-of-the-cap for showing it’s the little things we do together that matter most.

Dolly Curtis is from Old Orchard Beach; her essay appeared in the Portland Press Herald:

Forty years ago, a mother and four children walked the jungles of Cambodia, escaping the tyranny of the Pol Pot regime. The family witnessed the death of their husband and father and feared for their lives. They were so desperate they were willing to risk the jungle rather than endure the torture, total disrespect to humanity, and possible starvation and death if they remained.

Do we Americans realize how fortunate we are?

This family made it to a refugee camp in the Philippines, where they waited for a new life — somewhere. They started a pilgrimage to safety. Amazingly, they escaped death.

Do we Americans realize how much we have to share?

The church I attend in Saco decided to support an immigrant family and help them assimilate to this country. I could not imagine what life was for them; to risk so much that they would leave their country, customs, language, home, friends.

Do Americans realize we are allowed a life of privilege and we have much to learn?

The daughter was older and spoke English — our connection for communication. The sons learned quickly. For the mother, English was difficult. I wanted a way to connect.

I had them over for supper, and as my children played with the boys, I remembered we had a “Connect 4” game. After she was shown the pictures, the mother quickly understood the objective. Since that day, I have the smile she gave me in my memory. It was broad, and warm, and full of love. We made the connection!

Do Americans realize the strength of love and the beauty of gratitude?

When the daughter married, the family had to make decisions about the sons’ schooling. The daughter and mother were moving to the District of Columbia, where the son-in-law worked. The boys wanted to stay at Thornton Academy.

The three sons were housed in private homes; one lived with me and my family. He did dishes, mowed my lawn, was always willing to help and anticipated how he could help. He studied hard and held a job at McDonald’s. I taught him to drive. I asked if they’d had a car. “Yes, my parents had two Porsches,” he replied. I assumed they had little in Cambodia, but learned they were a well-educated family.

Do Americans know how to be humble and industrious?

I lost touch until three days ago. As we reconnected through a flurry of texts, emails and phone calls, I heard: “I never forgot you”; “I love you”; “I am so grateful for what you did for my family and for me.” The son who lived with me lives in Australia. He called; we talked 45 minutes. What I heard more than anything else was laughter born out of happiness.

The mother is 89. The three “boys” are amazing — one works as a civil engineer for our government in Virginia; another, in Florida, owns a gas station, and “my Australian” is head of international sales for a company there.

I realized how grateful I am for them. They taught me more than I gave. I learned about hard work. I learned about not giving up on life. I learned language is spoken many different ways and that with love, we can understand. And, perhaps more than anything, I learned the human spirit can survive, but only if one acts out of love.

Immigration is an opportunity for us to become better people. We need to appropriately handle our borders, and we need to err on the side of generosity. Not all stories end like this, but in giving opportunities to others, we might end up richer for the experience.


“One does not ask of one who suffers: What is your country and what is your religion? One merely says: You suffer, that is enough for me.” — Louis Pasteur, scientist (1822-1895)

Reade Brower can be reached at: reade@freepressonline.com

Disclosure: Reade Brower is owner of these newspapers. The opinions expressed in his columns are his own, and do not represent the newspapers, or their editorial board.