Brother Sister
Home Up Kindness


The Story of George and Maria

Written by Rick Archer





Rick Archer's Note:

Brother and Sister is an excerpt from two books I have written, A Simple Act of Kindness and Magic Carpet Ride.  It tells the remarkable rags to riches story of two near-orphans who grew up in Galveston. 

In 1931 George, 12, and Maria, 11, were overwhelmed by despair due to a triple whammy.  After the sudden and quite tragic death of their mother Katina, their father Mike subsequently flipped out.  Mike made things much worse by placing them in separate homes with relatives who did not want them.  The cruel abandonment by their father turned the children into near orphans.  Maria was the most vulnerable.  She was alone, scared, and grieving.  George had been her sole companion and she missed him terribly.  In short order Maria had lost her mother, her father, and her only friend.  Crying herself to sleep every night, no one came to console her.

Fortunately, after a month apart, George was able to catch enough fish to buy a bike.  This allowed him to travel a great distance across town every day.  His comfort and reassurance made a huge difference to the young girl.  Thanks to him, Maria was able to pull through.  Growing up poor and unwanted, the only thing these two kids had going for them was each other.  That was all they needed.  They went on to lead incredible lives.

I wish to share this story because I am the only person who can tell it.  In 1968 Maria, now 48, told me a deeply personal secret about a Galveston gangster who gave her the greatest break of her life.  Over the ensuing years, my further research revealed an amazing tale that perfectly underlines the importance of Kindness and the power of Gratitude. 

My two books are unusual because they deal directly with the concept of Fate.  If my Readers are adamantly opposed to this controversial concept, I completely understand.  Hopefully you will be able to put your objections aside because otherwise you will miss an incredible story.




This is a complicated story with many moving parts.  To fully appreciate the Big Picture, a certain amount of my personal background is required.  Let's start with a brief description of my troubled childhood. 


In 1949 I was born an only child to parents who did not like each other very much.  I can see why.  They were both deeply flawed.  Following my parents' 1959 divorce, my father abandoned me and my mother was more interested in picking up Greek sailors at Athens Bar and Grill in the Houston ship channel than she was in raising me.  My situation was somewhat better than the swamp girl in Where the Crawdads Sing, but not by much. 

At age 9 I began raising myself.  Sorry to say, I did not do a very good job.  Growing up twisted and gnarled, I turned into a lonely hermit.  However, I did receive one huge break.  I received a nine-year scholarship to St. John's, an exclusive and quite expensive college preparatory school here in Houston.  Thanks to St. John's, I received a terrific education.  However, there was a stiff price to pay.  I was the token poor kid at a rich kid's school.  Socially awkward due to my broken home, things got worse due to a severe acne attack in my Freshman year.  Now the ugliest as well as the poorest kid in school, I occupied the farthest rung on the social totem pole.  Intimidated by the uphill struggle to fit in, I decided to forget about dating.  Better to wait till college. 

However, first I had to make it to college.  It was 1968, my Senior year in high school.  How was I ever going to pay for college?  My mother was penniless, my father handed me $400 and said I was on my own.  However, due to three years of sacking groceries at Weingarten's, I had enough money saved up to go Texas A&M or the University of Texas for two years on my own dime and worry about the remaining two years when I got there. 

Only one problem.  I made a SERIOUS MISTAKE.  Growing up alone, no one had ever explained tuition to a state school was so incredibly cheap that even a lowly grocery sacker could save enough money to attend.  Stupid me, I had applied to only one college, Georgetown, tuition $5000 a year, to be near my favorite aunt and uncle.

Clearly I could not afford this elite school on my own.  However, by the time I realized my mistake, it was too late to apply to a state school.  From where I stood, I would have to sit out a year before I could re-apply.  The realization that every one of my classmates but me would be going to college next year was a crushing blow.  Incredibly angry at myself, I was reeling from despair.  In fact, I was so depressed I was haunted daily with thoughts of suicide. 




Here is how things stood in my Senior year.  I had accumulated $2,000 in savings, but that would never pay the way to Georgetown University.  Facing four-year costs approaching $24,000 ($5,000 tuition, $1,000 room and board), I was down to my last hope: The Jones Scholarship.  One scholarship per school was handed to the most deserving Senior from every high school in Houston.  This included St. John's even though money was hardly a problem for the children of wealthy oil men, lawyers and physicians.  The roster of my classmates read like who's who of Houston's social elite.

I worked after school at a grocery store four days a week  trying to save up enough money to help pay for college.  I targeted the Jones Scholarship as my last hope to at least get a foot in the door.  If I won this scholarship, I would have enough money to pay for ONE SEMESTER at Georgetown.  Once I got there I intended to visit the Financial Aid office and beg for help.  What were my chances of winning?  Excellent.  In fact I thought I was a shoo-in.  I wasn't just the poorest kid in my Senior class, I would wager serious money that I was the poorest student in the history of St. John's.  However, my dream went up in smoke when Katina Ballantyne from the mighty Ballantyne clan was awarded the grant instead of me. 

How does the daughter from a wealthy family win a scholarship based on need?  There was actually a very good reason, but I unaware of the reason at the time.  Not only was I consumed with bitterness at Katina, the rich girl who stole my scholarship, I was bitter towards all my classmates.  These privileged young men and women went to sleep every night knowing their parent's wealth guaranteed them a college education.  They had nothing to worry about.  

I was not a healthy person to begin with, so the loss of that scholarship shoved me over the edge.  I was a nervous wreck.  The worst part of it was realizing my predicament was MY OWN FAULT.  It had been a serious mistake to fail to apply to a state school.  Convinced that Georgetown was out of the question, I faced another year in my troubled home before I could attend college in 1969 instead of 1968.  The thought of that was too much to bear, so I plummeted into a terrible tailspin.  Where can I find the nearest bridge? 


One week after I lost the scholarship, Maria Ballantyne, Katina's mother, walked into my grocery store.  Mrs. Ballantyne was a woman I had admired from afar for nine years.  Her children were gifted in so many ways and very likeable as well.  Based on my respect for Katina and her siblings, I had long visualized Mrs. Ballantyne as a superior mother. 

However, I had never met the woman.  For nine years at St. John's our paths had crossed in the hallway countless times, but I had never received a glance or smile from the lady.  For that reason I was bewildered by her presence in my store.  It seemed so weird that we never met at school in nine years, but now she was in my grocery store many miles from her home. 

At first my clouded mind concluded she must be here to see me.  However, seeing her walk around squeezing the tomatoes and checking the prices, I realized she was here only to shop.  Nothing odd about that except that she had never been here before.  Seen from a Mystical point of view, the critical timing of her unexpected visit immediately after the loss of my scholarship TO HER DAUGHTER was way out of the ordinary.

As I took her groceries to her car, Mrs. Ballantyne did not say a word.  She had no idea who I was.  However, just as I turned to leave, Mrs. Ballantyne asked me to stop.  She had just noticed my school uniform.  Playing a hunch, she asked if I was a student at St. John's.  Once I confirmed her guess, she was consumed with curiosity.  By definition, SJS students lack for nothing.  So what on earth is a St. John's student doing here working this menial job at a grocery store? 


On the spot, Mrs. Ballantyne began conducting an interview.  Asking the right questions, in the space of ten minutes Mrs. Ballantyne knew more about me than any person at my school.  Meanwhile I was flabbergasted.  Why was the most important woman at my school willing to talk to an insecure kid who occupied the lowest rung on the social ladder?  I was the school nobody, a perpetual underdog, the Invisible Man.  If none of my classmates bothered to interact with me socially, why would this busy, powerful woman bother to take time out of her day to get to know me?  Furthermore, why was she here at a remote grocery store three miles from her home to begin with? 

After I answered her questions, I expected her to leave.  However Mrs. Ballantyne wasn't done.  Out of the blue, Mrs. Ballantyne leaned back against her car and got comfortable.  Then she began to tell me her life story.  I was incredulous.  Right there in the parking lot, this woman proceed to tell me the story of her childhood.  It was no ordinary story either.  Like me, Mrs. Ballantyne had a tale of woe straight out of Charles Dickens.

Mrs. Ballantyne wasn't an orphan, but close.  Both parents were struggling illiterate Greek immigrants.  Mrs. Ballantyne lost her mother when she was 11.  After the tragedy, her father fell to pieces and abandoned her.  She went to live with an aunt and uncle who had been bullied by her father into taking her.  They had small children of their own and money was tight.  It was a huge imposition to suddenly have another mouth to feed.  The initial frost would evaporate in time, but during that first year young Maria felt abandoned.  Her home life was bizarre.  The upstairs was a living area while the downstairs was a restaurant run by her aunt and uncle.  Maria was placed in a bedroom located directly over a secret casino and brothel run by the Galveston mob.  With a wan smile, she hinted there were some fairly incredible stories associated with that situation. 

In her Junior year of high school, the family moved to San Antonio.  High school was tough.  Now that her brother George was in college, she had lost her best friend and was alone most of the time.  Strangely enough, she was not allowed to date.  Feeling like an outcast at the new school, Mrs. Ballantyne concentrated on her studies.  However, she did not expect to go to college.  Where would the money come from?  One day George made a special visit to announce he would pay her way to college.  Maria knew something was wrong.  George could barely his own way to college.  Under intense questioning, George finally confessed that an unnamed Galveston gangster had offered to pay her way to school.  Beggars can't be choosers.  This offer, she said, was the break of a lifetime.  Referring to her gift as "A Simple Act Kindness", Mrs. Ballantyne had been given the chance she had prayed for.  Her life had skyrocketed ever since.

Mrs. Ballantyne had more to say.  She explained that no one at St. John's had any idea about her strange background.  No one would ever guess that the most influential mother at this posh enclave of the rich and mighty had grown up as an impoverished daughter of penniless, illiterate immigrants.  We had been together 30 minutes at this point.  At the time, I could not understand why such an important woman was paying so much attention to me.  Keep in mind I wasn't the most savvy kid in the world.  However when she said that no one at SJS knew her secret, for the first time I understood what was going on here.  Clearly my tale of woe had reminded Mrs. Ballantyne of her own difficult childhood.  That would surely explain her uncanny empathy for my situation.  Once she realized how seriously depressed I was, she had decided I was in great need of encouragement.  It was my good fortune that one of the finest mothers on the Planet had decided to adopt me for a day.  "Rick, if I can do it, you can do it."  I would never forget those words.

I cannot say for sure what Mrs. Ballantyne was thinking, but my guess is she was fully aware just how strange this situation was.  Mrs. Ballantyne knew her story was weird enough as it was, but to find a boy from St. John's (in a parking lot no less!) with a story just as weird as her own surely raised an eyebrow.  Something very strange had taken place today.  Given her humble start,  Mrs. Ballantyne knew the probability of ending up at a place like St. John's was infinitesimally low.  Now she was stunned to stumble across a boy who also had no business being at a place like St. John's.  What were the odds?  Astronomical.



As for me, I was in shock.  Due the extreme weirdness of the situation, our chance meeting felt like Cinderella meeting her Fairy Godmother.  The unanswered question, of course, is how Mrs. Ballantyne came to appear at my grocery store at such a critical time in my life.  After all, she had passed me 1,000 times in the corridors of St. John's and never said a word.   Like a Guardian Angel, a woman who had never met me appeared out of nowhere to rescue me from my downward spiral.  She gave me the will to carry on. 

Mrs. Ballantyne's life had changed direction due to a 'Simple Act of Kindness'.  Now the same thing would happen to me.  Today's 'Simple Act of Kindness' would change the direction of my life.  Her visit was so remarkable that I came to see this highly improbable coincidence as a Miracle.  I had no way to prove it, but I felt Mrs. Ballantyne had been guided to my side by the Unseen Hand of God.  For this reason, our meeting would become the cornerstone of my belief in Fate. 




Guess what?  I made it to college after all.  Two weeks after my conversation with Mrs. Ballantyne, I was called into the Headmaster's office.  Unbeknownst to me, Mr. Salls had been secretly saving a college scholarship for me.  That is why he gave Katina the Jones Scholarship instead of me.  Her scholarship was one-quarter the value of mine.  But I never knew any of this.  All I knew was a rich girl had committed highway robbery.  Now that I knew the full story, I was so relieved.  But why was I kept in the dark?  If news of my good fortune became public, this would invite a long line of parents at the Headmaster's door asking for a similar favor.  In the end, Mr. Salls disguised my award as a gift from a wealthy Johns Hopkins alumnus named Ralph O'Connor.  But I eventually figured out the truth.  Knowing how desperate my situation was, Mr. Salls had secretly asked Mr. O'Connor to help me long ago. 

As I had promised myself, I began to date in my Freshman year.  To my surprise, my bad luck with women changed when I met Emily, my first-ever girlfriend.  Lovely girl, sweet, warm, a real honey.  Wouldn't you know it, my fairy tale ended abruptly when Emily cheated on me and lied about it.  Night and day, the lyrics from Solitary Man played endlessly in my tormented mind.  'Then Sue came along, loved me strong, that's what I thought, me and Sue, that guy too.'  It was a tough break, but we've all been cheated on in some way or another.  There is a special reason I have shared this story.

Emily had called mid-week to break our date for Saturday, claiming she had an emergency paper to write.  So here I am sitting in the dorm Saturday morning feeling sorry for myself.  A guy named Jake knocks on the door.  He needs a ride to the train station because his Mom called at the last minute and asked him to come home for the weekend.  Not just that, we have to leave immediately to catch the next train.  I'm the only guy in the dorm with a car and I have nothing better to do, so I say sure.  As we pull into the Baltimore train station, I am astonished to see Eric and Emily get out of a cab four cars ahead of me.  I would later find out they were headed for a weekend in New York, restaurants, plays, a romantic walk in Central Park, share a hotel room. 

Understandably I was devastated.  It wasn't just that Emily had met a guy she liked better than me, why did I have to have my heart broken in such a cruel way?  The pain of catching them was bad enough, but it was the utter improbability that I found impossible to accept.  This incident was so bizarre it assaulted my view of Reality.  By all rights I should never have learned of Emily's duplicity, but a coincidence of the highest magnitude had revealed the truth.  As I watched them walk into train station, I estimated at most there had been a two-minute window of opportunity to spot them in this remote location.  As the Twilight Zone music began playing in my mind, I pegged the odds of this coincidence at something like one in a million. 

To be frank, I had never gotten Mrs. Ballantyne's intervention out of my mind.  That incident plus several other mysterious childhood events had set the stage for my growing concern that there was more to this world than meets the eye.  Now I was faced with the Train Station coincidence.  Together, the combination of the two absurd coincidences became the breaking point.  Something very strange was going on in my life and I wondered if these events were related to Fate.  By my logic, if I could prove to myself that Fate exists, I was willing to conclude God exists as well.  From that point on, I became deeply preoccupied with the existence of God and Fate. 

Reading every book on Mysticism and the Occult I could get my hands on, I was especially drawn to Carl Jung, the Swiss psychotherapist. Jung believed if we knew the truth about how perfectly the Universe was constructed, we would realize no one but God could possibly organize the phenomena of our world in such a profound way.  Nothing is happenstance in Jung’s world.  Jung claimed that most people do not realize the significance of Coincidence.   Jung postulated that Coincidences are God's way of remaining anonymous, then made a curious suggestion that gave me an idea.  He said a careful study of our personal Coincidences might lead to the understanding that an Invisible God is not quite as invisible as most people think.  Since I was staring at two Coincidences of the highest magnitude, I decided to take Jung's advice and keep track of every unusual event for the rest of my life.  Jung was right.  As the Coincidences added up, my Faith became stronger.  It is for this reason that I say my meeting with Mrs. Ballantyne became the cornerstone of my belief in Fate. 




My second book, Magic Carpet Ride, tells the unlikely story of how I managed to create the largest dance studio in America.  Due to a remarkable series of lucky breaks, at age 28 I found myself holding down the improbable job of rookie dance instructor.  I had originally taken dance lessons in hopes of improving my love life, but so far that bright idea had been a dead end.  No luck with women (what's new?), but I enjoyed the lessons so I stayed with it despite little discernible progress.  I was such a slow learner that it took three years of dance lessons to finally become presentable.  Over the past year (1977) I had found an instructor I liked.  Rosalyn taught Disco line dances at the local Jewish Community Center.  Having repeated her class three times, at this point we had a rapport.  One night Rosalyn pulled me aside after class.

"Rick, I have just gotten an opportunity to go to Washington, D.C., for the summer and I really want to go.  But I have no one to cover my summer class for me and I don't have time to train anyone.  You know every one of my line dance patterns as well as I do, so I am begging you to substitute for me and take over my class on short notice."

That was the moment my Magic Carpet Ride took flight.  Over a period of six months, I was handed three different teaching offers.  Following each opportunity like a bread crumb path, I was being led to the biggest break of my life.  In January 1978, a dance career was handed to me out of thin air when Saturday Night Fever was released. 

One month later, an old friend appeared out of nowhere. 




"Of All the Gin Joints In All the Towns In All the World, She Walks Into Mine." 

--  Rick Blaine speaking of Ilsa, the girl who broke his heart in 'Casablanca'

To my astonishment, ten years after our 1968 meeting in the parking lot, Mrs. Ballantyne walked into my life again.  I never did figure out why we ran into each other a second time.  That remains a mystery to this day.  Perhaps a little birdie told Mrs. Ballantyne she had been the undisputed star of my first book (including giving me the title), so she made sure to be included in my second book as well.

Mrs. Ballantyne joined my Magic Carpet Ride on a chilly Saturday morning in February 1978.  I had just finished teaching a private lesson at Stevens of Hollywood, the dance studio where I work.  I noticed the front door open and looked up.  It was Maria Ballantyne.  Unbelievable.

I immediately went on Supernatural Alert.  Just the person I wanted to see!  Following our 1968 conversation, Mrs. Ballantyne had mysteriously remained out of sight for the final month of the school year.  Consequently I had never been able to ask her what had brought her to the grocery store in the first place.  For that matter, what was she doing in my dance studio?  Now I had two mysteries to solve!   

To be completely honest, I was so surprised to see her I nearly fainted.  Mrs. Ballantyne had no way of knowing that she occupied a Mythical status in my mind.  Thanks to her, I had spent the lion's share of my college years thinking about her.   For that matter, as the cornerstone of my belief in Fate, I had been thinking about her on a regular basis for the past ten years. 


It was a bitterly cold winter morning and things were about to get worse tonight.  A serious cold front was sweeping down from Dallas in the north.  The night was predicted to drop to the low twenties, an unusually low temperature for Houston.  There are many Houston winters when the thermometer never drops below freezing, but tonight would be the exception.  Given this awful weather, no one in their right mind would venture out.  For that matter, maybe the cold had affected my mind or my vision.  For a moment, I thought I was imagining things.  But the disbelief wore off quickly.  This was definitely Mrs. Ballantyne.  I laughed nervously.  Here we go again, another one of those special Coincidences that bedevil me so.  Hit by a sense of déjà vu, I was certain today would be special. 

As memories of the past rushed through my mind, I noticed Mrs. Ballantyne had stopped at the entrance.  Right now she was just standing there looking around.  The building was nearly empty.  This was a very small dance studio.  My boss was out on the main floor with a student, but true to his nature he could not be bothered to greet her.  Since he was not expecting her and she did not approach him to ask a question, I concluded that she had come here to find me.  What other explanation could there be?  

However, after running a Reality Check, I realized it was very unlikely she knew I was here.  After all, this was just my second month as a dance teacher.  I had yet to run across a familiar face from my St. John's past, so I could not imagine any word of mouth reaching her.  Furthermore, as I strode to meet her, Mrs. Ballantyne was just as surprised to see me as I was to see her.  I had my answer.  No, she did not come here to see me.  This meeting was a complete accident just like the last time. 

They talk about 'once in a lifetime' chance meetings.  This was twice in a lifetime.  How unlikely was our second meeting?  It was just as remote as the first one.  Located on Westheimer and Shepherd, Stevens of Hollywood was just a mile away from her house.  Maybe she came here looking for dance lessons with her husband.  Or maybe one of her children was getting married and they needed dance lessons to prepare for a First Dance at a wedding. 

The moment she saw me, Mrs. Ballantyne's face lit up like a Christmas tree.  I have never seen anyone turn on the energy like Mrs. Ballantyne.  She took a big step forward and wrapped her arms around me in a huge, affectionate hug.  Then she set me free and took a step back to look me over.

"Rick Archer, what are you doing here?  Of all the people to run into!  Oh my gosh, let me have a look at you.  You're so tall and handsome!  Where the heck have you been?  Why haven't you been to see me?"

Mrs. Ballantyne made 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.  Hmm.  Maybe we had known each other forever.  Always the extrovert, Mrs. Ballantyne took the lead.  She immediately began peppering me with questions. 

I explained how I had begun teaching here and emphasized what an exciting time this was for me.  Mrs. Ballantyne was genuinely pleased to see I was doing well in my life.  In fact, she was fascinated by my odd new career.  Unfortunately, our talk was interrupted.

"Gosh, Mrs. Ballantyne, I would love to talk more, but I have two dance students waiting for me."  I pointed to the couple that had just walked in the door.

"Oh no, I have to know more!  Are you free for lunch??"

Of 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 importance she had played in my life.  After all, I had spent two solid years in college thinking every day about the implications of our parking lot conversation.

"Yes, I would love to have lunch with you, but can it wait till 11:30 or?  Will that work?"

Mrs. Ballantyne smiled and said that would be fine.  "Of course.  Why not come over at noon?  That will give me time to run some errands."

I was confused.  Come over where?  Did she mean her house?

"Where do you want to meet?" I asked.

"My house.  Do you know where it is?"

I fibbed and said no, so she gave me the address and directions.  Then to my surprise, she abruptly departed.  As I watched her go out the door, I still had no idea why Mrs. Ballantyne had been here in the first place.  Why did she leave so fast?  Her departure made no sense.  Surely she had to have a reason to walk in the door.  I rolled my eyes.  Why was this woman always such a riddle to me!?

With my mind working overtime on Supernatural Alert, I concluded Mrs. Ballantyne had been guided to my studio for some obscure reason that became unimportant once she saw me.  Figuring the Cosmic Social Director had arranged our latest Supernatural encounter, I left it at that.  Sometimes it is easier just to accept Fate and not ask too many questions.  What was important was that my idol had invited me to her home.  I felt very flattered.  I had expected a nearby coffee shop, so this was quite an honor.


I had no trouble finding Mrs. Ballantyne's home.  After I lost my Jones Scholarship to Katina in 1968, I was so bitter I 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.  With grim satisfaction, I was able to confirm my hunch that the Ballantyne family lived in a very attractive River Oaks home.  This gave further fuel to my theory of highway robbery.  Fortunately that grudge had vanished the moment I realized Mrs. Ballantyne was not that kind of person.  Then it vanished completely when I realized what Mr. Salls had been up to in regard to Katina's scholarships and mine.

As I pulled into the Ballantyne driveway at noon, I felt nothing but joy at reuniting with my special benefactor.  Once I was inside, I was surprised to see the house was empty except for Mrs. Ballantyne and her maid who prepared lunch.  As I looked around for signs of the seven children, Mrs. Ballantyne grinned.

"A lot has changed in the past ten years.  My children moved out long ago.  They are busy pursuing their own lives.  Now it is just Jay (her husband) and me.  Right now Jay is up on the roof with a winter project, so it's just the two us.  Let's catch up on things!"


Over lunch, Mrs. Ballantyne told 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? 

"Mrs. Ballantyne, how do you know so much about me?"

Mrs. Ballantyne was more than happy to clue me in.  "After we met, I was very curious about you.  So I spoke to my friend Charlie one day when he was here at the house.  Charlie filled me in on the missing details of your unusual story.  We had a very good laugh that day.  You probably don't know this, but Charlie had a childhood very similar to mine." 

Then she paused.  "And very similar to yours too!"


I stared at Mrs. Ballantyne in shock.  Charlie?!?  I vaguely knew 'Charlie' was the nickname for Mr. E.K. 'Charlie' Salls, my Headmaster, but I had never heard anyone address him that way.  I had no idea she knew him that well.  I had seen Mrs. Ballantyne walk with Mr. Salls in the corridors of St. John's on many occasions, but this was the first time I realized they knew each other socially.  This seemed like a coincidence in itself.  I was fascinated to realize the two SJS people most important to me had also been important to each other. 

"Charlie would kill me if he knew I was sharing his personal story, but I think you would be interested.  He grew up penniless on a remote island off the coast of Maine.  His father died when he was young and his only brother died when Charlie was a teenager.  He and his mother survived through Charlie's odd jobs at the fishery and his mother's vegetable garden."

I had no idea Mr. Salls had grown up poor like me.  We formed a very unusual triangle... three poor people who had no business ending up at the wealthiest prep school in Houston. 

"Charlie was an exceptional student, the top of his class.  Of course, on a small island in Maine, I cannot imagine he had much competition.  Charlie was a voracious reader and determined to make something of himself.  At a teacher's suggestion, he took an exam at Exeter, the fine New England prep school. 

He was accepted and given a scholarship which he then parlayed into a scholarship at Harvard.  Does that story sound familiar?  All three of us have nearly identical backgrounds with difficult childhoods.  What do you suppose the odds are of that?"


My mind raced to gather in all the implications.   I guess my mouth was hanging open because Mrs. Ballantyne laughed at me.  Seeing the incredulous look on my face, she acknowledged the importance of this revelation. 

"Now you know why your Headmaster took you under his wing.  You reminded Charlie so much of himself that there were times when he ached for you during your difficult Senior year.  But Charlie has never been one to discuss such things openly, so I had to pry it out of him.  I am the only person at St. John's who can get Charlie to talk.  I have a knack for that."

No kidding.  Who could resist a woman with her kind of will power?  Right now I was too dumb-founded to speak, so Mrs. Ballantyne continued. 

"I have always found it curious how the three of us seem to be connected."  Mrs. Ballantyne paused for a moment, then continued.  "Sometimes it makes me wonder about things."

No kidding!  That makes two of us!  I pinched myself.  No, I wasn't dreaming.  If I didn't know better, Mrs. Ballantyne was quite aware of the coincidences that connected us.  At this point, we finished our lunch.  Mrs. Ballantyne invited me to come sit with her in the living room.  As I watched her settle into her favorite chair, I had another flash of déjà vu.  Mrs. Ballantyne had the same look on her face that she did ten years ago when she decided to tell me her life story.  Sure enough, my hunch was right.  Mrs. Ballantyne picked up her life story right where she left off ten years ago.  In so doing, she made the 1968 parking lot conversation seem like it was just yesterday.

(Our 1978 conversation will be continued in the next chapter)




Rick Archer's Footnote:

As I have made clear, Maria Ballantyne was a genuine hero to me. 

Not only did Mrs. Ballantyne save my life with her parking lot intervention, the utter improbability of the incident opened the door to my search for God two years later during my search for meaning.  After much thought, I concluded I had witnessed a miracle. 

As one can gather, Maria Ballantyne is the unquestioned inspirational figure of my life.  I worshipped her just like a kid worships the fireman who saves him from a burning fire.  My interest in this lady was so intense that one might wonder.  However, there was nothing to worry about.  Given Mrs. Ballantyne's importance to me, I had too much respect to invade her privacy.   We met seven times over a 45 year period.  Two were coincidences, four times it was her idea to contact me and the only time I ever contacted her was the last visit.  The 1968 meeting lasted 45 minutes, the 1978 visit lasted five hours, and the rest were no longer than one hour. 

Mrs. Ballantyne was always incredibly candid with me.  As we shall see, my 1978 'Accidental' meeting with Mrs. Ballantyne was just as fascinating as our first meeting.  As Mrs. Ballantyne shared details about Mr. Salls... how their families had adjacent beach houses down in Galveston, how she and 'Charlie' became friends, how their daughters were best friends, how he worried about me, etc... it crossed my mind that Mr. Salls and Mrs. Ballantyne were unusually close.  


All three of us credited unexpected college scholarships as the luckiest break of our life.  I suppose given their difficult childhoods and the college scholarships that became their lucky break, it made sense that the similarity of their unusual background would draw Mr. Salls and Mrs. Ballantyne together.  However, there were several issues that struck me as peculiar.  First, given their roots in poverty, it was amazing they both made it to St. John's, land of the rich.  Second, Mrs. Ballantyne was very secretive at St. John's about her past.  Since Mr. Salls was equally secretive, it would be interesting to learn how they discovered each other's secret.  Finally, there was their interest in me, the one of a kind SJS poor kid.

Have you ever met a person and felt as if you knew them before?  Based on my instantaneous attraction to Mrs. Ballantyne and Mr. Salls, I had no trouble believing I might have known them in a previous lifetime.  From the start, I felt a powerful attraction without understanding why.  Considering one saved my life while the other was the only reason I made it to college, based on the important roles they played in my life, I felt certain our Triangle was a Fated Relationship.


St. John's was the last place someone would look for people with impoverished backgrounds.  It was strange enough to find three people with such humble beginnings end up at this wealthy enclave.  However, it was not just that all three of us faced hardship as children.  What was important was that the three of us had connected so deeply here at St. John's.  Surely this was not a Coincidence. 

Noting how we were united in such a strange way, I was reminded of something I read in a book on Reincarnation based on the life of Edgar Cayce.  During his trances, Cayce laid out a philosophy of life which included Karma, rebirth, the existence of a Hidden World and man's role in the cosmic order.  In one of his readings, Cayce said individuals reincarnate in 'Soul Groups'.  This allows them to work on Karma shared from past lifetimes.  As I sat that day in Mrs. Ballantyne's house, I had no trouble comparing our Triangle to Edgar Cayce's claim. 

In addition to thoughts of the Triangle, I had all sorts of burning questions to ask.  For one thing, I wanted to know what Mrs. Ballantyne thought about our strange meeting ten years earlier.  I wanted to know what prompted Mrs. Ballantyne to appear at my out-of-the-way Weingarten's grocery store in the first place.  I wanted to know what crossed her mind during that conversation.  Looking at the event from her perspective, I wondered if Mrs. Ballantyne had been shocked to meet a young man who reminded her so much of herself.  Most of all, I wanted to know if she had taken note of the supernatural ramifications of that meeting.  I also wanted to know what brought Mrs. Ballantyne to the dance studio for our 1978 meeting. 

So, would you like to know what I discovered?  The answer is Nothing.  Mrs. Ballantyne had the most dominant personality of any woman I ever met.  Once Mrs. Ballantyne got started, I was far too shy to speak up.   Consequently I did not dare interrupt her as she talked about Mr. Salls.  Instead I remained quiet and hoped for a chance to bring up my questions.  Sorry to say, I never got that chance.  Once Mrs. Ballantyne launched into the story of her life, I was too blown away to say a word.



But you know what?  It was okay.  In an indirect way I did come up with an answer to my questions.  Earlier I spoke of how candid Mrs. Ballantyne had been the first time with me in 1968.  As we shall see, during our 1978 conversation, Mrs. Ballantyne went much further, almost like I was her brother or something as opposed to the fact that I was a virtual stranger. 

Mrs. Ballantyne was clearly fascinated with me.  From the moment I sat down, after a brief exchange of pleasantries, she started talking about herself as if I was her oldest and most trusted friend in the whole world.  There were times when I almost wondered if I should be taking dictation.  Why would she tell me all these secrets?  After all, this was only the second time in our lives we had met.  In a flash, I had my answer.

It crossed my mind that Mrs. Ballantyne was speaking to me in such a candid way because she knew we were linked.  

Mrs. Ballantyne was a very smart woman.  Surely she too realized the deeper implications of our chance meeting ten years ago.  Not just that, I bet she realized that meeting me again today was no more 'accidental' than the first time.  If nothing else, today's chance meeting underlined our spiritual connection.  We were meant to meet today.  I believed that and I bet Mrs. Ballantyne believed it too.







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