Sharing Luck

Sharing Luck

From Chicken Soup for the Soul Celebrating People Who Make a Difference

Sharing Luck

If one is lucky, a solitary fantasy can totally transform one million realities.

Maya Angelou

With his thin-soled sandals, Ramon plodded several miles from his village of Maunabo, Puerto Rico, to a sugar cane plantation. He carried a large basket of pastries on his head to sell to the macheteros, men who wielded their razor-sharp machetes in the fields. Ramon was a delicate boy whose knobby kneed legs looked like tree twigs and who stood six inches shorter than other boys his age. He often rested under a large African palm, rubbing his neck and forearms, tired after clutching a heavy load atop his head. Ramon had a dream—a preposterous dream that everyone agreed could never come true. He knew it was beyond reason, but he followed his heart.

Ramon was the fifteenth child in his family. His mother was forty-six when he was born in 1925 and nearly died giving birth. To help support his large family, Ramon started working for the local baker when he was just seven. Shortly thereafter, Ramon developed a horrific toothache, possibly from sampling too many pastries. Rubbing his swollen cheek to dull the incessant throb, he trudged to the outskirts of his village to a free dental clinic. “Young man,” the dentist calmly explained, “I will help you. Just relax.” The elderly dentist squeezed Ramon’s shoulder and affectionately tousled his hair before turning to prepare a syringe of Novocain.

Shutting his eyes tight, Ramon clamped the sides of the chair like a vice. Several moments passed, and he felt complete relief after the dentist gently pried his tooth loose. Someday, I would like to help people like that, to make their pain go away, Ramon thought.

Ramon ran home, floating on air with his newfound wish. He could not wait to share the news with his family: “I want to become a dentist!”

Years later, when Ramon was nineteen years old, he still held on to his dream, but coming from a poor family, he did not have the finances to attend college. His brothers had talked about the lottery since he was a young boy. A small portion of a ticket cost twenty-five cents, and a complete ticket cost six dollars, about as much as it cost to feed a family for a week, maybe two. However, a complete ticket improved the odds of winning a much larger prize. Ramon fantasized about winning the lottery and even envisioned a number: 14,000.

One morning in November, Ramon was working in a small store in which his mother, Doña Chepa, was the proprietor. A lottery salesman happened to stroll in. “Caimito,” Ramon said to the salesman, “I would like to buy a complete ticket, but it should be a number in the fourteen thousands.”

“Actually, I have one, fourteen thousand, one hundred sixty-five,” Caimito replied.

Ramon had saved eight dollars over several years, as Doña Chepa occasionally gave him a few coins for working in the store. Buying a complete ticket was a financial sacrifice. With his hand shaking, Ramon bought the ticket.

Days later, Ramon took three buses to San Juan to buy merchandise for his mother’s store and to see the winning lottery number. He began his errands at the shirt factory and asked the owner if he knew the winning number. “I think fourteen thousand and something,” the man replied, shrugging his shoulders. Ramon gasped. With a sweaty palm, he reached into his pocket to feel his ticket.

Did the man actually say 14,000? With butterflies in his stomach, he raced to a small shop where the winning number was displayed in the window. A crowd hovered in front; Ramon stood on his tiptoes and stretched his neck to see over their heads.

There it was: 14,165.

He had won!

Despite his premonitions, Ramon could hardly believe his eyes. The hairs on his arms stood up straight. The blood pounded in his temples. In a flash, he sprinted across a wide, bustling avenue and excitedly told an elderly couple his news.

“Young man, bravo! Be careful who you talk to,” the older gentleman whispered. “Someone may knock you over to steal your ticket!”

His heart pounding, Ramon raced to another shop where he trusted the owner, Hermann Gomez, to tell him the news. Hermann gave Ramon a ride to the lottery office to collect the first prize: $18,000, tax free. Hermann called Banco Publico and asked them to stay open for Ramon’s large deposit. He then ushered Ramon through the large glass and metal doors and assisted him in opening his first account.

With all the excitement, Ramon lost track of time and missed the last bus to Maunabo. He sent his mother a telegram and spent his first night away from home in a hotel. Ramon could not sleep that night. Possibilities for his future swirled in his head as he lay in bed staring at the ceiling, thinking about this turn in his life.

When he arrived home the following day, Thanksgiving 1944, Ramon stepped from the bus into a dazzling reception. Dozens of townspeople waited in the plaza to congratulate him. His friends and family embraced him, throwing flower petals in the air to celebrate his good fortune. Ramon felt like a king.

Before he left the island for the first time in his life, Ramon helped his family by giving his brothers and sister $300 each. He had just enough leftover to finance his education.

Ramon sought advice from the one man in town who had attended college in the States, Antonio Navarro. “Ramon,” Antonio told him, “you gotta go to Michigan State. I loved it and you will, too!” Because Antonio was fluent in English, he called Michigan State University for an application and helped Ramon complete it.

The first six months of college overwhelmed Ramon. He barely spoke English. With his Spanish-English dictionary, he sat in the front row of each class, asking his professors to “Repeat, repeat, repeat.” Knowing he was a foreigner, several teachers remained after class to tutor Ramon in English. Finally, Ramon started to become accustomed to the sounds of his new language. Still, he had times when he was dismayed and wanted to return home, but realizing God had given him a gift, he was determined not to waste it.

Ramon persevered and earned his degree in dentistry in 1955.

He returned to Puerto Rico to work for the Public Health Department, where he provided free dental services. Fondly remembering the dentist who inspired his dream years before, he wanted to return the favor.

Ramon decided to visit the elderly dentist, wondering if he was still alive. Diploma in hand, he took the same route of two decades earlier to share his news with his old friend. The small wood cottage was barely visible, enveloped by vines and thickets. Ramon was close to tears; the old healer was gone.

Ramon’s dental practice thrived for thirty-two years. He helped generations of families with the gifts God gave him. When he retired, his patients cried. He raised a family and sent his three daughters to college; none had to win the lottery to finance their education, and all three have successful careers.

As his youngest daughter, I have learned much from my father, who had the wisdom to take advantage of his good fortune, and the tenacity to see his dream through. Though small in stature, he accomplished the feats of a giant.

Celeste Leon

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