Moms button our shirts, kiss us goodnight, and take on every responsibility in between. They know their kids like the backs of their hands, and some are so good at caring for others that their own lives remain a straight-up mystery. It’s entirely possible the woman you go to for everything has some juicy secrets up her sleeves.
Every Christmas, one Highland, Illinois, family noticed one of their members had vanished. The woman in question was normally fussing to make sure everyone was well-fed and comfortable, so it was odd that she’d run out the door on a snowy holiday night. Years later, her son received a letter that cracked the case of the runaway Christmas mother, and her alibi was much more involved than they anticipated.
When John Dorrah was a kid, he really loved Christmas Eve. Every year, his family gathered to eat holiday goodies, open presents, and ring in the arrival of the big guy in the red suit. Though without fail, one person was notorious for odd yuletide behavior.
Taste of Home
While the rest of the family was swapping stories and asking the children what they’d hope to find under the tree the next morning, John’s mother, Sue, would unceremoniously dip out of the festivities, and no one knew where she’d go.
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The family chalked it up to last-minute gift shopping. But to John, that wasn’t a possibility. She wasn’t a procrastinator, particularly when it came to treating the ones she loved. All her shopping was done and wrapped well before sitting down for Thanksgiving turkey.
We Heart It
No amount of questioning broke Sue from revealing her secret. Decades passed, and still, Sue decided her Christmas disappearing act was strictly her business. Nevertheless, the mystery always lurked on the backburner of John’s curious mind.
John grew up to be a successful writer and educator, with a 30-year tenure in the Mississippi school system. Most recently, he worked with the Gateway Writing Project, a program that supports teachers and students in metropolitan areas at the classroom level, honing literacy and writing skills.
As he tells it, John caught the storytelling bug from his beloved mama. “I would take my mom on trips in the summer,” he said, “and she would tell me stories. I tried to record them, but the minute I pulled out a recorder, she’d clam up.”
The Marketing Bllog
Sue could spin a mean web, but her humble nature meant she turned tight-lipped if put on the spot. It was this same stubbornness that kept her from spilling the beans about her annual Christmas Eve excursions. John was left wondering where and what she was doing during that ritual 3 hours every holiday season.
Time passed, and the family’s interest in Sue’s holiday secret faded. When Sue passed away in 1990, John grieved for his mother, wishing he’d been able to capture her excellent stories on tape. Plus, he never got her to divulge her Christmas secret.
Grieving had temporarily driven Sue’s annual disappearance from his mind. Until, among the cards of condolences, one letter from a stranger brought the mystery unexpectedly back to the surface.
The letter was from a man named Robert, who apparently was a coworker of Sue’s. They became friends when they worked at a factory making toilet seats. Robert reached out to express the impact that Sue had on his life, including a touching yet eye-opening story.
John had read dozens of condolence cards at this point. He appreciated all the anecdotes about his mom but was totally unprepared when Robert dropped this truth bomb, “Every year on Christmas Eve day,” the card read, ” your mom comes to my house dressed like Mrs. Claus and gives our kids a Christmas we can’t afford to give them.”
After working hard to make her own family’s holiday merry and bright, Sue would slip away. She’d put on her familiar costume of red and white, and make the drive over to bring some joy to another family, every year, without fail.
From new clothes and essentials to toys and candy, Sue handed Robert’s children gifts, hoping to make them smile. John couldn’t believe the words he was reading. It totally drove home what he’d already known but needed to hear: his mom was a certain kind of special.
John wrote back to Robert to thank him for finally solving the long-running family secret and for the most memorable gift he ever received. Riding the wave of heartwarming inspiration, John sat down to write about his mother’s selfless good deeds. When he finished, he titled the story, “Mom’s Secret Mission.”
As a seasoned writer, John knew this particular tale was good enough to share. He couldn’t think of a more fitting publication than the Chicken Soup For the Soul series. After all, what could fill you with a spoonful of good cheer like an undercover Mrs. Claus?
Of the thousands of stories submitted for the anthology each year, only 101 are selected. John submitted to the series several times before, but his first-ever selection came with a little help from Mom. The holiday tale was featured in Chicken Soup For The Soul: The Joy of Christmas.
The editor and publisher of the series gave John’s story a personal shout out. Apart from acknowledging how much she loved the tenderness of a mother’s private acts of kindness, she gave John props for making the story shine brighter than the other submissions.
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In addition, John received a $200 check, 20 copies of the book, and the ultimate Mama’s boy bragging rights. It was a welcome addition to his writing credits, but in John’s eyes, sharing the goodness of his mother was worth more than any prize.
John Dorroh / Facebook
John knew all along that Sue’s secret had to be more involved than last-minute shopping. Once she’d squared away her own family’s festivities, she set off into the snow to bring cheer to people she barely knew. For her, it wasn’t about acknowledgment; she embodied the spirit of the holidays.
“She just did it. It was part of her character, part of her spirit and I think she was a great Santa Claus for me [all year] round,” John told the Bellville News-Democrat. It’s fair to say Sue was at the top of the nice list.
Fine Art America
Sue’s dedication to a family she hardly knew was a no-brainer. She understood the lasting impact of a kind gesture. No matter how big or small, a little acknowledgment can be sweeter than candy. That idea, in fact, inspired a radical campaign of kindness to spread through a community not so far away.
Even on our darkest days, an act of compassion can go a long way toward making us feel better. Indeed, a simple kindness is often the best remedy for the blues, and no one knows this better than Bob Williams.
The Quad-City Times
A resident of Long Grove, Iowa, the WWII veteran is known by most for his time as a high school teacher and football coach in nearby Davenport. But even with his reputation as a war hero and educator, Bob has become a legend in his small town of 800 for an entirely different reason.
Every Saturday, the 94-year-old rises bright and early with one very special purpose in mind. Pulling on his signature yellow slicker, Bob begins down the street and heads over to his local Dollar General.
HERSHEYS / YouTube
Bob is a familiar sight as he enters the small discount store, and he greets each employee by name as he shuffles up to the counter. Pulling a crisp 50-dollar bill out of his wallet, the cashier knows exactly what the elderly man is here for: chocolate.
HERSHEYS / YouTube
Handing him two full boxes of jumbo Hershey bars – one with almonds, one without – the cashier smiles as Bob cracks open one of the containers and hands her a full bar. Gifting another to the customer in line behind him, Bob heads back out into the streets of Long Grove, determined to make as many days as he can.
Known as “The Candy Man,” Bob Williams has been handing out jumbo Hershey bars to complete strangers in his community for the last 11 years. He was inspired to begin his mission of kindness after reading about a number of “pay it forward” initiatives being promoted across the country.
HERSHEYS / YouTube
Given his lifelong love of chocolate, Bob decided to make his trips to the dollar store worthwhile by sharing his sweets with others. Starting off with purchases of just three bars, Bob would keep one for himself and give the other two away. The responses he got were astonishing.
“You’d think I’d given them keys to a new car,” Bob said of the reactions to his initial act of kindness. “Honest to God, these people were thunderstruck.” From then on, the veteran knew exactly what his “pay it forward” movement would be.
The Des Moines Register
Over the years, Bob has given out over 6,000 Hershey bars within his community. Though he typically reserves his bars for people that “look like they could use a smile,” strangers aren’t the only ones that can expect a sweet treat from this kind old man.
HERSHEYS / YouTube
Jan Hartwig-Heggen, a close friend of Bob’s, estimates that he’s given her between 200-300 chocolate bars, most of which he leaves at her front door. “That’s his signature,” she said. “You always know when Bob has been there.”
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Another lucky resident that receives frequent visits from “The Candy Man” is Darla Fay, who Bob jokingly asked to be his Valentine one February before handing her an extra-large Hershey bar. Since then, Bob has visited Darla almost every day, always making sure to have some chocolate saved for her.
“Do you remember as a kid, the excitement and joy you felt when you first saw all the gifts Santa left under the Christmas tree?” asked Darla. “That’s the feeling I get when Bob surprises me with a Hershey bar. It just makes me feel like a kid again.”
Travel with Bender
So, how does the 94-year-old keep up with the demand for his satisfying sweets? By stashing them, of course! Bob is known to keep around 500 chocolate bars in his freezer at a time, and he always makes sure to rotate them out so that he’s gifting only the freshest chocolate.
Unsurprisingly, Bob has become something of a celebrity in Long Grove, with nearly everyone knowing his name and his mission. Not a day goes by where cars don’t honk their hellos at him as they pass, and some residents will even approach him to exchange a hug and a smile for a delicious chocolate bar.
HERSHEYS / YouTube
Recently, a local magazine called Our Iowa did a feature on Bob and his remarkable hobby. After reading the article, one of Bob’s neighbors sent it to her son, who worked in Hershey’s corporate strategy department. He presented the story to company executives, and, right then and there, they were hooked.
Inspired by Bob, Hershey began their Heartwarming the World campaign, which sought to spread kindness and compassion nationwide. Taking a page from “The Candy Man’s” book, Hershey encouraged their employees to hand out chocolate bars to strangers, including those recently affected by Hurricane Florence.
HERSHEYS / YouTube
Not only that, but Hershey’s also reached out to Bob directly to make him part of their family. Cutting him a check for $1,500, the company promised to provide Bob with “all the bars he’ll ever need.” Now that’s a kiss!
With all the recognition Bob has received from his giving, he was able to purchase a nearby park bench to serve as a memorial for his late wife, Mary Elizabeth. Visiting the bench daily, Bob says that it’s really his wife who gives him his instructions to deliver his treats each day.
The Des Moines Register
But beyond it all, Bob’s mission is about more than just handing out Hershey bars to strangers. For “The Candy Man” of Long Grove, he hopes that his one small act of goodwill create an avalanche of kindness for people everywhere.
“I hope everybody picks up on that,” said Bob. “We need to lighten up and smile a bit more. Share whatever you can with people. There is no charge for that last bit of advice.”