At 22, I left America and traveled eastern Australia with my younger sister. One of our older sisters married an Australian and still lives near Melbourne—we used her home as a jumping off point. On one of our sojourns, the two of us ended up in Tasmania, off the coast of OZ. There, we journeyed from town to town via the only public transportation, one passenger van that circled the small island territory daily. Climbing off at some point, we realized we’d passed noontime on Saturday when businesses closed. It was a long weekend, banks wouldn’t reopen until Tuesday and ATM’s were only for big cities back then. We had enough cash to pay for a youth hostel at $3.00 each per night, but then we were broke, which meant no food until Tuesday.
Slightly panicked, we debated what to do as we walked through the tiny town of St. Mary’s. Unbeknownst to us, one of our fellow van passengers, an elderly English gentleman traveling Australia, overhead our conversation. Catching up to us, he insisted he’d be delighted to serve as a gallant knight (his words, not mine) to two troubled urchins in need, and offered us $20.00. Through misguided pride, we demurred and he moved on, but once he left, real fear set in, so a few minutes later and in spite of our abject mortification, we tracked him down and with downcast eyes, mumbled that we guessed we’d take the money after all.
For the rest of the weekend, we slept well enough, and with the help of his money, ate one good meal, then subsisted on Ramen noodles and apples “liberated” from a tree in a local orchard. Tuesday, after visiting a bank, we bought a card and wrote a thank you note. Enclosing a $20 bill we mailed it back to our benefactor who had provided us with a return address in England. A few weeks later, we arrived back home in the the US, to find a letter on tissue-thin paper from our savior awaiting us. This long lead up is actually about his letter, which I discovered while looking through photos the other night.
I hope you'll take the time to read it, and imagine a the charm of this man, late seventies, maybe early eighties, stooped and balding, wearing a tweed jacket as he trekked the breath of Australia as a kind of last hurrah. Imagine him home again, perched in front of a typewriter composing a witty, heartfelt letter to two young women he would never see again, and understand how the story of his kindness, and his whimsical words, have become a part of my family folklore.
I wrote back to him, but never received a response. He seemed so very old, I thought perhaps he’d passed away soon after his trip, though I’ll never know. Re-reading his letter after all these years, I hope, somewhere in Worthing, West Sussex, England, descendants of a man named Daniel Pinner remember their father, grandfather, uncle, brother as a dear, and his memory provokes warmth tinged with wistfulness, just as it does me.