“Compliments of George L. Barry.” That’s what was stamped in red on a handful of new, unsharpened pencils that made their way recently to an eight-year-old boy in Uganda.

“You have to use these pencils all the way through university,” he was told, and he nodded seriously. I’m pretty sure that’s what he intends to do.

The scene made me think of a story I heard a few years ago about the actress Linda Gray. She was in Malawi, Africa, and was approached by a little boy who asked if she had a pen. She didn’t, and told him she was sorry but that she didn’t have a pen on her. He then said, “Because if I had a pen, I could go to school.”

It touched her heart, and changed her life.

Sometimes that’s all it takes. A pen. A pencil. A pair of shoes or glasses. Enough money to buy a work uniform. There are places in the world where these can change people’s lives, and provide them with a promising future – something they otherwise wouldn’t have. In my four trips to Uganda, I’ve had the opportunity to distribute donated t-shirts, baby dresses, newborn kits, and teddy bears to children and parents who were in dire straits and desperate situations, and I’ve had the pleasure of seeing the joy, surprise, relief, and gratitude they experienced and expressed.

So I know what a treasure these simple pencils were to that young boy in Uganda. But there was more to it than that, and this particular gift held special meaning for me. It all had to do with the name that was printed on the pencils, because George L. Barry was my dad.

I don’t remember when or why he ever ordered those pencils with his name on them, or what he planned to use them for. But knowing how much he always enjoyed helping others, and what an enthusiastic fan he was of mail-order catalogs and promotions, I’m sure he once took advantage of an amazing offer, and then enjoyed providing complimentary pencils to his friends, neighbors, relatives, and anyone else he met.

When he died in January, the pencils were among the many odds and ends left behind that my dad had collected over the years, and I knew they would be greatly appreciated and put to good use in Uganda.

I’m pretty sure that my dad – who spent his entire life in the small town that I, too, always think of as “home” – would be smiling proudly today knowing that his legacy stretches all the way to Uganda, where a young boy will be going through school, writing with pencils that are “Compliments of George L. Barry.” It’s such a small thing, but it would have meant a lot to him. As it does to me. And, I’m sure, to an eight-year-old boy in Uganda.

The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on September 11, 2014.
©Betty Liedtke, 2014

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