FREDERICKSBURG, Va. (AP) — Linda Upshaw was looking for bargains, not someone else’s childhood memories.
But as she searched through an antique store in King George County, she spotted a book that made her look twice. It was “Misty of Chincoteague,” a children’s novel about a family raising a filly born to a wild horse.
Upshaw always loved horses and had cared for those rescued from the racetrack at her home near Snead’s Farm in Woodford of Caroline County. Also, Misty had been a favorite of her oldest child, Caroline Hughes, who’d recently become a mother.
Upshaw thought the book would be a perfect addition to the growing library of Caroline’s daughter, Harper, who was born in May.
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But there was another reason Upshaw couldn’t leave Misty behind.
In the back was a two-page inscription from a mother to her daughters, recounting their visit to Chincoteague Island for the annual penning of ponies. It was addressed to Kimmy and Cammy, dated July 1978 and filled with words of wisdom that touched Upshaw, a mother and new “Grandmama,” as much as the story itself.
The inscription read: “All in all girls — always remember that our lives are lived, not in great sweeps of cosmic time, but in small, graspable, everyday moments. Love always, Mom”
Those words would make many eyes misty in the days to come.
Caroline Hughes lives in Richmond and was spending a day with her mother in August. Upshaw had planned to present the book as a Christmas present, but just couldn’t wait.
Over coffee at the kitchen table, Upshaw shared the story of the book’s discovery and how she paid $10 for it. That’s steep for a woman who follows her mother’s mantra to never pay full price.
“It made me tear up when I read it in the store, and I just couldn’t leave it,” Upshaw explained to her daughter, adding: “I knew you were the type of person who would really appreciate the words in it.”
Indeed she did.
Hughes read the inscription’s account of the sisters, who tried to push each other off a picnic table as they stood on tippy toes to see the activity around them. It sounded like something she and her sister, Ann, would have done.
And the part about the father getting separated from the family — then discovered later, enjoying a tall Pepsi and a box of cookies, well, that could have been their father, Keith Upshaw, Hughes thought.
“How familiar it felt,” Hughes said about the episode. “It could have just as easily been our family.”
Hughes agreed the book was too personal to leave in a store. But she wanted to take it another step and get it back into the hands of the original owners.
“If this were my book, I’d want it to be with my family,” she said.
But almost 40 years had passed since the family had visited Chincoteague Island. At the bottom of the second page was a name tag that read: “HELLO. My name is Cammy.”
In a child’s handwriting, the last name “Robinson” had been added in pencil.
Hughes wondered: Was it possible to find Cammy Robinson? Would she be interested in the book? Or did those kind of reunions happen only in Hallmark movies?
Hughes shared the Misty story on social media and within 15 minutes, her friend and “Facebook sleuth,” Ryan Ellis, sent her a profile of a woman that looked to be the right age for Cammy Robinson.
Hughes sent Robinson a message, acknowledging “this is kind of a long shot,” and within minutes, the two were talking.
“She called, crying and said, ‘That’s my book,’ and before you know it, we were all crying,” Hughes said.
Robinson, an attorney in Washington and Maryland, has no idea how the book ended up in King George County. She told Hughes about her mother, a psychologist who loved books and believed every good one deserved an equally good inscription. Her name was Dr. Jean Robinson, and she died May 2, 2016.
“My mom was my best friend in the whole world,” said Robinson, who lives in Northern Virginia with her three children. “It’s almost earth-shattering when you lose someone that close.”
She says it’s miraculous that she’s even still standing after the events of the last two years. Her mom suddenly got sick, Robinson got divorced after 15 years of marriage and her older sister, Kimmy, developed dementia, and Robinson had to put her in a nursing home.
Afterwards, she’d gone through the private possessions of both women, sorting through items collected over the course of more than 40 years.
On the same day that Robinson heard from Hughes, she had come back from vacation to find that her mother’s cat had gone missing. She and the kids put up posters and Facebook notices and were able to find the cat, seemingly out of nowhere, Robinson said.
Less than 10 minutes later, she got a message from a woman she’d never met, saying she’d found a book that may belong to her.
“It was this unbelievable divine intervention that somebody would have gotten it in King George and been touched by it and then gone through all the trouble to locate me,” Robinson said. “I was not an overly religious person until my mom passed, but so many things have happened, I feel like there’s something bigger out there.”
On her way home to Richmond the same day she learned about the book, Hughes had it shipped to Robinson. Hughes and her mother were thrilled to add another chapter to the story, one that helped a grieving daughter reconnect with a little piece of her mother.
“It felt like karma,” Hughes said. “There are times in life when you’re struggling and have a lot of challenges, and then little things happen, and they can be a ray of light.”
Upshaw prefers to put it another way. “My mom always said there are no coincidences in life, and I believe that, too.”
The only part of the tale that’s unfinished is that Harper Genevieve, whose middle name is the same as Upshaw’s late mother, doesn’t have a book about Misty the Chincoteague pony among her collection.
Grandmama will take care of that at Christmas. And, she’ll be sure to write the perfect inscription.