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Verner column: Michael Ranson and his wimming way

Letter to the Salisbury Post:
My name is Michael Ranson and I am 13 years old and I have cerebral palsy. Last Friday, I was at Spanky’s getting ice cream after school. There was a man in there eating a sandwich, and as he was leaving, he came to my table and handed me $20, and told me to do with it what I wanted. I thanked him by giving him a hug. However, I felt bad that I didn’t get the man’s name. …
You want to know more, right?
Me too. So on a sunny fall afternoon, I’m sitting with Michael in the neat, white house in Spencer where he lives with his parents, Angie and Dallas Ranson, and his little sister Abbie. With us is Shasta Goodman, the home-care helper who stays with Michael after school. “I’m really more of a big sister,” she says, and Michael smiles in agreement.
Michael smiles a lot, and let me tell you, the kid has a killer smile. The kind of smile that makes girls check their hair and makeup in the nearest mirror. The kind of smile that makes you momentarily forget about economic crises, criminals roaming the streets and talking-head presidential politics. The kind of smile that might make a stranger reach into his pocket and … but I’m getting ahead of the story here.
On that Friday, Sept. 19, Michael had gone to Spanky’s for ice cream with Shasta and Debbie Hoffman, who’s Michael’s “one-on-one” assistant at North Rowan Middle School. It was about 4 p.m., and they pretty much had the place to themselves ó except for the fellow sitting a few tables away, quietly eating a sandwich.
“We were just sitting there talking about things,” Shasta says. “Talking about school and politics and Michael making all As.”
Besides having a great smile, Michael’s smart ó smart enough to be a member of the National Junior Honor Society at North Rowan, where he navigates the halls on his “bronco” rider and communicates with the help of an “ECO” device that converts his keystrokes into audible answers.
What are your favorite subjects, Michael? His right hand flits across the ECO keypad sitting in his lap.
“Math and science,” he says. (See, I told you he was really smart; no future journalism student here.)
He also likes phys-ed class, Challenge League basketball, bacon and onion pizza, playing video games ó and girls. Shasta says he dazzled them at a recent school dance.
Have fun at the dance, Michael?
His left arm waves in the air. I thought it was a disco move. Actually, it’s Michael’s way of offering an emphatic “Yes!”
And, of course, he likes ice cream. At Spanky’s in downtown Salisbury that Friday, he was digging into a cup of cookies and cream when life walked up and handed him a sweet surprise.
Shasta remembers that they had seen the man a few minutes earlier, when he passed them on the sidewalk and said hello. She didn’t pay that much attention to him until he finished his sandwich, cleared his table and came over to them.
“Excuse me, miss,” the man said. “I couldn’t help but overhear you talking, and I really want to do this.”
He was holding out $20 for Michael.
“If there’s something he needs, use it for that. Or just let him buy whatever he wants.”
All but speechless, they thanked the man. Michael threw open his arms and gave the man a big hug.
“Ya’ll have a blessed day,” the man said.
Then he was gone.
He was probably in his 40s, Shasta recalls, “kind of tall and solidly built,” and he may have been wearing a grayish sweatshirt.
“He seemed sort of shy, but he had an aura about him. He was kind of reserved.”
Michael and Shasta felt like the stranger’s generosity deserved broader acknowledgment. So she helped Michael write a letter to the Post.
“It was just so refreshing to have someone do something like that, a complete stranger,” she says. “It’s just nice to know that kind of person exists.”
Maybe Michael will meet up with the man again someday. Maybe not. Sometimes, people like to do their good works in anonymity, affirming a human connection that extends beyond our individual lives and identities to something larger and more mysterious. We know what the stranger gave Michael. Who knows what gift the stranger himself needed to receive that day and found in a boy’s joyous smile and happy hug?
… So, mister, if you are reading this, I just want to say thank you again. I love to play Playstation 2, so I bought the new Speed Racer game with that money. You are very sweet. God bless you and your family!!
ó Michael
– – –
Chris Verner is editorial page editor of the Salisbury Post. Contact him at cverner@salisburypost.com or 704-797-4262.

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