It was just a couple of days before Christmas in 1956 when Arch Soutar, a veteran reporter and magazine editor for the Lewiston Evening Journal, told a remarkable story in the pages of the paper’s weekend magazine section.
He called it “a heartening incident that took place in one of the great retail stores of Lisbon Street during this busiest season of all the selling year.” It was a simple deed. In fact, its importance was reflected in one simple word, and Soutar suggested that quite possibly its impact would change the life of one conscience-stricken resident of the Twin Cities.
The manager of the downtown store told Soutar he had recently received a brief letter. It was on a tiny sheet of paper about 2 by 3 inches and carefully printed for the obvious sake of anonymity.
In substance, it read, “Dear Sir, when I was a kid I stole something from your store. It was worth $8.96. And I’ve had it on my conscience ever since.” The writer of the letter said that, above all, he wanted to take Holy Communion in the church again this Christmas season, but he felt he needed to be forgiven for his youthful transgression.
He asked that the manager of the large department store grant him forgiveness, and he asked that the manager insert a short advertisement in the columns of the paper to confirm his forgiveness.
“I tossed it aside at first,” the manager told Soutar. “I felt this must be a gag, or the work of a crank. But then … but then … as the Christmas season came on, and on, I found myself in grave doubt. Who am I, I asked myself, to decide on whether or not this is true remorse of conscience, or just the letter of some crank?”
He thought it over for several days, and then the store manager called the newspaper’s advertising department. With his own money, and insisting on anonymity for himself and the store, he purchased a one-word advertisement to be placed on six consecutive days in the Lewiston Daily Sun classified ads under Item 33.
“FORGIVEN.” That’s all it said.
Dave Sargent is a freelance writer and a native of Auburn. He can be reached by sending email to [email protected]