I well-remember that particular September morning, in 1990, when I was enjoying a little jogging on a restored section of The Great Wall. Arthur, my helpful companion--
was far behind me--- struggling with all the bags. I craved privacy, especially in the early hours. I won’t deny---those times when Arthur lagged behind in the mornings--- felt nice. We had plenty of time in the evening to discuss the
day’s activities. Also, there were plenty of times I could answer Arthur’s endless questions about America.
FollowIng the Wall’s
sharp curve, I glanced over the edge and saw, from a distance of about two blocks, a group of black and white angora goats, grazing on a steep hillside. I easily recognized them as angora goats because I once loved an angora goat named Nanny.
Leaving for school one morning in 1956 (I was a senior at Pine Bluff High School) I spotted a fluffy white goat caught in a neighbor’s broken wire fence. The sight
of the poor little goat trying to chew his way out of his wire trap was heartbreaking and I had to get help. Lucky, my father was home. After freeing the beautiful animal, my father approached the goat’s owner about fixing his fence so more of
his goats didn’t suffer the same fate. Learning that I was the one who instigated the rescue, the neighbor decided to give me the goat as a present! I named my new pet, Nannie, and she lived in our backyard until a few years later, when she
left us to live on that great-big-farm--- in Heaven.
SO—all these many years later-- I think of all goats as my pets---my babies. Directly above
the Goats, the Great Wall “hosted” one of the most-elegant Watch Towers-- ever. It was so well-preserved-- it looked like an Oriental Mansion, complete with windows. It was straight ahead, which meant I’d be passing through that
Watch Tower in about ten minutes. Spotting the multitude of steps that would carry me upward and inside the tower, I paused for a moment to catch my breath then, looking up, caught a quick glimpse of a slight figure wearing dark clothing. Almost hiding
in the darkness, the figure was apparently the "Keeper of the Goats."
Running up the long, steep stairs, I began rehearsing my Chinese greeting and wondering what
gift I might offer my new friend. Reaching the last step, I hurried through the doorway and came face to face with a tiny, leather-faced Chinese man in a straw hat and clutching a wooden handle attached to a curved steel blade! Wow! With my mask-like
smile frozen in-place, I began reciting the few Chinese Greetings I knew…..yet the small Chinese continued to stand still, continued to grasp that sinister-looking weapon so…I decide to sing what little I knew of the very old, Great Wall Ballad--in
Chinese. That did the trick! “The Goat man” dropped his curved knife, broke into a huge smile, and began jumping around the tower like an acrobat--while jabbering—excitedly-- in Chinese. I realized my tiny friend had been frightened
when he saw me-- a stranger-- running toward him so-- he’d grabbed his knife to protect himself. Since we were unable to communicate with words, I reached for my Chinese peanuts and offered some to him. He was fascinated with my American
Flag pin and kept pointing to it. I’d faithfully worn my flag pin every day of my Great Wall Journey but now, it seemed time to pin it on my new and special friend.
Finally able to catch up with me, Arthur was more than surprised to find me making friends with the Chinese man I referred to as the Goat Man. After finishing the peanuts, my new friend shared his boiled water with Arthur and me and then,
it was time for us to move on.
One afternoon, almost six years later, after returning to China to teach, I received a phone call from Star-- my Chinese translator--
who helped with my hotel’s English Classes. Sounding excited, she asked to come to my hotel room, immediately. It seems a letter- written in Chinese and addressed to me--- had arrived from a far-away Chinese province and Star needed to share it
Imagine my surprise when I learned the letter was from a prisoner in Northeast China. Somehow, the prisoner had seen an older Chinese Magazine with my
picture on the cover. The article inside told about me traveling The Great Wall and explained I was now teaching English in Beijing. The prisoner was inspired to write me a letter and, not knowing where I lived, mailed it to the Magazine. Of course
my letter passed through many hands before finally reaching me but---the prisoner’s story impressed everyone who read it. No one would have dared keep such an important letter from the American Woman.
Everyone who saw the prisoner’s letter was stunned with the prisoner’s impeccable penmanship. Apparently, the young man had been beautifully-educated for someone living in such a poor and remote
village. Daily life was hard in small villages while earning enough to keep his children from starving--- and his animals from dying-- was almost impossible. When the young man was caught stealing bread from an outside vendor, he was given a sentence
of life in prison. The young man had been in prison for more than five years-- when he saw the magazine with my story and my photo. He instantly- remembered his father telling the family about the day he met the tall white lady on The Great Wall.
His father proudly showed everyone the Flag pin the lady had given him—from her country, America. Not too long after that, his father had suffered an illness and died. Most of all, the prisoner wanted me to know how honored his father had been
to meet me. At the end of the letter, the young man asked if I had any photos from day I met his father.
I want everyone’s life to have a happy ending. Not
only did I send copies of every photo I had of his father and the two of us together, I also included photos of his father’s beautiful angora goats.
effort to help the young man, I visited the Chinese Government’s Director of Prisons to share the prisoner’s letter and my story. After several meetings and some-serious persuasion, the Goat Man’s Son was invited to teach other prisoners
to improve their written Chinese and penmanship. In addition to receiving a small amount of money for teaching, his lifetime prison sentence was reduced to three years.
It was no coincidence the Goat Man and I met on The Great Wall. It was certainly no accident the Goat Man’s son saw an older magazine containing my photo and story. Never doubt---- God works miracles every day-- even in China.