A lifetime of guilt, a family devastated, all over a child's $2 mistake.
Retired Dr. Joseph Linsk is 94 years old and battling Parkinson's disease, but that wasn't what was on the mind of the former oncologist when he invited NPR to his Atlantic City home for Thanksgiving.
Speaking to StoryCorps, a nonprofit that works with NPR to preserve and share people's stories, Linsk revealed he'd been "smitten with grief" for more than 80 years over something he did when he was a young child.
"When I was 8 years old, I was running in the schoolyard and my arm struck the eyeglasses of one of the students. And he began to cry," Linsk revealed to his son. "He was going to tell his father. It would cost $2 to fix the glasses. And I was frightened to death — where was I going to get the $2?"
Linsk frantically tried to figure out where he could find $2 without his parents knowing. His thoughts quickly turned to Pearl, the African-American cleaning lady his family employed in their Atlantic Avenue home. Linsk, who was raised by his mother and his uncle after his father died when he was an infant, knew they paid Pearl $2 every week, so he took the money out of his mother's purse and gave it to his teacher to pay for the broken glasses.
But the act had a domino effect that would affect both their lives.
"When Pearl finished her day's work, she went for the $2 and they weren't there. And my mother said there was no question that Pearl took the $2 and didn't admit it," Linsk said. "And my mother was so angry that she told Pearl not to come back anymore."
Word about the alleged theft soon made its way around town, and Pearl was unable to find another job to help support herself and her children.
"I was the only one who knew the true story. And I didn't tell anyone," Linsk said. "And I was smitten with grief at what I had done."
"I guess it ate him up forever,'' Linsk's daughter Cathy told the Today show. "His mother was always working in Philadelphia, so that $2 was like $100. When I think about poor Pearl, I just get so annoyed."
So it too late for Linsk to make amends?
As NPR's Steve Inskeep noted, this is just half the story. If you have any information regarding Pearl, you can contact StoryCorps at email@example.com.
Since the segment first aired, many people have reached out to the family to help find Pearl, including a private investigator in Washington D.C.
"We've been getting calls from people we haven't heard from in years,'' Cathy said. "He's just trying to get it off his chest, and who knows, maybe somebody who remembers him from back then can help find her family."