"Pssst! Can you keep a little secret? I just hit a lottery ticket for $100,000. But don't tell anyone. I don't want the whole world to know my business.''
"You know me. Mum's the word. I can keep a secret. What do you plan to do with the money?''
"Well, get my affairs in order. Take a trip. Help my family. Give something to my grandchildren for college. And if there's anything left over, donate a small chunk to the church for its building fund. These are all important to me.''
"Looks like you have all your priorities in order. If you hit the lottery for a million, the news would spread like wildfire in our community. But $100,000? Who needs to know?''
"Look, I've been around the Armenian community all my life and I know what gossip is like. If you sneeze, people across town will hear it, even with their windows shut.''
"It won't come from me, unless it comes from you."
Cultures are known by the rumors they spread and the gossip that's formed. Far as I'm concerned, a clam is the only thing with a big mouth that doesn't talk about the neighbors. In this case, a little gossip went a long way.
"Listen, you didn't get this from me. But a very good friend of ours just hit the jackpot for 100 G's. Says he's going to help his family and give the rest to the church.''
"Wouldn't be Nick, would it? He's been acting rather strange lately. Treated me to lunch the other day and shelled out $100 toward a raffle ticket — just like that!''
"Not by a long shot. Think of the letters we use to abbreviate television and you'll have it.''
"TV. Tom Vartabedian? What do I look like, the town crier? Not a word about this to anyone.''
An hour later ...
"Look, I just had a chat with you-know-who and he told me that what's-his-name just hit the jackpot for $100,000. Supposed to be a secret so keep it under your hat. It's only a rumor and doesn't have a leg to stand on."
From one mouth to another's ear, news spread like wildfire.
"It may have been a hundred grand, but I think that's what he gets every year for the next decade.''
"He actually hit Megabucks for a million dollars?''
"Hey, you didn't get this from me. Says he hopes to clear the church debt and help all the orphanages in Armenia.''
"You don't say. That's pretty generous of him. Maybe he'll treat us all to a cruise.''
"No one's supposed to know ... so hush!''
"I have an announcement to make," said members of a current events club. "Someone amongst us is feeling pretty lucky these days. He hit the jackpot for a million and is willing to share it all with his friends. Let's give Tom a big hand."
Two days later, there's a knock on the door. It's the parish priest with a portfolio tucked under his arm.
"Please come in, reverend. What a surprise! What can I do for you?''
"Heard through the grapevine that you are suddenly a very rich man. The church needs a new steeple. Only $100,000. We're having trouble raising the necessary funds. Can I put you down as a sponsor?"
In our community, a secret is not only told in strict confidence but shared in strict confidence. It's the people we tell who are the messengers.
As for the money I won, it's all going to charity.
But please ... don't tell anyone!
• • •
Photographer and writer Tom Vartabedian is retired from The Haverhill Gazette. He contributes this regular column.