Lucky Lottery Numbers—My Sister's Story

Audrey Lanier Andersen has starred in many of my favorite scenes in the movie of my life. Her life was always more interesting than mine, and so I followed her around everywhere and smothered her with too much little-sister attention. In retrospect, I suppose I often drove her to the brink of insanity. 

My sister, Audrey Lanier Andersen, shared a keepsake story about lottery numbers jotted on a piece of paper. The story is really about our father.

My sister, Audrey Lanier Andersen, shared a keepsake story about lottery numbers jotted on a piece of paper. The story is really about our father.

As sisters, we shared a small bedroom in our family’s ranch-style house in Bonaire, Georgia. I watched her apply her makeup and curl her hair before dates, her leaning way back in a wooden chair in front our big dresser mirror. She was a cheerleader, and she practiced her cheers and jumps—high, sprawling, precise Spread Eagles and Herkies—in front of that same big mirror for hours, landing softly on the gold, shag carpet that covered our home’s concrete slab. I wore her stylish hand-me-downs clothes, which because of Audrey’s meticulous nature, were always in near-perfect condition. And after she got her driver’s license and her own car (a powder blue Volkswagen), I took my place in the passenger seat next to her to run errands and take joy rides all over town.

I was my sister’s sidekick, and I never questioned or minded her being my boss or leader. I was more than willing to follow along.

My sister wrote and contributed a story for Project Keepsake. The story features a scrap of paper my father left for her just days before he died in 1992. He had scribbled some lottery numbers on the paper intending for her to play the numbers in the Illinois state lottery. Her story begins on page 97.

I pulled my navy blue Ford Explorer into the garage and quickly shut the overhead door to seal out the sweltering heat. It was August in Southern Illinois. The heat and humidity rivaled anything I had ever experienced in my seventeen years growing up in Middle Georgia.

I had just escorted my parents to the airport in St. Louis and driven the twenty-five miles back to my home in O’Fallon, Illinois. I stepped inside my kitchen, draped my purse over the back of a chair, and reached across the counter to hang my keys on the hook—that’s when I noticed the single scrap of pale blue paper. I studied it. It had been torn hastily from my notepad, and left deliberately on the center of my desk with a twenty dollar bill.

Written on the piece of paper were two rows of numbers:

2 - 6 – 9 – 19 – 30 – 33 ($10)
8 – 13 – 28 – 36 – 43 – 47 ($10)

I recognized my father’s rushed handwriting and instantly understood what he had secretly left there for me to find upon my return.

I glanced at the clock and preformed some quick calculations in my head. My parents had surely touched down safely at the Atlanta airport and been greeted at their gate by my sister. Amber was responsible for helping them navigate the airport labyrinth and for driving them back to their home in Warner Robins, Georgia.

Standing alone in my kitchen, I smiled at the idea of playing Daddy’s lottery numbers for him. It was 1992 and at that time Georgia did not have a state lottery, but Illinois did. The possibility, albeit remote, of winning a $10 million jackpot intrigued my father. He had always been a bit of a gambling man—hustling unsuspecting men at local pool and billiard halls and taking his friends’ petty cash in late night games of poker. Playing the lottery was right up his alley, and the numbers written on that scrap of paper represented the extravagant dreams of a fifty-eight-year-old man.

I examined the digits closely. While the second row of numbers appeared to be completely random, the first row of numbers was familiar to me—each of those numbers represented a birth date of a member of our family. A sudden revelation ensued: my dad’s lucky numbers were our birthdays.

... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...

Years passed. I was so busy raising my kids that the sense of loss I experienced when my father died somewhat dissipated, and I completely forgot about the lottery numbers I had stashed in my nightstand for safekeeping.

But one day, my mind drifted back to them, and I had an irrepressible desire to find the paper and hold it in my hand. We had moved eight times in eight years, and with each move, we had packed, shipped, and unpacked the contents of our home. As I rushed through the house toward my bedroom, my anxiety swelled. I felt sick. I feared that the paper bearing my father’s lucky lottery numbers would not be in the drawer—that it would be lost forever.

I fumbled through the contents like I mad woman. The funeral program had migrated to the back of the drawer. When I lifted it, I caught a glimpse of Andrew Jackson’s crumpled face. And then I saw the numbers—safe and sound.

Today, that simple piece of paper is one of my most cherished keepsakes. It connects me to the things I always want to remember about my dad—that while he was a practical and hardworking man, he possessed a playful and imaginative quality, as well; that he was very satisfied with everything he had and everything he was; that he loved us all; and that he was proud of each of us.

I pay almost no attention to the lottery and have never played his numbers, even though I sometimes think I should. To me, his numbers are not lucky because I could potentially play them and win a big monetary jackpot. They are lucky to me because they represent the last thing my father gave to me—something that was in his very own handwriting; something that came from his wallet; something special to him that he secretly left for only me.

I occasionally look at the numbers and the twenty dollar bill and imagine my dad standing in my kitchen. He jots the numbers down from heart then rips the paper from the notepad. He reaches into his wallet and pulls out a twenty. He grins. He dreams. He walks out of my house.
— Audrey Lanier Andersen from Project Keepsake

Several readers have remarked, “Wow, both you and your sister chose to write about keepsakes that remind you of your dad. He must have been quite a man.”

Amber (with goofy hat) and Audrey (with stylish headband) at the baseball field circa 1969.

Amber (with goofy hat) and Audrey (with stylish headband) at the baseball field circa 1969.

Yes, he was. I miss him every day. We all do. 

Sometimes when my thoughts drift back in time, I see my sister, my dad, and I together doing things. I see us picking blackberries near my Grandmother Lanier’s farmhouse outside of Metter, Georgia. We had crossed through a neighbor’s (Mr. Rat’s) barbed-wire fencing to get to some of the largest, most succulent blackberries I’d ever seen in my life, all the while keeping our eyes glued on a big, ornery bull that stood guard nearby. The three of us picked berries as fast as our hands could move, filled our bowls, jumped back through the fence, then walked back to Grandmother’s house via the dirt road that crossed the branch. Mom, Grandmother, and my Aunt Colleen whipped up scrumptious blackberry cobbler that afternoon, and my sister, my father and I told the tale of risking our lives so that the family could have dessert.

Another memory that comes and goes is of the three of us canvassing the woods around Lizella, Georgia in Decembers in search of the perfect red cedar tree to complement our Christmas festivities. Audrey and I chose the tree, and Daddy cut it down, dragged it to the truck, and drove the three of us home. My sister and I spent hours decorating the tree, and arguing about the amount of tinsel to toss over its branches. My brother and I loved flashing, gaudy, Las Vegas style Christmas trees—the kind that cause perfectly healthy individuals to have seizures. Audrey was a minimalist and stood her ground to ensure our trees remained classy and tasteful.

Again, everyone in my family misses my father, but Audrey and I have both written some of our memories down. We have photographs, memories, stories, and our keepsakes to help keep him close to us. 

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Thanks again to my sister for writing such a wonderful tribute to my father for Project Keepsake and for the sisterly love she has showered upon me for half a century.

I know you have a keepsake—or two, or three. Share your story with me and the world. 

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