After A Man With Cancer Listed His VCR On Ebay, He Got A Moving Letter From The Elderly Buyer

Image: YouTube/FOX 2 St. Louis / Natxo Rodriguez

Matt Shoukry has made quite the business for himself selling items on eBay. So it seems likely that he’d never usually give much thought to the people buying his products. But that perhaps all changed in February 2019 when he sold a VCR player to an elderly customer – and received an emotional letter in response.

Image: Matt Shoukry via BBC

This story begins in 2018. At that time, you see, Shoukry – who hails from St Louis, Missouri – had his world turned upside down when he received a cancer diagnosis. And as a result, he was forced to quit his job so that he could prioritize what was important: undergoing treatment.

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Yet even though Shoukry was unable to maintain his previous job role, he still needed a way of earning money. So that’s when he turned to eBay, using the e-commerce site to sell a range of items that would help him pay his way through his illness. And thankfully, his efforts were successful.

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In February 2019 Shoukry explained to ABC 13 why becoming a seller on eBay had worked for him in his situation. He said, “While sick, I was stuck on the couch a lot, and I started selling on eBay to help make ends meet, as it was something I could do from home without too much bodily stress.”

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So Shoukry began listing multiple items to sell before shipping them to their respective buyers, working the transactions around his cancer treatment. And before long, he was making enough money to survive. He therefore decided to keep up his eBay business even after his health improved.

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Unlike selling in person, though, being an online retailer means that you rarely come face-to-face with the people buying your items. And for Shoukry, once he’d sold an item on eBay and shipped it off, the matter would normally be closed; he’d simply move on to selling something else.

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In fact, Shoukry revealed to ABC 13 that the process of selling on eBay was just an everyday occurrence for him. He said, “Most eBay transactions are a blur for me as most commerce is nowadays. They pay. They get their item. Everybody’s happy and goes on their way.”

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This likely all changed in February 2019, however. That’s because when Shoukry received his mail on one Saturday morning, it supposedly included an envelope from one of his buyers. The message actually first piqued the eBay seller’s interest simply because it reportedly stood out among the mail that he normally received.

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Shoukry recounted the events to ABC 13. He said, “My girlfriend had brought the mail in, which is usually all ads and junk, but I noticed a letter for me with a handwritten address on the front.” So the correspondence had clearly intrigued Shoukry – but he seemingly had no idea just how moving the note would prove to be.

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As it turned out, you see, the letter reportedly related to a VCR player that Shoukry had recently sold. These machines were commonplace in homes throughout the 1980s and ’90s, of course. Following the introduction of DVDs in 1997, though, the technology gradually became obsolete as discs took over from VHS in the home entertainment industry.

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In 2006, in fact, the movie A History of Violence marked the last time that a big Hollywood production became available on VHS. Clearly, then, fewer people were buying VCR players and in turn manufacturing of the machines began to cease. And eventually, the last company making the players stopped its production in 2016.

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Yet although VCR players became harder to come by, some people still held onto their cherished VHS cassettes. Many families had, after all, reams of home footage that they’d committed to VHS in the past. This meant that unless they transferred the recordings from VHS to DVD, there might be no way of reliving the special memories that they’d enjoyed through the years.

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And this is seemingly what had happened to the man – known only as Don – who’d sent Shoukry a letter in February 2019. The resident from Phoenix, Arizona, had reportedly spotted the VCR player on Shoukry’s eBay page and parted with $40 in order to purchase the machine. And when it had arrived at his door, he’d apparently set about rewatching his old family movies.

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The VCR player was supposedly the first item that Don had purchased through eBay – and it hadn’t disappointed. In fact, the item had reportedly meant a lot to the Phoenix resident. So he’d evidently decided that he would write to Shoukry in person and thank him for selling it.

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The opening line of the letter read, “Hi [Matt] Shoukry. I found many old VHS tapes recently and wanted to see what is on them and realized I had no player. So I went to eBay for the first time and discovered your offer. I bought your VCR, and you shipped it within a few days.”

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By this point in the note, Shoukry said, he was already completely gripped. He told ABC 13, “[My girlfriend and I] were watching the Blues hockey game at the time, and one line into his letter, I immediately paused the game and had to share it with her.”

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In the letter, Don then described what happened after receiving his item. The elderly buyer wrote, “The VCR looks new and unused. Amazing. I had some issues getting it going which were mine and not the player. I am 86 and perhaps not up to my game, but I do get there eventually. And I did and discovered the VCR works perfectly.”

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In his letter, Don reportedly continued to reveal what the purchase had meant to him. He wrote, “I watched tapes of my retirement party from 25 years ago which I had never seen before. Jeez, were we young.” Poignantly, he added the next thing he watched was “a tape of [his] wedding with all the family and friends, many of [whom] are no longer around.”

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And after reliving some of his most cherished memories through the VCR player, Don was apparently eager to see more. He therefore supposedly played recordings of “skiing trips, kids growing up, travels and, most importantly, the gentle maturing of [his] family.” He added that “each one [was] more fun than the last.”

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Don reportedly told Shoukry that the joy he’d gotten from his old family videos was “all thanks to [his] generous selling of the VCR player.” He added, “I thought you would appreciate how much someone has enjoyed your offer… Thank you so much for your care, your efforts and your promptness.”

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So, after reading Don’s heartfelt letter, Shoukry and his girlfriend were likely incredibly moved to learn of the stranger’s experience of reconnecting with his memories. The eBay seller told ABC 13, “We were both on the brink of tears reading it, and I had to share this gentleman’s story with more people.”

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Shoukry therefore decided to share the letter with the community on reddit. The website is the third most visited in the United States, according to Alexa figures, so Shoukry no doubt hoped that the note would reach a wide audience. The eBay merchant subsequently posted a photo of the letter, captioned, “Got this letter today. It doesn’t get much better than this.”

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Shoukry explained to the BBC why he’d decided to post the letter online. He said, “I was blown away by how much emotion and feeling this gentleman had put into a note, and how I felt so connected to him.” He added, “It was so unexpected but so sweet. So I decided to share it with the world on reddit.”

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Shoukry had also hoped that the reddit post might brighten someone else’s day in the same way it had his. He told the BBC, “There is so much negative in the world today. It’s refreshing to have something wholesome and positive to share with everyone.”

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Perhaps inevitably, then, the letter soon gained traction. Within 24 hours, in fact, Shoukry’s post had received 160,000 upvotes. It also attracted a number of comments in which users revealed that Don’s words had moved them to tears.

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For instance, one redditor offered their thoughts after reading the heartfelt letter. They wrote, “At 86, he watched a video of his retirement when he was in his 60s and commented about how young he was. I certainly need to take heed to these words. I’m in my 30s and worry about aging, but it’s so silly to worry about such things.”

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Another commenter revealed that the letter had made them think of their own family too. They said, “I lost my grandfather last July, and he was one of my favorite people. He was always recording on his little old video camera and would always give me a VHS or two whenever I visited him. I miss him, but [I’m] so glad to have all of those memories.”

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A different redditor also shared their own experience of how technology had helped them remember a loved one. They wrote, “I found some audio recordings of my grandpa on my TalkBoy. I recorded them onto my iPhone and sent them to my mom and his other kids… they all cried. They hadn’t heard his voice in over a decade.”

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Elsewhere, one person revealed how Shoukry’s letter had got them thinking about their own memories. The user posted, “In addition to being awesome, this really makes me wish I had recorded more of our family time.” They continued, “We have tons of pictures, so that’s nice but pictures don’t capture personality, voices and mannerisms to really take you back to those places.”

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And later, the BBC spoke to several people who had more wonderful stories about acts of kindness. A man named Jim from Brooklyn, for instance, told the organization how volunteering with older people in New York had been “one of the most beautiful things [he’d] ever done.”

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As part of his voluntary role, it seems, Jim taught the elderly how to use computers. And one of his students, an old woman, reportedly stood out to him. He told the BBC, “She was really smart and eager to learn. I taught her how to use a Roku box [digital receiver] and introduced her to a language-learning app.”

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That wasn’t the only way that Jim had been of assistance, though. At one point, you see, he had reportedly told the lady that she could use Skype to speak to her relatives in Japan. And after he had demonstrated how to make a video call, he said, the woman had been so grateful to Jim that she’d attempted to pay him. He later confessed on Twitter, “It melted my heart.”

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Kate Garnett also revealed to the BBC how one of her own online purchases is special to her. The item in question is reportedly a second-hand rucksack, which her son had planned to use on an upcoming trip to the Peruvian Amazon. Garnett had apparently told the person selling the bag of its intended use, and his response was heartwarming.

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In fact, Garnett revealed how the man had seemingly offered to add a torch, a mosquito net and a small waterproof shelter to the sale at no extra charge. The seller had reportedly been a former adventurer himself, so he knew how helpful such items could be on expeditions.

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Speaking to the BBC, Garnett explained the seller’s thinking. She said, “He liked the fact it was going to a good home and more adventure. It arrived with a letter saying where it had been: Europe, Asia, Australia and North America, but not South America.” Musing on the incident, Garnett added, “Kindness costs nothing, and the world needs it right now.”

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Elsewhere online, too, a Twitter user named Damien shared a story that revealed how e-commerce could bring people together. Like Shoukry, it seems that he had also used eBay to sell on some of his possessions for money. However, he said, when a mom contacted him after he listed some toys, he decided that kindness was more important than cash.

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In a tweet from February 2019, Damien elaborated on the experience. He wrote, “I put some action figures on eBay, a mom bought two but not the other 28 I had. She messaged to say her autistic son was excited to get them. She wished she could have bought more.” Damien continued, “I sent her all 30 of them, got a phone call, she thanked me and cried. We’re all friends to this day.”

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So while Shoukry had seemingly inspired other people to share their heartwarming experiences, that wasn’t actually the end of his story. The eBay seller had been so moved by Don’s letter, in fact, that he wanted to do something special for the man who’d written it. And as a result, he said, he intended to respond to the note.

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In his interview with ABC 13, Shoukry explained his plans. He said, “I will be offering to allow him to ship his VHS tapes to me so I can digitize them. That way, his family memories will be safe and not at risk of deteriorating away on those tapes, and the rest of his family for generations can enjoy the memories, too.”

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And what’s more, Don’s letter had seemingly had such a profound effect on Shoukry that he’d decided to display the stranger’s kind words in order to be reminded of their transaction. He told ABC 13, “I’m going to frame [the letter] and put it next to my desk in the house because it means a lot to me.”

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