When Marsha Hinman opened a Christmas present from her family Monday night, it was a gift beyond her wildest expectations. She threw her hands up toward the heavens, then fell to floor crying with joy.
For four decades, Hinman, of Spencerport, New York, had been compiling her family history in a large spiral-bound book. The manuscript recorded the struggles and triumphs of her large family, including her husband Dan's battle with MS.
When Dan died in 1999, just three months before their first grandchild was born, Hinman's work on the book continued.
"He never met any of his grandchildren," Marsha told Rochester, New York, ABC affiliate WHAM. "So I thought, 'I’ve got to write something so they know who he was and the legacy he had and how much the Spencerport and Brockport community cared for us.'"
Over the years, Hinman's five children had 16 grandchildren between them, and the book grew longer and longer. Eventually Hinman decided she was only a couple chapters away from finishing it, so last month she took the book with her on a trip to Florida right before Thanksgiving.
On her way back home she pulled out the book to work on it in the Punta Gorda Airport near Ft. Myers, but when she boarded the plane she realized she didn't have it.
"I went, 'Where’s my book? Oh no -- I left the book in the airport!'" Hinman recalled. "So I jump up and I ran up to the stewardess saying, 'I have to go back and get my book.'"
"And she said, 'You can't get off the plane, ma'am,' and I said, 'No, you don’t understand. This book is my life. It’s my whole life. It’s not just a book -- it’s like my memoirs,'" Hinman said.
Hinman said she contacted the airport and exhausted every effort to locate the missing manuscript, but it just couldn't be found.
"I did everything I thought I could to get it back," she told WHAM. "And then I just prayed, because I needed a miracle."
Little did she know that a miracle was on the way.
It turns out that a stranger had found the book in the airport and had mailed it, along with a note, to an old address they had found on the book's pages. The story might have ended there, but the homeowner at Hinman's old address was able to contact Hinman's son about the unexpected package -- and last week he went and picked up the book.
The family wrapped the book as a Christmas present, and on Monday they gave it to an unsuspecting Hinman.
When she pulled off the wrapping paper and saw what it was, her eyes opened wide in disbelief. Then she let out a euphoric yell and collapsed in tears of joy.
"I fell to the floor sobbing," Hinman said. "And I'm crying and I couldn't stop. I just can’t tell you how much it meant for me to get this book back."
Now reunited with her manuscript, Hinman said she's going to finish the final two chapters -- as soon as she tracks down the airport stranger who helped her get the book back.
And she said she's going to have the manuscript typed up for safekeeping.
"It seems so funny to think the book is a Christmas miracle," she said. "But it has so much of my life in it."