On Nov. 30, 2017, Scotty Hancock comes home to find a delivered package — a book he purchased from a stranger on eBay.
He's excited to show the book to his son. But when he turns to the first page, the name there staggers him. It's his own. And it's in his writing.
The year is 1986. It's Scotty Hancock's birthday and the Pepperell High student has decided to enlist in the U.S. Army. He is only 17 and his parents have to sign papers giving him permission to enlist.
He leaves his home in Lindale on Aug. 11, 1987, for basic training in Fort Knox, Kentucky. It's the first time he's been this far from home.
For eight weeks Scotty endures the rigors of basic training.
"It was intense," he said. "But I learned so much and I grew so much from it."
He learns to fire an M16 for the first time and how to throw a grenade. He learns combat training, radio communication and a variety of other skills he'll need in the Army.
And he also learns about discipline and hard work and self control. He meets new people and learns about the places they come from and about their culture.
He makes friends and, though the training is tough and his drill sergeants are tougher, he still has great memories from his stay at Fort Knox. Many of those memories are captured in photos and writing in a yearbook he receives at graduation.
Scotty returns to Lindale and before heading out for advance training and being stationed in Hawaii, he leaves the yearbook in the care of his mother.
The book fades from his memory. It's now 2017. Scotty's days in the Army are behind him and he's a family man now with a loving wife and two children. He also happens to be a county commissioner. His 12-year-old son has been asking about his early days in the Army and it brings to mind a book he once owned that showed all the things he did to prepare for the military.
"I remember the book having all these photos of the cool things I did and the training we had to go through," Scotty said. "I wanted to show my son some of the crazy things his old man did in basic. But then I realized I hadn't seen it since I brought it home in 1987. I really wanted to show my son that book, but I didn't know where it was. I looked all over the place. I asked my mom but she had no idea what she did with it."
Having searched everywhere and realizing that his mother may have given his book away, or donated it or even thrown it away, Scotty realizes he'll have to look for a similar book online. He searches for the yearbook's printer and finds the company, but can't find the book from the year he was in basic training.
Then a simple Google search leads to an eBay listing for a yearbook from 1987 — just what he's looking for. From the photo in the eBay listing, Scotty knows that's the book he wants and buys it for $20.
The book arrives on Nov. 30 and Scotty smiles as he sees the cover. It brings back lots of memories. When he opens the cover, however, he realizes immediately that there's something very strange about this book.
"It had my name written right there on the first page," he said. "It said 'Scotty E. Hancock' and right at first I thought 'This guy I bought it from saw my picture inside and wrote my name to be nice.' But then my wife said 'Scotty, that's YOUR writing.'"
He realizes that it is his writing. And suddenly it dawns on him. This is his book. Not just one from his graduation year, but the book he owned. The pages confirm this. Writing covers the inside pages — messages from his buddies in basic training.
Scotty can't believe his luck.
It turns out that the person he bought it from got the book from a book store in Columbus.
"My mother or sister must have sold it or it got caught up in books that were donated," Scotty said.
Whatever its journey, it's clear that Scotty Hancock was meant to have this book. He smiles when reading the handwritten messages it contains and grimaces when he remembers the grueling hours of basic training. But he wouldn't trade any of it for the world.
"These were some of the best days of my life," he says as he points to the photos in the book. "They were hard but they changed me for the better. They taught me so much about myself and the world outside Lindale and about people. This was a time when I needed structure in my life. These experiences, and the love of a good wife, have made me the man I am today."