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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Mike Oliver used to drive his kids to Madison Academy every morning. They drove right by Haywood Tire. Katey Deasy remembers, “About the same time the flag man was taking the flags out and rolling tires out.” The building is now home to Clem Tire Company on the corner of University Drive and McCrary Street.

Smith Haywood had one of his employees put out yellow flags each day to get the attention of drivers who passed. “We were impressed by him,” Mike Oliver said, “And initially we were just interested in seeing the flags and stuff like that, but all of a sudden, he became a part of us.”

Mike used the opportunity to teach his kids the importance of doing a good job every day. “Dad suggested I write him a note and tell him,” Katey said. She did.

Haywood stopped by the school a few days later and told the staff to tell Katey thank you. “We talked about it at dinner that night and Dad had said that must have made an impression on him that he wanted to come and personally thank you,” Katey remembers, “So, I thought that was really special.”

That was the last time they heard from him. “I never wrote back, and we never stopped or never heard from him again,” Katey said. That is until last December when Haywood’s family reached out to her. “I got a Facebook message with a picture of the envelope,” she said with a smile, “And it said is this you?”   She responded saying, “I’m like, yes, yes, that’s me.”

Haywood’s family found Katey’s letter in his desk drawer after he died in 2020. They mailed the letter to her. “I was able to read what I wrote when I was 10 years old,” she said, “It was just amazing. It was so exciting.”

Katey’s letter had come home. It said, “Dear Flag Man I go to Madison Academy. Well, I pass your place every morning where you work. I see you putting the flags up and tires up. The first time saw you putting the flags up, I thought boy, those flags look heavy. I bet they are. I just want to say that you do a great job, Love Katey Oliver. P.S. Keep doing a good job.”

The not was one of Haywood’s special keepsakes.  “I was super surprised and that they took the time to find me. I think that’s really neat,” Katey said, “That was special.”

But Clifford Knowles isn’t surprised Haywood still had the letter. “He always kept stuff like that,” he said, “He didn’t keep it here. He’d take it home. He had a personal place that he put it. Said he puts all his personal stuff in a special place.”

Clifford worked at Haywood Tire for 27 years. He is the flag man. “Yeah,” he said with a smile, “I put em out many years.” He’s the man Katey and her family saw on their way to school. “It was about 25 to 30 I put out every morning, along with the tires,” he said.

Clifford remembers his boss sharing the letter. “Mr. Haywood called me in his office and had me read the letter,” he said, “It made me feel good.”

Katey and her dad finally got to meet the flag man. “I just felt a lump in my throat and that he remembered the letter,” she said. Clifford added with a smile, “You know, it’s a big world but it’s a small place.”

And where something as simple as a thank you letter can mean so much in this complex world years later. Like Smith Haywood, Katey says she plans to keep the letter she wrote and notes from his family in a special place.