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You won the lottery? Stay anonymous

By Patricia Wood, Special to CNN
April 12, 2012 -- Updated 1358 GMT (2158 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Patricia Wood: Lottery winners face rampant jealousy and endless speculation
  • Wood: I know how it feels because my father won the lottery 19 years ago
  • Wood: I wish my father had said "no comment" to everyone who asked questions
  • She hopes the three lottery winners in Maryland will be able to stay anonymous

Editor's note: Patricia Wood, a teacher in Hawaii, is the author of "Lottery," which has been translated into more than 24 languages.

(CNN) -- It's happened again.

A multimillion dollar jackpot is won and I can't help but feel a touch of sympathy and admiration for the winners. Especially the three from Maryland.

It's hard to be unaffected by the circus of speculation surrounding them. The rampant jealousy by those commenting is palpable. And the questions. Always the questions like a feeding frenzy. Everyone wants to know how a winner will spend the money. Everyone speculates how they would spend it if they won. It's the ongoing topic of conversation around the water cooler: The heated argument about taking the lump sum or regular payments.

Patricia Wood
Patricia Wood

And it's all so very familiar.

Nineteen years ago my father won the lottery. Three ticket holders split $18 million in the Washington State Lottery. His share was $6 million.

Of course now people shrug. Eighteen million is nothing now, right? And $6 million is chump change. But then it was a very big deal. The winners' pictures were in the newspaper. Everyone was interviewed. A reporter asked each one what they were going to do with the money.

You won the lottery! Now what?

I wish my father had said, "None of your business." I wish my father had said, "No comment." I wish he'd had the option of staying anonymous. He mentioned in passing that he was probably going to share it with family. His saying that caused expectations to rise and relatives oozed out of the woodwork. Acquaintances cornered us and shared their financial woes. Representatives of charities and churches descended like a plague of locusts. Our family became the target of scams. From that moment on my identity became permanently entwined with my father's. Not just as his daughter, but as the daughter of a lottery winner.

It's a testament to my father's Norwegian heritage that he persevered. Having money didn't change him, but I noticed it certainly changed those around him. It altered people's perceptions of him. After winning the lottery my father was treated like a sage. As if his luck was a talent. Like choosing the correct numbers was a well thought out decision on his part. As a writer I absorbed all this. It even was the subject of a novel I wrote called, appropriately enough, "Lottery."

The passage of time allows for reflection. After reading about lottery winners who are slain or who commit suicide or go bankrupt, it seems the Maryland trio have it all figured out.

Stay anonymous, try not to respond to any questions, and whatever you do, don't quit your day job.

For those who still have questions around the water cooler? My father spent some of the money sending family members to college. And he took the payments rather than the lump sum.

For the past 19 years he has received more than a quarter of a million dollars a year. He's 91. This year will be his last check. After all this time the furor has died down. I reflect on this and the fact that I wish all the best to the winners and hope they do succeed in remaining anonymous. And I hope their lottery win really does allow them to realize their dreams.

By the way, if you're wondering whether I buy lottery tickets, the answer is no. No I don't. I think one lottery winner in a family is enough. Don't you?

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Patricia Wood.

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