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Consider this quote from Abe Lincoln

"America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves."



My middle child came home from camp this week, and the oldest is getting ready to go soon. It reminded me of a story I learned about the summer I worked in Okoboji. I figure it's one of those stories that I share so it doesn't get lost in the folds of my brain.

At the camp we took care of a number of lakeside properties that were mostly owned by retired folks. There was one house in particular that I loved, not really a cottage, but not a huge house. I remember the old two story glass porch that overlooked the water there. The old gentlemen that lived there loved to have the camp staff come down and visit for coffee, and sometimes we'd do things around the place for him on our days off. Since I mostly worked outside that summer, mowing, doing maintenance and reading the water meters I had plenty of time to sneak off for an hour or two and visit with him.

Over the next few weeks I'd sneak away in the evenings after supper and go down to sit on the porch and watch the boats float silently out in the lake. He would usually start telling stories and I listened and enjoyed the time we spent together. One day he told me a story, that I wasn't sure was based on more fact than fiction, but it seems like a good time to pass it along.

In his younger days he worked as a salesman, traveling for many weeks at a time. It wasn't an easy life on the road and yet his eyes lit up when he told me about it, as he handed me photos of that old Packard he used to drive across the country. There was a small store in southern Wisconsin that he would stop at quite often. In this store they sold most of the things needed in the small community, from sugar and peanuts to garden tools and catalog ordered merchandise. He would stop there every other week to visit with the store owner, a jolly fat man with a neatly trimmed bead and handlebar mustache.

At the end of each visit he would stop at the candy counter and buy a 10 cent bag of candy from the owner's daughter, a strikingly beautiful young woman, with, as he described it, dirty blonde hair, but eyes so blue you could see to Montana in them. Over the months he became friends with the young woman and each time he was passing through he would stop to buy candy, although he told me that most of the time, he was stopping just to see her, and he said that just before he saw her the last time he realized that he loved her, but couldn't find the courage to tell her that.

I asked him what she said when he finally told her, but every time he got to this part he would stop, say it was time for him to go to bed and walk me to the door. I never pressed him about it, but often wondered about the ending of the story.

We found him the next morning called home for the final time, his hand clutching an old faded photograph tucked neatly in a letter on purple paper written in perfect cursive. In the letter the young woman in the photo expressed her love to him, told him how much his visits had meant to her, and that she hoped that he would find the courage to ask her out because she was to shy and proper to be so forward to ask him.

That was all, no explanation of what happened next, and it secretly drove each of us on the staff crazy trying to figure the story out. At his funeral, I was approached by his daughter, who told me that he had spoken often of how much he enjoyed our visits. I passed along my sympathies and apologized for asking, but had to know if she knew of the girl in the photo.

She smiled and said that indeed she did, and that she was glad that her dad would finally see her again. You see the shop owner's daughter died in a fire the night she mailed that letter to him. It was a tragic end to a romance that never got off the ground. She told me that her father carried that sorrow with him for years and taught his children to never let a minute go by without telling people how they really felt.

It was a good lesson to learn as a young man just out of high school, and I'm sure that in a couple of weeks I'll stop by his grave to say hello, and to thank him for the lesson that I too learned that summer, that it is never too early to tell someone you love, just how you feel. I agree.

See you next week..Remember, we're all in this together.