Readers of this blog will remember when I wrote a year ago in late August about the deaths of both my parents, forty-two hours apart. There is another story to share in their memory, which will truly bless you!
After they had both taken their last breaths and gone to be with the Lord, my sister and I made a covenant with each other that we would come together again in a year, in that same week, to share some time together and remember. As August drew near, I tried to think of some place we could meet that would cause us to celebrate their lives, rather than grieve our losses. Looking through an old album of 1940s black and white photos, it came to me: the college campus where they met! Yes, we could go to the very small town of Fayette, Missouri, to Central Methodist College, and see for ourselves the place they had so often talked about, where Dad met Mom and flirted with her for the first time.
I called the college and reached a very kind staff person who listened intently to my story. "Our parents met on your campus in 1943," I told her. "Dad was in the Navy Officer's Training Program and Mom was an Education and Music Major. They fell in love, got married in 1944, and stayed married for 70 years, passing away last August a day and a half apart."
"Let me speak with our staff and I'll call you back," she said. "Perhaps they will let you stay in a dorm room to make your experience more fun."
Two hours later she called me back to tell me the story of Patty Lou Edwards and Ed Ferrari had swept the campus and many staff members were excited about our visit! She had set up an itinerary for us to meet with the College Historian, the History Professor and the President! Then to top it all off, we were to give an interview with the P.R. person, who wanted to write an article for the Alumni Magazine. "Oh, and by the way," she added, "they want you to stay in the Coleman House. It's a fabulous civil-war era mansion, built in 1874, and now used to host college dignitaries."
Dignitaries? We laughed! But God was not laughing. He had prepared for us three days that would bring us and our parents such honor and blessing we would never get over it!
Upon our arrival at CMU (now a university) we were given T-shirts and backpacks, and led to the cafeteria for our lunch. Students greeted us with smiles and kindness. Then we were escorted to the office of the Historian, an outgoing, enthusiastic guy with a passionate interest in CMU's history. We shared many of our old black and white photos of our parents on the campus and he was identifying other people in the photographs, as well as filling us in on typical campus life in the 1940s. Then the History Professor, Dr. Wiegers, came to give us a full tour and our adventure of walking in Mom and Dad's footsteps really began. We stood on the stage where Mom would have given her piano recitals, creaking across the same old wooden floors and gazing through the magnificent 1800's windows. We peeked into the Library filled with dusty old books, where they would have studied. We saw Mom's dorm room and the dorm where Dad and the Navy unit sailors stayed in those days. The professor told us Mom's dorm was the same as in 1943, except that they tore down the big wrap-around porch that used to be called the "kissing porch." What fun to imagine the two of them sharing kisses there!
Our interview with the University President was truly a blessing. He just wanted to hear their story and was so moved by their long, enduring marriage. He invited us to please come the next morning when they would have their traditional Convocation, welcoming in the new freshman class. We were told to sit in the balcony and enjoy the orchestra and the formal tradition that would have also welcomed our mother into her college years there. He gave a moving speech to these freshmen of 2015, and it was all about commitment. Just as he was wrapping up his speech he glanced up at us in the balcony and seemed to add something he hadn't intended to say. "Today we have in our midst two women who came here to remember their parents. They met on this campus in 1943, fell in love and got married, stayed together 70 years and then just passed away last year, 42 hours apart. They understood commitment at its deepest level."
He asked us to stand, and 329 college freshmen turned their faces up toward us and applauded. We were moved to tears, asking each other, "What is this about? We aren't dignitaries and our parents didn't do anything famous or profound. Dad didn't become a NASA Scientist or Mom become a famous author, like the other alumni the President spoke about! They lived in an 800-square-foot house and Dad worked at the post office! Why were all these kids standing and applauding?
As our three amazing days continued, the Lord started to break through and show us. He was honoring something that has been lost. And it seemed He wanted to bring a special blessing to these two daughters who had been faithful to care for elderly, ailing parents, even when it was really hard.
We went to the "Coleman House" and as we entered through the front door it took our breath away! Luxuriously appointed with fine furnishings and beautiful flowers everywhere, it was like stepping back into a grand, formal era. Atop the sweeping staircase we found four exquisite bedrooms and we each chose the one we wanted! Then we went into the center square of this quaint Missouri town and found the restaurant everyone told us we would enjoy. But again we weren't prepared for the magnificent dinner we would have; flavors that we'd never experienced before, the most memorable dinner either of us have ever known. And in the middle of dinner, my sister suddenly burst into tears. Surprised, I asked if she was okay and she managed to share with me, "The Holy Spirit just whispered to me that the King is giving us a foretaste of what He has prepared for us."
Wow! What a precious thought! The next day we returned to the campus to meet with Cathy, the P.R. person, and as we walked through those enormous doors at the entrance, the shofar ringtone on my phone went off again. My sister stared at me and said, "Do you realize every time we've opened these doors the shofar has sounded?" I had no cell signal in that town and could not make any calls, yet the shofar had sounded each time we entered. We laughed and wondered at what this all could mean.
As we visited with Cathy over lunch we learned that both her parents (now deceased) had been in classes on that campus in 1943 and 1944. We found a picture of the Accapella choir with our mother and both her parents in it! Her father had gone on to become the Dean of Students on that campus, and had served in that office for 50 years. The more we talked, the more we became certain that our parents must had been friends because her father was in the same Navy unit with Dad. "They probably double-dated," we laughed! It was then that she told us her parents' huge old house on the edge of the campus was still for sale. I asked her for the location so we could drive by it, just to see where they lived. When she gave me the address, my sister and I both gasped. That big white house on the edge of the campus sits across from a large grassy knoll, with a little grove of huge, old trees. It was under those trees that John and I had scattered Mom and Dad's ashes last year, bidding them a final farewell in the place where they first met.
"It was right across from your parents' house," we exclaimed to Cathy.
With tears streaming down her face she responded, "Yes. Two forever-loves who came back together again."
Kelly Ferrari Mills