It began like any Saturday on a small Midwest farm on the outskirts of a smaller town called Valley Junction, about 15 miles from the Iowa capitol of Des Moines.

The day started early with chickens pecking at the corn thrown on the ground by two boys, Tony, 10, and John, 12. They weren’t brothers but friends the way children once became friends, by spending enough time together until one day, and without saying a word, they just knew they were friends for life.

Tony was short, barely 5 feet tall, but built stocky with arms and chest made muscular from carrying buckets of coal from the shed to the stove inside the house. John’s physique was slender, almost delicate and he had emerald eyes, but it was his beet red hair that caught everyone’s attention. He was a handsome boy.

The weather was chilly but not yet cold. In mid-October, most leaves had fallen from the trees leaving bare branches intertwined and reaching toward the sky. It was a bright day on Oct. 18, 1924.

John often helped Tony with his chores because the sooner Tony finished, the sooner the boys could play. Their fun was simple, skipping stones at the Raccoon River to see who had the better arm or balancing on a homemade seesaw in Tony’s front yard.

Tony threw stones farther, but John could balance the longest on the seesaw as if he and the wooden plank were one.

Then a baby’s cry came from inside the house shattering the Saturday silence, causing John to lose his balance and slip off the seesaw. The crying stopped in a few minutes and they returned to their game uninterested in the latest addition to Tony’s family.

Before sunset and time for evening chores, his father invited them to see the new baby girl.

To Tony, she was another sister to care for, but she looked like she might be strong enough one day to carry the coal bucket. She had promise. But John saw something else — her eyes were dark, like chocolate moons and thick black hair with curls at the end circled her face. He couldn’t stop looking at her and finally said aloud to no one in particular, “Someday, I will marry her.”

The baby girl was my mother, Juanita, and the boy, John, was my father. Twenty-eight years later, my parents married. I never knew until I was much older why my favorite game was balancing on a seesaw, always longer than any kid in school as if the wooden plank and I were one.

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