The cloudless morning sky was a beautiful bright blue hue, and little did I know what surprises awaited me for the remainder of the day. As Paul Harvey said, “And now, for the rest of the story.”

One day, as my wife, son and I were enjoying a morning breakfast at a local restaurant, an aged man entered and appeared a hollow shadow of the man he once was. As he sat down and began to converse with his wife and the waitress, one could observe that even though life had bent his back and gnarled his hands, his spirit remained undaunted. Shortly afterward, we departed and traveled to a local supermarket. Upon exiting the building, lo and behold, there stood the same man, shoring himself up against his vehicle (I assumed in a weakened state), waiting for his wife to return from shopping.

I questioned him if he enjoyed his breakfast, and his face broke with a big smile and a huge response of “Yes!” He then began to reveal some of his innermost feelings to me, a perfect stranger. I found out that he had lived in Escanaba until the 9th grade, when his father was transferred downstate. This transfer did not sit well with him, as he loved the Escanaba area and did not want to leave his extended family there.

An option for him to stay and live with another family could have been a possibility, but insecurity and immaturity prevailed, and he joined his family downstate. The conversation continued, reminiscing about the wonderful early years spent in Escanaba and the surrounding area (and the UP in general). He specifically focused on how good the people were, and the positive values (faith, family, and friends) that were instilled in the youth. Another thing that drove his passion for the Upper Peninsula was the vast natural beauty. He emphasized various sites around the region, such as the Porcupine Mountains (nestled alongside one of the Great Lakes) and the numerous waterfalls.

As he looked straight into our eyes, he stated the primary reason that he returned was, and I quote, “I came back to say goodbye.” These words resonated with me, impressing on me how much that I have taken for granted, living in the Upper Peninsula and northern Midwest.

So, this month, as we gather to give God thanks, let us not forget to include in our prayers the men and women who have sacrificed for us so that we may enjoy our cherished freedoms and the way of life in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and Northern Wisconsin.

Dan Paul is a retired school administrator. His columns will explore family relationships. They will be published at the beginning of each month. Those who have any questions, comments, reflections, or personal stories related to the subject of this article, may contact Paul at meaningfuldifferences.net.