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Continued: His words live on: Stay strong, stay tough

  • Article by: PAM LOUWAGIE , Star Tribune
  • Last update: November 3, 2007 - 10:42 PM

She grinned.

That's my secret.

***

Their courtship included hikes down a muddy road, him getting to know her family and winning their love. It was an improbable union and grew more so when Helen and Peter married and, after his visa expired, moved to South Dakota.

Peter got another computer job, and they moved to the Twin Cities. So much was new to Helen, but she was determined to adapt. Her first time on an escalator, she stepped on as if she'd done it her whole life, totally assured that Peter wouldn't lead her into danger.

And there was the 1991 Halloween blizzard. She tried opening the front door and couldn't because of the snowdrifts that had piled up. Watching Helen's expression, Peter doubled over with laughter.

She wondered what kind of frozen hell he'd brought her to.

When do we go home? she asked.

Any time you want to, he replied.

But they stayed. They had four children and built a family life in Rosemount, getting to know neighbors and becoming involved in the Church of St. Joseph, where Peter taught confirmation classes and the children went to grade school.

On most summer evenings, Peter built a bonfire in the back-yard fire pit, and sat near it until somebody joined him. They often had deep spiritual conversations. But he was never serious for long, keeping the mood light around the house, never using real names. Helen was "Mrs. Wiggins," or "Flossy" for her love of dental flossing.

For their 17th anniversary this year, Peter gave Helen a card listing the "Top 10 great things about being married as long as us."

Peter added six more. "We are there to help each other," he wrote. "We play ridiculous games together... We are furnaces for each other... We love each other a lot. Really a lot."

In late July, Peter and Justina talked around the fire about an accident in the news. A man had died and his family was left behind. Justina asked why bad things happen to good people.

Justina remembers what he told her: I can guarantee you, in 100 percent of those cases, those people are always ready to go.

***

The phone rang just before 6 p.m. on Aug. 1. He was stuck in traffic, he told Helen, and was on his way to pick up their friend -- a priest from Kenya -- to bring him to dinner. The phone went dead and it went right to voice mail when Helen called back.

At first, she didn't worry.

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