FORSYTH – Frank Grgurich, 78, thinks of his garden as a little piece of heaven.
So in that sense a bouquet of balloons launched in Davenport, Iowa, reached their intended destination when they dropped from the sky north of Forsyth on July 1 and wound themselves around one of the Master Gardener's tomato cages.
“I went out to pick zucchini for supper, and I found this shiny bunch of balloons, blowing gently in the wind,” he said.
Upon inspection, Grgurich found one of the nine colorful balloons had a note and photo attached.
The phone number led to Larry “Butch” Smith, 62, of Davenport, who asked Grgurich if God was calling because he'd climbed up a hill in Prospect Park on June 30 and sent the balloons heavenward to wish his longtime friend, Valerie Newberry, a happy birthday.
Newberry, 54, died Dec. 14.
It was Smith's second attempt to send her balloons, having released another bouquet on Valentine's Day and never hearing anything back.
Grgurich denied being God but admitted that his garden compares favorably to paradise and described the landing as nothing short of miraculous.
“If it had landed 200 feet to the north or to the south, it would have been in a cornfield, and I wouldn't have seen it,” he said.
Smith said he was pleased to hear from Grgurich just the same and to learn that the balloons had journeyed 175 miles.
“I wanted to remember her and for people to know how much I miss her,” he said in a telephone interview. “She loved to sing '70s music, she had a beautiful face and warm personality you just wanted to talk to. We've been together 22 years, and it's hard to realize she's gone.”
Smith said he chose Prospect Park to release the balloons on what would have been Newberry's 55th birthday because they had been happy there, watching fireworks burst in the sky or boats navigate along the Mississippi River.
“God, please take care of her,” he wrote at the conclusion of his air-mailed note.
Grgurich is thankful he could give Smith a small measure of the comfort he feels when he is outside among the vegetables he's planted.
“I enjoy being out in my garden,” he said, “but I have never found anything like this.”