INTERNATIONAL FALLS (AP) -- Fourth-grader Zachary Wood and his family are still numb, perhaps from pinching themselves so much.
One day this spring, Zachary's dad, Terry Wood, was raking the yard when a neighbor dropped by, wondering if the family was interested in a used van with a wheelchair lift. Zachary suffers from spina bifida and has been in a wheelchair since he was a toddler. A new van with a lift was definitely in the family's future. But perhaps next year, Terry Wood thought, when their present vehicle is paid off.
The neighbor leaned in closer.
"You really should take a look at this van," he said. "I think you can get a really good deal."
So Terry Wood hoisted Zachary, 10, into the family vehicle as his wife, Tammy Wood, and 15-year-old daughter, Jenna Wood, hopped in. They motored to nearby Rainy Lake. It was a nice van -- full-size Ford, motorized lift, low miles and no rust.
"I'm supposed to show you the pontoon boat and house, too," said the Woods' neighbor, a cousin of the home's owner.
"Uh, sure," said the Woods, a bit puzzled. But they decided not to pass up a chance to check out a beautiful lakefront property.
Like the van, the boat and the house were equipped with ramps and sturdy, level surfaces that made it easy for Zachary to get around. He wheeled across wide decks with breathtaking lake vistas. Inside, he rolled under knotty pine ceilings. The house even had an elevator.
"It's fantastic. Thanks for the tour," Terry Wood said. He started to ask about the van and its price, but the neighbor interrupted.
"Now, couldn't you kids just picture yourself living here?" he asked.
"Yeah, right, in our dreams," said Terry Wood, an International Falls police officer for 13 years.
"Maybe if we win the lottery," said Tammy Wood, who works at Rainy Lake Community College.
They both laughed.
David Perling was born in International Falls and grew up in Iowa. When he was 15, he and some buddies were goofing around on a wagon, throwing hay at each other. Perling weaved to the side to avoid an attack. That's when he lost his balance, crashing to the ground. The wagon rolled over him twice, paralyzing him.
He went on to become an electrical engineer. Six years ago, he and his wife decided they wanted to spend summers back in his hometown and on Rainy Lake. His late uncle's place was available. It would be perfect for escaping the triple-digit heat in Arizona, where David and Marlene Perling lived for more than three decades.
They escaped to Rainy Lake for six straight summers. It was their place. The sun rises over Canada. The loons call.
They planned to return this summer, too. But in January, David Perling suffered a stroke and died. He was 61.
A Rainy Lake neighbor called Marlene Perling in the spring about buying the lakefront place. She didn't know what to say.
"I can never put a price on this house. To me, it's just priceless," she said. "But I also know that I could never come up without David. I cried a ton of tears. I knew I just couldn't sell this place."
She prayed for an answer. And then it came to her.
"I decided I wanted to give it to a family who could benefit from it, who could enjoy it as much as David and I enjoyed it those six years," she said. "That's what I decided I wanted to do. It was all a very sudden thing, but it's also the right thing."
Marlene Perling's cousin, Dorlyn Desens of International Falls, heard of her intentions. He immediately thought of the nice family living across the street. How many times had he seen the father lift the little boy from his wheelchair to place him into the car? How much longer could his back tolerate the strain?
Desens spotted Terry Wood outside raking. He went over to chat.
At the lake house, Desens put Terry and Tammy Wood on the phone with his cousin.
"How do you like the van?" Marlene Perling asked.
"The rest of the conversation is a blur to me," Terry Wood said. He agreed it went something like this:
The Woods: "Very nice. But we're not sure we can buy it right now. We're still paying off our car and we just built a house." Their house in town is 2 years old.
Perling: "Well then, just take it."
The Woods: "What do you mean? Just take the van?"
Perling: "Take it all. The house. The boat. The van. It's all free. I just want you to enjoy it. Please enjoy it."
"That's when our knees started shaking and Tammy started crying," Terry Wood said. "It's a pretty incredible story, huh? We're still floating."
"I'm not used to such an extravagant gift," Tammy Wood said. "I hardly know how to react."
"I know it's meant to be," Perling said. "God orchestrated this whole thing. He took me step by step. He led me to this family. I asked God to show me a family who could benefit from this. They are all that and more."
Zachary's most eager to go fishing with his grandfather. The boy has had 29 surgeries since birth. His spinal cord never developed completely. He suffers respiratory problems, and his vocal cords are paralyzed.
His prognosis is good, however; he's expected to lead a full life, his parents said.
But he has never been able to get in a boat with his grandfather until now.
On Monday, Marlene Perling and the Woods gathered in a lawyer's office in International Falls. She signed over the deed. She even decided to leave behind all the leather and woodsy moose-motif furniture. It was too much of a hassle to take back to Arizona, she said. The moving company wanted more than $7,000.
The Woods plan to move into their new home after school lets out. With the place fully furnished, they plan to keep only their most cherished chairs and sofas.
"Give it away," Tammy Wood said.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.