STAPLES -- The red balloon was a message of love, sent from an 8-year-old Staples girl into the sky to her dad, a Marine stationed in the Persian Gulf.
Cierra Waverek had hoped when she released the balloon May 15 that it would fly all the way to her dad in Bahrain. She wrote her name, address and her father Mark Waverek's address on a note and attached it to the balloon so he would know the balloon was for him.
Her father told her in a phone call that he would catch the balloon if he saw it floating in the air.
Beating all odds, the balloon is now on its way to her father, thanks to a farm family in Goodhue, about 170 miles from Staples, who discovered Cierra's balloon in their cornfield and decided to mail the tattered balloon to her dad.
During a family fun night at Staples Elementary School May 15, Cierra and her 6-year-old brother Dakota each took home balloons from the event. Their mother, Charlene Waverek, told them on the ride home how when she was in elementary school, she and her classmates released balloons with their names and addresses on them to see how far they traveled.
It gave Cierra an idea.
She drew rainbows and hearts all over the balloon, writing messages like, "I love you, daddy" and "I miss you." Her mother helped her attach a note. The girl released the balloon out their back door, since her 14-year-old brother Nicholas told her that was the way to Bahrain.
Cierra stood in their yard and watched the balloon float away until it disappeared over the horizon. That night, she wrote a letter to her dad.
"I am sending you a balloon with my address on it and yours so if you see a balloon floating, try to grab it daddy 'cause it's from me because I wanted to see if it would work," Cierra wrote. "I miss you very, very, very, very much."
The Wavereks moved to Staples in January from Japan, where Mark had been stationed for 3 1/2 years. Throughout their married life, the Wavereks have moved every three years with their four children, ages 6-14. In October, Mark is expected to retire from the Marines after 22 years of service. The family bought their home in Staples in hope of never moving again.
Charlene and her four children moved from Japan to Staples in January while Mark remained in Japan to finish his military career there. Then the war in Iraq began, and Mark, a chief warrant officer who works in the postal field, was sent to Qatar and is now working in Bahrain.
Charlene Waverek hoped there was a chance someone would find the balloon, but she knew the chances were slim.
On May 17, Goodhue farmer Bruce McNamara was tending to his cornfield and found something red next to his tractor. It was Cierra's balloon. Her writing was still visible on the deflated balloon, as well as the note.
McNamara brought the balloon inside at lunchtime to show his wife, Marie. The couple, who owns a 230-acre farm, has a son, Blair, 10; and a daughter, Kate, 6. They got out a state map and figured the balloon traveled about 170 miles. They could tell it was a child who sent the balloon because of her handwriting.
Bruce McNamara suggested they mail the balloon back to Cierra.
"I thought the little girl would be sad if she got the balloon back," said Marie McNamara. "So I said, 'Oh, Bruce, we have to mail it to her dad.' I was very touched to see this little girl write to her dad and I thought, 'Gee, I bet he misses his family.'"
On May 22, the McNamaras mailed the balloon and a letter to Mark Waverek in Bahrain and sent a letter to Cierra and her family as well, explaining that they found her balloon and mailed it on to her dad.
Charlene Waverek was so moved by her letter, she couldn't get through the first paragraph.
"She was crying," said Cierra.
"Yeah, I was crying," admitted Charlene.
Mark Waverek has no idea that Cierra's balloon has been found. Charlene and her children are keeping it a secret until after he receives the McNamaras' package.
"He's going to be shocked," Charlene told Cierra Thursday afternoon. "Daddy's gonna be so shocked."
"I would say it's a miracle," she added. "A balloon lands in a yard of people caring enough to send it. This balloon was destined to get to her dad."
Charlene Waverek and Marie McNamara spoke on the phone this week. They hope to get the two families together to meet after Mark returns in October.
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