Only a few people ever get to rub the genie bottle in life where magic happens. One man did, and his wish came true in Craig County.
A few months back, Terry Martin, 88, was asked a question by one of the managers at a retirement facility in Florida where he and his wife Jan reside. The question was: “Terry if you could have any wish, what would it be?”
Terry answered honestly. “I’d love to be able to go back home and see my foster parents and visit where I was born and later grew up,” he said.
Little did he know that his name was going to be entered into Wish of a Lifetime, a non-profit group that grants wishes to senior citizens that wouldn’t normally be able to complete their wishes without help. Their site is https://wishofalifetime.org.
Shortly afterward, he was called into a three-way phone conversation with Ella Simpson and The Wish of a Lifetime Foundation. Neither knew what was going on, but both were elated to hear the good news that he was going to be escorted to Virginia to make his wish come true.
At just nine-years-old, Martin’s mother passed due to double pneumonia and his dad, who worked at the Railroad, was trying to raise all six children. After much thought, he asked his closest friends if each could take one child in. Though separated, the children knew where their siblings were, and the ‘family’ was kept intact. Sadly, their father passed not long after.
This is where Martin truly met Ella Simpson, as he initially moved into the home of her parents, Charles and Lilly. Ella still lived there but was attending college. Again, not soon after, Martin had to face an early loss to both Charles and Lilly.
“It was then that Ella became what I knew as a mom to me,” he shared with obvious affection. “I was blessed to have been taken in by such a wonderful family.”
Their farm was on Johns Creek, with all the farm animals and crops to attend. Around 16, he was able to attend Sheep Shearing school at VPI (now Virginia Tech), to learn how to shear the 100 plus head of sheep they had.
He later attended again to learn about livestock grading. “This really helped us on the farm,” Martin shared.
At 19, Terry joined the Army. Stationed in Florida, he served two years before planning on getting out. “Two weeks before my last day, Truman sent me a ‘love letter,’” Martin said with a chuckle. “He asked me if I would stay there another year, so I did.”
He continued in Civil Service in Electronics Security Technology of Frequency Control and Analysis and began analyzing missiles before they were launched. He retired as a GM-14 in his home state of Florida.
“When I got the call, I was so surprised as I had no idea he would ever get to come back home,” Ella Simpson shared. “The last time I saw him was when my daughter tried to get all of his brothers here at one time, many, many years ago.”
“I wrote a few letters to him, but he would call me every Saturday until he went into the retirement home,” Simpson added.
Both Simpson and Martin shared that they were beyond excited to see one another again.
Photographer Patrick Perkins was hired by the Wish foundation to follow the story, and he did a great job showing the depth of the moment.
“Ella looked so good to be 99,” Martin said with a giggle.
Both shared the similar comments, “We stayed up almost all night the first night, just talking and reminiscing about our good years together and even a little bit of the bad,” Ella said.
Martin even surprised Simpson by remembering when her husband was courting her, driving a motorcycle all the way from the Powder Plant in Radford to her home in John’s Creek.
They also talked about growing up on the farm and recollected the story of when Martin’s brother came over, they went swimming in the ‘Henderson Hole,’ and he got caught up in the whirlpool area. “It just took me in, and I went under about three times,” Martin recollected.
“Yes, his brother actually put Terry on his back and walked on the bottom of the creek, under water, to carry him out,” Simpson added.
Simpson said that Tommy remembered so many more things than she did but when he would start talking about them, she remembered too and it made her heart smile.
“This was the dream of a lifetime,” Martin said. “I saw folks that I hadn’t seen in so many years. I saw the farm I was raised on, the mountains I hunted on and the waters I fished in…it was amazing!”
He also remembered stories about his baseball playing days on the John’s Creek team.
Sandra Ross Ulrey, Simpson’s daughter, also drove Martin around to many spots he held dear memories of Potts Mountain lookout, Paint bank, Johns Creek and Dicks Creek.
The homeplace has since been sold, but life continues for both Martin and Simpson. Both hope he will be able to come in for her 100th birthday party in August.
But, until then, Martin’s daughter Debbie will make sure that the retirement home sets up their weekly Saturday afternoon calls to stay in touch, because as they both shared, “Home is where your heart is.”