HARRISVILLE, Ohio - Charles Carpenter was searching through a mushroom patch near his home in Fairmont, W.Va. on Monday afternoon.
By chance, Carpenter's gaze turned upward and a peculiar sight caught his attention in a nearby tree.
What Carpenter discovered was a mylar balloon stuck in the branches. A wide-eyed, smiling caricature of Spongebob Squarepants was staring back at him.
CHARLES CARPENTER of Fairmont, W.Va. poses with a balloon he found Monday in the woods near his home. The Feher family of Harrisville released this and four other balloons nearly a year ago on the birthday of William Feher Jr., who passed away in January of 2011.
An odd thing to find in a tree, but after Carpenter took down the balloon, he discovered a message written in black marker.
This coming Monday would have been William Michael Feher Jr.'s 34th birthday.
Feher unexpectedly passed away in January of 2011 at the age of 31.
Last year, to celebrate what would have been Feher's 33rd birthday, his mother Lou Ann, father William Sr., his sister and young niece Abriauna met at William Jr.'s grave site to pay their respects to another young man taken far too soon.
To honor him, each family member selected and released a balloon. On each balloon, a message was written that:
"Today is my son's 33rd birthday. He passed away on Jan. 7, 2011. Please, if you find this balloon, please call," and a phone number and name were listed to call.
Lou Ann Feher, of Harrisville, and her family were hopeful that maybe, someone might find the balloon and let the family know.
They waited and waited. But as the weeks and months passed, hope began to fade that anyone might ever find one of the balloons.
Then last Monday, the phone rang.
"I had just gotten home from work and my husband said he just got off the phone with a guy from Fairmont," Lou Ann Feher recalled. "He said 'Do you remember last year when we left off the balloons on William's birthday?' and I busted out crying.
"I waited to call him back and when I did, he was still in the woods. I thanked him first and told him how much his calling meant to us.
"He didn't just pass it over or think (the balloon) was garbage and not bother with it."
Lou Ann asked Carpenter if he would mind sending a picture of he and the balloon and Carpenter was more than happy to oblige, having his wife snap a quick picture and sending it to the Fehers.
It was little Abriauna who selected the Spongebob balloon.
During William Jr's last weeks, his niece came to visit him at her grandparents house every day and the two would spend time watching the Spongebob show together. It was a tribute to a special memory she had of her uncle William.
It's fitting that Carpenter found the balloon exactly a week before William Jr.'s birthday. But that wasn't the only coincidence.
Lou Ann explained that her son was a lover of all things outdoors.
An avid hunter and fisherman, rarely did William Jr. enter the woods and not return with either a deer, turkey or whatever was in season. He was one with nature and nature was where his balloon was found.
Then there is the connection on the other side of the story.
The mushroom patch Carpenter was walking in is situated roughly 20 feet from a monument to his cousin that passed away.
The patch is on the family's land and Carpenter and other family members will head up on the hill to plant flowers and pay their respects.
For Lou Ann Feher, it's not just a coincidence.
"I still can't get over it," she said. "Nearly a year later, a week before his birthday ... it's like he was sending us a message to let us know that he's ok.
"I don't know how to explain it. But I feel like he is letting us know he is out there."
Feher said she and her family plan to release balloons every year.
This is a tough time of the year for the Feher family. But the kindness of a stranger more than 100 miles away in a different state helped her and her family find a small measure of peace.
Hughes may be reached at email@example.com