A few thoughts on missed opportunities

My Grandpa Mallory was one of eight children who grew up on a dairy farm in Marengo, Wisconsin. I remember my dad’s stories of sneaking away to go skinny dipping in the river as a brief escape from all the work that came with being a boy on that same farm.



The Mallory clan – my grandfather is standing back row, middle


Not too long ago, my brother sent a photo of an out-dated Mallory family reunion flyer. I recognized the name on the flyer – Lee Westlund. Westlunds were first cousins to the Mallorys. And so I did a little online sleuthing and found myself talking with my cousin. A cousin I hadn’t seen since I was in junior high. Pretty incredible thing, right there.

“I’m going to try and attend the family reunion this year,” I told him.

But the airline-miles thing wasn’t going to work. And then I ran into a friend who was excited because her husband had just heard from some long-lost family.

“Oh, Marlys,” said my friend when I told her my own long-lost-family story. “Forget the airline miles. Use your credit card. Because this is important and you might not have this opportunity again.”

Somehow I knew she was right. It’s a funny thing about opportunities. They don’t always roll back around, do they?

And so, I just spent an amazing weekend with some fabulous cousins in beautiful, green, rolling-hills-and-forested Wisconsin. Land of cheese and bratwurst and Green Bay Packers. Go, Broncos! (Sorry, Mallory family.)

The big house where my father grew up had been abandoned and then vandalized. And then later still, someone seeking shelter on a cold winter day built a fire inside and … yeah, the house burnt down.



The farmhouse where my dad grew up in Marengo, Wisconsin


My cousin Lee took me out to explore around the old Mallory homestead this past weekend. We tramped through the waist-high grass and brush, and pressed through thickets as Lee pointed out where the barn and outbuildings used to be.

And then we came to a clearing of tall grass and Black-Eyed Susans. And this was where the big beautiful old house held court.




It was incredibly moving to poke around on the property where my father grew up and learned to milk cows, where the present generations still own parts and pieces of the original 1140 acres their forebears made a living on.

One of the lessons cancer taught Hubby and me was to make the most of opportunities while we still have life. To not wonder at coincidences, but to see them as divine appointments. And here I had almost forgotten this valuable lesson.

Stephen C. Hogan says it well:

Most people miss great opportunities, because of their misperception of time. Don’t wait! The time will never be just right.

There’s not just the opportunity itself, but there’s also the ability—the freedom, the health, the whatever-it-takes—to actually say Yes to the opportunity. If too much time passes, these things change, as well.

And so, even though I’m writing this from the San Francisco airport because my flight out of Chicago yesterday was late, which means I missed the last connecting flight home to Ory-gun, and who knows where my luggage is, it has given me the opportunity to reflect on this past weekend’s activities.

My heart is overflowing with gratitude and amazement at how I accidentally divinely connected with my father’s side of the family; for my friend who admonished me not to let this opportunity slip by.

I’m grateful for cousins who offered to be my airport shuttle service and bed-and-breakfast hosts in a beautiful log cabin in the Wisconsin woods.

Grateful for blueberry-picking and gazebo-sitting and a multitude of conversations over good food and hot tea.

Humbled and grateful for being part of something larger than myself—family—as stories were passed around and new relationships were forged, as if we’d known each other for years.

What about you? What opportunity are you missing because you think you still have all the time in the world? What do you need to chase down before it’s too late? 

* * *

Side note: My cousin Lee, and his wife, Ronda, took me out for an evening ride into town—Ashland on Chequamegon Bay on the great lake of Superior—where we had dinner overlooking the water and watched the sun set, the clouds tinging up with pinks.

Pretty sweet ride, right?



Cousins Lee and Ronda with the classic convertible Studebaker that belonged to Ronda’s father


Wisconsinites have a hard time saying Oregon correctly. They say Ora-gone. “No,” said the girl who knows (more than once because some of her twin male cousins are slow). “Repeat after me. Ory-gun.”

And then of course these particular twin male cousins had to get smart aleck about it: “G-O-N is gone, not gun,” said the two experts. “We don’t say Wis-cun-sin.”


You think Oregon is hard to pronounce correctly, though. Try Chequamegon Bay on Lake Superior. It’s She-wah-me-gun, for those curious minds who need to know.

Notice the pronunciation gun vs. gone at the end of the word. I rest my case.


Extreme Ownership: How cancer patients lead and win


So, um, this week’s date night


  1. Kara Magee

    Dear Marlys,
    I so love reading your stories…or blog as it is now called. You write so beautifully and it certainly has given me food for thought regarding my own life and the time spent dreaming of things I would love to see and do. I hear about you from Gary and Carolyn, or as I like to refer to them as Garolyn. I’m happy you have found your way back to Bend and it looks like you are living a wonderful life without regret. That is beautiful.
    Kara (Heart Center Greeter:)

  2. Kathy Ward

    Amazing photos, Marlys! What a blessing for you to reconnect with family, walk where your Grandfather walked, and travel back in time to catch a glimpse of your family’s heritage…priceless!

  3. KR

    My mom growing up in Minnesota in the 1930s was taught by her teachers to say Ora-gone and (Willamette) will-ah-met, which sounded funny to me as a child living in the Pacific North West where
    we pronounced it correctly Will-AM-it. My mom moved to Washington state in the 40s and learned
    to pronounce both words correctly. Of course as a child visiting the Midwest I heard Ora-gone.

    How lovely you took the opportunity to connect with extended family. Oh how many times do we think
    someday, tomorrow and someday, tomorrow never come. Live life today, because you never know what
    tomorrow may bring.

  4. KR


    including Oregon and Willamette. There is a video at the bottom with the eight words used.


  5. Thank you for this gentle and beautiful life affirming story. I felt refreshed after reading it.

  6. sally slick

    Marlys what a wonderful thing for you to reconnect with family, and see where you Dad grew up and roamed! How amazing is that?

  7. Esther Kenney

    What a beautiful story and good reminder to cherish every moment!

  8. Peter Howe B.E.M.

    I recently wrote to you, I’m a guy from the North East of England. I had a ‘pipe-dream’in ’92 about one day going to America and soon after I cycled 4,381.69 miles from West to East (Oregon to Virginia) for our chosen cancer/ leukaemia causes and not only was this adventure ‘life changing’, I hadn’t yet got the all clear from kidney cancer (diagnosed in ’86). But that was then and since, there have been many cycling ‘ventures somewhere in the world including USA and particularly Oregon. I tell you this because I too had to come to terms with the pronunciation of many a river, place, town and with my accent, there was often plenty of hilarity, which now becomes a part of my being able to share stories at the talks/story tellings/music gigs for our cancer/leukaemia supported causes. As an add on, in May this year (my Barbara, grand daughter Laura and boy friend Jon’ & I) were in Eagle Creek and many other wonderful places – Crater Lake, Mt. Hood, Multnomah, so ‘Thank you to Oregon’. We were over to attend Laura’s pen pal Sophie’s wedding, I was honoured to be asked to speak but the story of Laura & Sophie could not have happened had I not met Sophie’s mam and dad back in ’92 and the friendship since. You see Laura was diagnosed with leukaemia at 7 and relapsed twice, had a bone marrow transplant from her then 2 and a half year old brother Joe and her road to recovery has been long and hard BUT she now nurses children in the same wards where she was treated, and she is our miracle AND I think her ‘pipe-dream’ of caring for children has come true too. Finally, my Barbara too is a sufferer/survivor who does very well in spite of residual nerve damage due to radiotheraphy AND ‘Thank you Marlys for this blog’ – I was told about it by another good friend Barbara who lives in Bend. As you folks say, “You gotta keep on keepin’ on” & “You gotta do what you gotta do”….. my own favourites are ‘Just do it’ and ‘Life is ever full, never dull’. Our love, ‘Count it all Joy – James 1 -2’ & God Bless, Barbara & Peter Howe B.E.M.

    • What an amazing story, Peter. Yes, my friend, Barbara W, told me about meeting you and how much she and George enjoyed your friendship. I’m glad you loved cycling in Oregon. I can’t begin to imagine how difficult some of the names of our cities and rivers and mountains would be for someone from the Northeast of England! Blessings.

  9. Dennis Krause

    Very funny piece Marlys! It was great meeting you, even though it was somewhat of a small turn out this year. I sure hope you and the rest of your family strongly consider taking another trip back to your roots next year as well!

    • It was great meeting you, as well, Dennis. How lucky the family is to have a genealogy buff to keep us all in line! I downloaded the PDFs off the CD you provided and have sent them on to both my brothers’ families. And I was able to connect with my first cousin, Doug Mallory, who I haven’t heard from since I was a teenager. (He and Polly are going to try and make next year’s reunion, as well.) How fun is all this! Thank you for your big part in it all!

  10. Tami Brigham

    What a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Copyright © 2024 Marlys Johnson