When Gerald Kumpula spotted a baby’s crib in a garage sale, he knew he had to have it. But Valerie Watts was still grieving and wasn’t sure she was ready to part with it yet. With a bit of persuasion, however, she eventually agreed. But then Kumpula returned a week later to show the heartbroken mom what he had in his car.
Call it female intuition if you like, but a mother often instinctively knows when something isn’t right with her child. Moreover, it’s a perception that can exist before a baby even enters the world. And this kind of innate awareness was felt by soon-to-be mom Valerie Watts.
Everything was going smoothly during Watts’ pregnancy with her son, Noah. But several days before his due date, that changed. The expectant mother didn’t feel right, and she knew that something was gravely wrong with her unborn child.
“All week I knew. He wasn’t moving as much,” Watts explained to Fox 9 in May 2014. “I was very nervous.” Tragically, when it came to baby Noah’s birth date, her fears were confirmed. And as Watts went into labor, her anxiety seemed to give way to utter devastation.
Baby Noah was stillborn. Doctors discovered that while he was in the womb, there had been complications with the umbilical cord. This starved the unborn child of nutrients and oxygen that are essential for survival in utero. By the time he entered into the world, then, it was too late to save him.
Like any expectant parent, however, Watts had set up a nursery for the son she had expected to be bringing home. In the room was a wardrobe full of baby clothes and a wooden crib for the baby to sleep in. But in the absence of a baby, the nursery remained a memorial to Noah.
Indeed, grieving for a lost child is hard for any mother. But Watts hadn’t even had any time to get to know her son. Nevertheless, by April 2014 the heartbroken mom seemed ready to part with some of her son’s belongings and arranged a garage sale at her home in Cokato, Minnesota.
During the sale, the baby’s crib had caught the eye of a local craftsman Gerald Kumpula. But when he asked how much Watts wanted for it, she hesitated. It seemed the grieving mother wasn’t quite ready to part with the bed yet. Although the crib was set up in the garage sale display, the item was apparently not for sale.
“When he asked me if I was selling that, that he made benches, I hesitated,” Watts recalled. Though she no longer had a use for the crib, perhaps she found the idea of someone modifying it upsetting. Would she have preferred somebody to use it for its intended purpose? Or was she just not ready to let it go?
“She was kind of hesitant,” Kumpula admitted. “I knew that maybe she didn’t want to sell it.” The artisan, however, didn’t understand why Watts was holding back from parting with the item. Determined to become the crib’s new owner, the craftsman persisted.
A skilled furniture maker, whose nearby home contains a workshop, Kumpula had a knack for making benches out of footboards and headboards. So he might well have had visions of turning the crib into something else. And eventually, he persuaded Watts to part with it.
Kumpula, however, hadn’t known the story behind the crib. It was on his way home that his wife, who had joined him at the garage sale, described how she’d struck up a conversation with Watts. And Kumpula’s wife relayed Watts’ heartbreaking story to him on the drive back to their house.
“His wife was there looking through my garage sale – at some of the baby clothes – and asked how old my son was since I didn’t use the crib anymore,” Watts explained to Fox 9. “I told her that he had passed in July.”
With the clothes indicating the child’s gender and the crib apparently being for sale, Kumpula’s wife had appeared to assume that Watts’ son had simply outgrown the children’s bed and baby clothes. So it had been an innocent mistake when she asked how old the boy was now.
But perhaps the Kumpulas felt a connection with Watts and the story behind her son’s crib. Indeed, the couple – now in their 70s – had suffered similar heartbreak themselves. Although they had 15 grown-up kids of their own, the first of their grandchildren had been stillborn.
When Kumpula’s wife explained to him the history of the crib he’d just bought, the craftsman immediately knew what he had to do. And without hesitation, he got the cradle home, unloaded it from his car and into his workshop and immediately set about carrying out his plan.
It seems, then, that there’s not much the retired grandfather enjoys more than tinkering in his workshop. Between the planks of wood stacked on shelves and yard sale and dumpster-finds stacked against the wall, it’s a craftsman’s dream. There’s even a quad bike that he’s made out of discarded PVC pipes.
So after stripping it down to planks of wood, Kumpala reassembled the baby’s crib into a bench as a memorial to Watts’ stillborn son. And a week later, the elderly couple returned to the house where they’d bought the crib for two dollars to surprise Watts with their gift.
As soon as she saw the bench, Watts broke down. She couldn’t believe that a stranger had gone to all of this trouble for her. “I’m overwhelmed with joy that it’s not just sitting somewhere unused,” Watts explained to Today in October 2016. “Now I can sit in it, hold his bear, think about him if I need to.”
“In a way, when I’m sitting in it, I feel comforted by his presence, even though he’s not here,” Watts, who has a nine-year-old daughter, continued. “It’s like a peaceful, ‘It’s okay’-type feeling. When I feel down, I can sit on the bench, and I feel okay. Everything’s going to be okay.”