Nestled among the rolling hills of Western New York State lie a series of shimmering lakes known as the Finger Lakes, so named because they look like the five fingers of a had laying on the landscape.
Of the five, Canandaigua, a long, slender lake with rolling hills rising from either side, is the one nearest to my heart. My great-aunt Helen and her husband, my great-uncle Walt had a summer cottage along the eastern shore of the lake and I have many fond memories of the Saturdays we spent visiting my Aunt Helen and Uncle Walt during the summers of my childhood.
The city of Canandaigua lies about 35 miles southeast of Rochester. Today the trip between Canandaigua can be made in thirty minutes or less. However, when I was a child, the trip took considerably longer due to the lack of freeways.
The return trip on Saturday evening also had a treat for us. Although fatigued from a day of swimming, climbing the apple tree behind the cottage and hiking up the narrow dirt road, lined with wild blackberry and raspberry bushes, that led up the hill above the lake, we always managed to stay awake as the car made its way back home. When we reached the residential part of Canandaigua's Main St. we eagerly looked out the windows on the right side of the car seeking a glimpse of the house with the candle in the window.
The story of the house with the candle in the window was well known throughout the area in those days. My parents and Aunt and Uncle told us the story but it was also written up in the paper periodically as it made a great human interest piece.
Decades earlier, among the thousands of young men from our part of the Empire state who set out for France shouting the slogan Lafayette here we come!, was the young man who had grown up in that house. Along with prayers for his safe return, his parents lit candle and placed it in their front window each evening – a symbolic beacon to help him find his way home even in the dark of night. Nearly a half a century later, as we drove home from our Saturday outings, the candle still glowed brightly in the window of that home as that young man's aging parents continued the vigil that began with their son's departure.
By then the candle had ceased to be a beacon lighting the way for the son's return and had instead become a symbol of a parents' love for a son who had given his life for his country.
Of all the monuments and memorials that I have seen, this is the one that has left the biggest impression. With that single candle glowing in the window, night after night, year after year, decade after decade, the family kept alive the memory of their beloved son. Over the years thousands passed that solitary candle glowing in the window and, if only for a moment, shared with the family the human cost of keeping our nation free.