From Chicken Soup for the Country Soul

Dream Big

A dream is a wish your heart makes.

Walt Disney

My husband, Greg, and I are the parents of two daughters, Kelly, age nineteen, and Carrie, age sixteen. Kelly was born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus, birth defects that occur when the spinal column does not fully close, resulting in an “open spine.” As the parent of a disabled child, one of the hardest things I have had to deal with is not being able to make all of Kelly’s dreams come true.

One of Kelly’s dreams was centered around country music star John Berry. Our family was first introduced to John’s music through Kelly. We all watched John’s music video as he performed “You and Only You,” and we were inspired by the way he sang with his heart.

A loyal fan of John’s, Kelly was very moved after learning about his 1994 personal challenge with brain surgery. Kelly also has a brain cyst and related strongly to John’s feelings.

In 1996, our family attended six of John’s concerts. That August, John signed a poster for Kelly with the words, “Thank you for listening to my music. Dream Big.” Kelly took his message to heart!

At past shows, we had watched as John came out into the audience and danced with fans. Prior to attending the September 27, 1996, concert in Penn Yan, New York, Kelly and I had one of our regular heart-to-heart talks. She told me about a dream of hers to dance with John at a concert and asked me if this might be possible. I thought for a while before I answered and then told her, “Probably not because it would be very hard for John to bend down to reach you in your wheelchair.” She said she understood, but that she “could still dream.”

Our family had tickets to both of John’s concerts that night. Kelly, Carrie and I sat under a huge tent close to the front of the stage. Greg was seated toward the back. Near the end of the first show, Kelly held a gift of flowers in her hands. When John walked down into the audience, he came toward Kelly to accept her flowers. He then bent down and danced with her! I just sat and watched, tears running down my face. John then danced with our other daughter, Carrie. He danced with me next, and all I could say over and over was, “You will never know, but you just made my daughter’s dream come true.”

My husband does not usually show his emotions, but that night he cried his eyes out. At the end of the second show, John looked at Kelly and said over the microphone that he had watched her singing the words to all of his songs. He then called Carrie to the stage and gave her his guitar pick along with the song list he had taped to the stage as gifts for Kelly. We met John after the show, when everyone else had left, and we could not thank him enough.

I would like to share part of a letter I sent to John Berry in November 1996:

Our entire family has to hear you sing live again. Your voice, lyrics and very presence make us forget the reality of our lives for a short while.The memories will remain with us forever and somehow buffer our family against the next crisis that will surely come our way. You are a magical life line. It is a two fold blessing for me to watch what happens to Kelly as she watches you sing and as I watch her singing every song out loud with you. For that brief moment in time, I know that all of her dreams came true and her prayers were answered. For a mother, there is no greater reward. My thanks to you, John.

Rita Batts

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