MANCHESTER, NH – Four months ago Gail Durant entered an AARP contest on a whim. Why not, she figured; she’s been lucky before. In fact, she’s won so many writing and photography contests that she keeps a scrapbook to chronicle her adventures in sweepstakes winning.
“If I see a contest, I’m entering it,” she says.
The call out from AARP was for people from nine select cities around the U.S. to write an essay and submit a photograph that fulfills the “You & Your Town” theme. When she saw that Manchester, NH, was among the designated cities, she got busy.
Durant wrote a 200-word essay she hoped would stand out to judges.
“I figured I’d write about the fact that I’m a 60-year-old woman and I don’t drive, and yet there are all these wonderful things I can still do,” says Durant, like hitting the walking trails behind her house where she photographs wildlife. And the bus and taxi options available, for those times when she wants to go to the store, or shop, or catch a show at the Verizon, or even head to the mountains, or Hampton Beach for some sun and sand.
She submitted a photograph of a blue heron in the brush next to lake Massabesic, patiently waiting until kayakers entered the frame, capturing scenic Manchester at its best.
Durant sent in her entry and then forgot about it, what with the holidays and everything.
Which is why she was blown away – even a little skeptical – when she was notified Jan. 12 that she was one of nine national grand prize winners.
And not just because she’d won “ten-thousand smackeroos.”
But because for Durant, it was a sure sign from her late husband – one she’s been praying for.
“I know my late husband had something to do with this. He’s gone now almost two years,” says Durant. “I have been planning to write a book about our love story, his diagnosis, and all the signs he’s still sending me. I’ve been asking him – and God – for two months to send me a sign that I’m doing the right thing by writing a book.”
It’s hard to argue with $10,000.
Her husband, Robert “Moose” Durant Jr., died of brain cancer in April of 2013 just before his 50th birthday. Since then, Durant has had the strong feeling she should write a book and donate all the proceeds to help kids from St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, or children with no families. “I don’t want a penny from it. I want to give it all away,” says Durant.
What makes her so sure that winning the AARP contest was a sign from her late husband?
“For one thing, the day I received the email that I won was Jan. 12 – that’s the same date I met my husband. We celebrated two dates every year, our wedding anniversary and the day we met,” says Durant. “And the other sign is that I had put exactly $10,000 away for my book project, and that’s exactly the amount I won.”
Durant says she’s always been a woman of “big faith,” buoyed by a positive attitude in all she does. She has lived her whole life in Manchester, with the exception of one year.
“That was the year we moved to Hillsborough. Bob and I built a log cabin together – he was the subcontractor and I was the interior designer. We had that land for 12 years, and we finally moved there in April of 2011. I had just retired from my job at Osram Sylvania after 26 years. That July my husband was diagnosed with brain cancer, glioblastoma multiforme IV. We managed to stay there for one year before he got too bad,” says Durant. “But at least he got his wish, to live in his log cabin on Emerald Lake.”
Between her retirement and his illness, they had to sell the cabin for financial reasons, but Durant has no regrets and nothing but wonderful memories – and a renewed faith that life is meant to be lived to the fullest, until that time when she will be reunited with her soulmate in heaven.
“We were together for 23 years, and married for almost 18. People can’t get over how well I’m doing, but I tell them it’s because I know I’m going to see him again. I always believed that, but now I know it,” she says. “I really feel like he’s still here.”
As for the windfall, it’s already deposited in the bank, and she’s investing it in her project, which is now officially full-steam ahead.
“I’m going to use some of the winnings for a new computer, which I need to write the book. And I have to put money away for taxes. The rest will be for whatever comes up as I write the book,” says Durant.
Below: AARP You & Your Town Winning Entry by Gail Durant
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