This was originally written as a “note” on Facebook about eight months ago….before I discovered the wonderful world of blogging. I figured why not resurrect it.
Anybody that knew my dad knows that the phrase “How neat!” was something that was constantly flying out of his mouth when anything interesting occured…It was his reaction when I told him I was going on a trip across the world to India. It’s how he described his adventures way down in Brazil. When I individually took each of my boys on a mom only trip to Disneyland my dad always said something along the lines of, “ooooh…how NEAT!”. (Major emphasis on the word NEAT) Just a few months before my dad passed away I told him I was selling my mini van and to replace it I had bought a 1965 Mustang. I remember exactly where I was standing and what I was doing when he excitedly exclaimed “h-ooow NEAT!!!!” over the phone to me. It was the last time I remember hearing him say it.
Over the past year and a half since I lost him I have said “how neat” many times to friends, family & strangers. But nothing so far beats the story I am about to share. It was last June. My family is very involved with the local junior hockey team, the Fresno Monsters. We were asked to host a 19 year old player coming out from Boston for a try out here in town. Mike was to stay with us for 3 or 4 days. We were to make sure he got to the rink, was fed and made to feel welcome. I was specifically told by one of the coaches, who is also a good friend, to make sure he has a great experience while he was out here. They really wanted him to want to come play in Fresno. I laughed at this request because our house is quite chaotic with three young boys who would bug the heck out of Mike while he was here! Well, Mike got that great experience just a few days later.
Mike was to arrive in Fresno in the afternoon and be brought over to our house by Coach Bryce (yep, that’s the coach with the special request.). I spent the morning zipping all over the place getting everything ready for his arrival…getting the guest bedroom spruced up and making sure the house was presentable, etc. It was kind of a last minute thing, and me being the hyper gal I am, I was bouncing off the walls. But when the doorbell rang and I answered, I was stopped dead in my tracks. There was Coach and our guest standing on the porch. I couldn’t take my eyes off Mike. It was like seeing the 19 year old version of my dad right there in front of me.
I tried very hard not to make it obvious that I was completely blown away. I tried not to stare. I tried to close my mouth that kept hanging open. I tried not to tear up.
Mike had the same coloring as my dad, blonde hair & blue eyes. He also had the same jaw line, eyebrows, eyelashes, spaced apart teeth and big mouth like Dad. Wow. As I already said, I tried hard not to stare. We got him settled in his room and made small talk about the upcoming weekend. Then Coach left and the rest of my family started trickling home from school. Later that night I asked Keaton & Keith if they thought Mike looked familiar. Both said he looked a lot like my younger brother. When I said I thought he looked like Grampy, both quickly agreed. I even pulled out old pictures of my dad just to see how close the resemblance was . It was very close.
As the weekend went on we got to know bits and pieces about Mike. He looked like my dad, but on the personality side they were quite different. We watched him play hockey and it was discussed with the team’s coaches that he would be put on the team and they would like us to have Mike live here with us for the season. I was pulled aside one evening to make sure that was something I could handle, you know, with him looking so much like Dad. Of course I wanted him to stay! I found it fascinating and not sad or upsetting at all.
As the weekend came to an end, I had to head out of town before Mike left. I said my goodbyes and told him we would love to have him back later in the summer when the hockey season officially began. After I left, it had been arranged so that Mike could stay on a couple more days so that he could go fishing up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains the boys. You know, make it a good experience, right? Well, that he got.
Early the next morning they packed up the truck and headed up to a lake called Wishon a couple of hours out of town. Mike said he’d been fishing before, but not a lot of it. After a couple hours at the lake, Mike and Keaton, my oldest son, decided to hike up along a stream and see what was up there, maybe catch some trout in the fresh runoff from the last snowfall. The plan was to meet back up with the other fishermen in an hour or so. After a bit, the guys found a place to cast their poles in the water and were just hanging out relaxing….until Keaton slipped on some loose rocks along the edge of the stream. Before he knew it, Keaton was completely submerged in the freezing water, but able to push off the bottom and get his head up for air. Still holding his dad’s fishing pole, Keaton was able to wedge it between some rocks to stop himself from being swept downstream. That’s when he shouted out to Mike. When Mike first heard Keaton’s cry he thought he had caught a fish. But when he looked up, Keaton was gone. The pole had snapped and Keaton was tumbling down the stream, dragging his feet on the bottom to try to stop himself. When Mike realized what happened he dropped his pole and ran down the dirt bank, trying to catch up with my boy. Later, when I asked Mike what did he think when he realized Keaton was in danger…he said he didn’t think, he just jumped in. We are so thankful for the quick uninhibited thinking of a very special guy. Mike was able to jump in the icy water and pull Keaton to shore. When they got back on land Mike stripped off his wet tshirt and had to help Keaton with his. He was so cold and tired that he couldn’t lift his arms. Still in shock, they gathered their stuff and headed back down to the lake to find the rest of the group.
When the dynamic duo was first spotted they were stretched out on a giant rock trying to warm up. Stripped of their wet shirts and shoes, they were in only their shorts. Later the guys checked the temperature of the water where the stream met with the lake. It was 37 degrees. Just a few weeks after this a local teenage boy fell in a stream in the same area and didn’t survive. We are lucky that the only things lost this day were a couple of cell phones.
When I was first told of this story a few days later it seemed unreal. The excitement was kind of over. I knew Keaton was safe and sound & Mike had returned to Boston. The seriousness of it was lost in the fact that all was well. But, an important detail hadn’t yet hit me.
One summer earlier, when my dad, the one Mike so strongly resembled, was sick with cancer, dying in the hospital ( before the pain really started to take its toll, before he was given the real good stuff) had a conversation with Debbie, my stepmom. He knew the end was close. He was ready. He told her he was looking forward to going, as he put it,”fishing with Jesus”. Debbie told me of this conversation right after they had it. I didn’t think it was too significant. I mean, my dad fished, but was not considered a fisherman. But Debbie found so much comfort in that saying, “Fishing with Jesus”. I kinda let it be. Later, in a conversation with Debbie after the Keaton & Mike incident, it hit me. My dad was there at that stream. I know, I know, Mike is not my dad. I am completely aware of this. Mike is Mike. But there is a connection. God works in mysterious ways. Here is this kid… who looks like my dad, who talked about going fishing with Jesus… who saves my boy’s life by fishing him out. Now, we can look back and say “phewwwwww.” We can say that was a close one. We can say we are lucky someone was there with the right mind & strength to pull Keaton out of the water. We can say what a coincidence it is that Mike looks so much like Dad. Say what you want to say, but I say we are blessed. I say angels are real. I say what any other crazy nut would say….how NEAT.