The 13th All-Star

“Why did you come

if you can't stay forever…”

Dateline: The Decal

Amongst us walk All-Stars,

who never take the stage.

Amongst us are names only whispered, unheard through the shouts of society.

Amongst us flicker beacons of light sent, I believe, to help illuminate our way.

I was late to this belief party though, until that is, I sat in an empty New Orleans restaurant and looked into the eyes of a Waukegan firefighter, Kevin Oldham.    

While Kevin’s body was failing him, wracked by cancer, his eyes, were alive, with spirit, with faith, with hope.

Hope.

Hope that I now believe, now am convinced, was meant…for me.

It was February 2011, and Kevin and I sat and talked. I took notes, I listened, I asked questions, answered some…heard about cancer from the inside…from someone who was fighting to stay alive, but who I believe, knew what the future held.

To be honest, it was one of the hardest interviews of my life, one of the hardest stories of my life to write.

It flat out knocked the snot out of me.

The last time I ever saw Kevin alive, we hugged and as we did he whispered into my ear, exactly this, “Embrace life, man, embrace life.”

And then his eyes full of life, of hope, looked directly into mine, and weirdly, I felt a sense of peace, didn’t know why…just weird.

Five months later, I was told I had cancer.

Prostate cancer.

Found very early, I had no symptoms. A PSA test lead to a biopsy, and the biopsy confirmed it…The Big C…in me.

I think…no I BELIEVE… that Kevin knew it…knew it before I did.

That Kevin Oldham, in the final months of his life, was a beacon in many of our lives.

That Kevin Oldham was chosen to be an All-Star, on the stage that is life, that is faith.

The stage we all cross, the stage though that fades over time as we live our day to day lives.

The stage that is given to us as a gift.

Life’s stage.

Folks…alive, is a gift.

No one gets out of here alive, so it is what we are given between the beginning, and the end, where lies the gift.

“Embrace life, man, embrace life.”

In all the shouting I have been around from society, in all the lyrics blasted into my brain…it was a quiet whisper that entered my soul.

“Embrace life, man, embrace life.”

And last night, after weigh-in, as we sat on a restaurant deck overlooking Decatur Lake, Edwin Evers locked onto my eyes and told me basically the same thing.

Told me about this weird thing that happened to him.

Told me how this weird thing had changed his life.

 

Edwin Evers at 2012 Toyota Trucks All-Star week...

Told me of a young man he met…an 18-year-old named Derek Keniston.

And as Edwin told me the story of Derek, I knew,

knew he had met his beacon,

knew the whispers had entered his soul,

knew that somehow, as we sat overlooking the lake, we were not alone,

knew that the 13th All-Star had just crossed the stage

of life.

Edwin Evers’ life.

“…how could you leave me all

alone on this Earth…”

It was there all year but I never saw it.

Until it stopped dead in front of me.

I was on the media side of the fence as the All-Star anglers were brought up to the Bassmaster stage, towed in their boats behind the Toyota Tundras.

I was just leaning up against the B.A.S.S trailer when Edwin’s boat stopped right in front of me, Edwin sitting in it waiting to go on stage.

And there, right in my face, was a decal that said this:

In Loving Memory

Derek Keniston

1990-2010

I took a photo of it, said nothing about it to Edwin, asked him instead about how his day went, “Very good db; got a limit of five fish.”

Turned out he was the leader after Day One.

But after he was done with all the interviews, as he was walking away, I walked up to him, flipped my camera over so he could see the screen on the back and showed him the photograph I took of the sticker on his boat and said simply this, “Tell me about this.”

Edwin, when he saw the photo, stopped dead, put his right hand up to his face and rubbed his chin, “Oh man, db, oh man…”

The decal on Edwin's boat...

And he just kept staring at the photo, almost like he never saw the decal before… until, until he tried to talk to me about it but couldn’t.

Couldn’t get the words out…just kept looking at the photograph and rubbing his chin, “db…”

Was all he said.

So I said, “Dude, go work on your tackle for tomorrow. We’ll talk tonight, if you want to…”

And then I grabbed his left arm and said, “…But if you don’t want to talk about it, that’s okay, this photograph never happened then…”

“No, I’ll talk about it. It, it just knocked me out seeing it that way.”

We worked it out so that we would meet at the dinner after the weigh-in, both of us would grab something to eat, and sit down and talk. And, frankly, with a chance of being yelled at by the bosses for writing this, if during that talk I felt like I was dragging the information out of Edwin…that if I felt he was uncomfortable talking about it…in front of him on the spot I would have pulled up the photograph on my camera, and erased it.

Later, as we sat and I pulled out my notebook, I asked, “You okay with this?”

And he said, “Yep,” and rubbed his chin. Then he said, “But I don’t want this story to be about me, I want it to be about him…about Derek.”

But I knew that Derek would want it to be about Edwin.

Knew it because Kevin Oldham whispered in my ear,

“Embrace life, man, embrace life.”

“…what are we here for,

who makes the decision…”

And so, from here on, I will let Edwin speak of Derek’s story.

Listen.

“It was a weird year…all these little things during the year went wrong when I was fishing, stupid things. I can’t explain it, weird things that never happened before or since, but it all built up that I missed the Classic, missed it by 10-15 places.

“So, during the year, I hear from this young man Derek that he would love to go fishing with me. He has a rare form of cancer, Angiosarcoma, and it turns out he lives only about 15-20 minutes from me. So one night I stop by his house and just knock on the door…

“To make a long story short, we worked with Mark Davis (Elite Series pro, Bassmaster Classic champ and Angler of the Year winner) and the Catch-A-Dream people, and we set it up that I would take Derek and his whole family fishing…would take them fishing on Falcon Lake in Texas.

“Derek was having a good week the week we went, but to be honest I think the trip was just as important for his family as it was for him. His dad caught an 8-pound bass that day. I think the trip was good for the whole family but it was a hard day on Derek.”

I’m just listening and writing stuff down. Edwin looks at me sometimes; most times his eyes are looking down at the table or the sunset on the lake behind us.

It is getting chilly but it is not the cold air that is giving me goosebumps.

“db, Derek knew he was going to die. He never once whined about it but he told me, ‘If God is doing his work in me, who am I to question him.’ This was a young man, 18 years old, a National Honor Society kid, a stud high school football player…and…and he was comforting me.”

Your beacon, Edwin, your beacon.

“db, I don’t know how to say it but I fully believe I was supposed to miss the Classic that year…the week I took Derek fishing was the week of the Classic…you know, it’s just I think….”

And Edwin trailed off. Yeah, Edwin, been there, done that…weirdness that led up to you not being in the Classic, but instead being with Derek.

Weirdness.

Or guidance.

“I took Derek fishing one other time, just stopped by his house, picked him up and we went out and floated a river by my house. It was a great day. He was happy, caught some fish. I got a photo of him with some fish…we became close…I’m still close with his family…but then…then…”

Edwin is looking at a photo of Derek he took with his cell phone, “He looks so good there, so normal, just an 18-year-old kid…but….you know…you know...I visited him in the hospital.”

“…for every beginning

there must come an end…”

On October 7, 2010…Derek passed away.

He was just 20 years old. Diagnosed in 2009, gone in 2010.

“I never said anything, db, but he had a wish. He wished that my truck…my wrapped truck … would lead his funeral parade…and it did. I did…it was pretty tough.”

I had to turn away for a moment or two after that comment.

When I regained my composure, I asked this, “What did you get out of this…anything?”

Edwin looks up from the table and straight into my eyes.

“Derek was somebody you wanted to be like. He said I was his hero but, in fact, it turned out that he was my… my hero. Derek lived his life as a great example. I put that decal on my boat in a place where I can see it. When I struggle as an angler and start thinking fishing is life or death, I see that decal and I realize that IT IS NOT…it is not…and I get peaceful…Derek gave me that, that young man, here on this earth not very long, taught me that.”

And then, the 13th All-Star came center stage.

Derek Keniston, 1990-2010

Photo by Edwin Evers

With the beacon.

With the whisper over the shouts, “He told me, and I get it now… I learned from him, don’t take any day of life for granted.”

It is a whisper from Derek.

It is a whisper from Kevin.

“Embrace life, man, embrace life.”

It is the stage we stand upon.

Life.

It is the stage we stand upon.

Love.

It is the whisper from the universe.

Through Kevin.

Through Derek.

Embrace life.

Embrace love.

Embrace each other.

And you will step gently upon

your own All-Star stage.

“…I want to thank you, thank you for

being my friend.”

“I Love You, But Goodbye”

Langhorne Slim

db