"Somewhere beyond the sea..."
Dateline: Where rests the soul. He's gone. Kevin Oldham.
The angel and the hero has embarked on his final journey. From, as he told me when I last talked to him, "my wife's and daughters' embrace, to God's embrace."
And then he asked me this, "db, I am a very religious man and looking forward to God, my savior's, welcome. But db, what if there isn't really a God, or Heaven? What if? What do you think?"
I never talk politics. I never talk religion. I never answer that question. But I have never been asked it by a man who, deep inside, knew time was the one gift B.A.S.S. and Wired2Fish couldn't give him.
So I answered. I told him I thought he was God. In an empty Sheraton Hotel restaurant, I reached across the interview table, held his hand in mine, and said, "God is love, God is spirit; God is forgiveness, laughter, joy ... but above all, to love and to be loved is to have the heart of God beat in your chest."
Kevin: "I don't care how I sound now, if I want to tell all my friends and family that I love them, I do now. I tell them now that I love them. I've never done that before. And, they tell me they love me." And Kevin, my friend, that is Heaven.
" ... somewhere waiting for me ... "
Love. Up until the very end -- when there well could have been hate, understandable hate, from a 34-year-old family man dying from cancer -- there was only love.
From his deathbed, Kevin Oldham called Terry Brown, the Wired2Fish President who, with others at B.A.S.S., put together Kevin's magical few days at the Bassmaster Classic in New Orleans.
Terry was at a 60th birthday party when the call came, and didn't have his phone with him; he'd left it in the car. When he got back in to go home with his wife, he saw he had a voicemail message from Kevin.
He hit "play," and heard this: "I just want to say I love you very much ... "
Terry is playing the message through a speakerphone for me. Kevin's voice is not the voice from my interview with him. It's weak, with lots of pauses to catch his breath. Strained. I also sense Terry's tears as he listens to his friend say goodbye.
"I won't be able to fish with you in March. I'm going to be with my God ... "
I can't breathe. It takes everything I have to be professional and try to write down the quotes. What Kevin says hurts, but it is the silence from my friend Terry that is wiping me out.
"I love you, man. I want to thank you for putting all the smiles on my face ... "
I put quotes around that because it's what I'm trained to do, but I have no idea if it is exact or not. A man who is about to die is thanking someone for putting SMILES ON HIS FACE.
And then I lost it, with the most remarkable sentence I have had the privilege of hearing in almost 30 years of doing this stuff:
"We're at peace, just waiting for it to happen. Just a matter of days. I just wanted to call and tell you, I love you."
And those were the last words I ever heard from Kevin Oldham -- fireman, husband, father. Inspiration.
After Terry and I both caught our breath, Terry told me, in a voice filled with emotion, filled with discovery of who he is inside, "db, Kevin and I will fish again, someday, when I get to take him on another trip. This time to fish God's lake."
At the end of my interview with Kevin, he'd told me of a promise he'd made, and I in turn made a promise to him. I couldn't live up to my promise. Because of the high medical bills his family faced, they had to cut some things out of their budget.
"db, for the first time in almost forever, I had to stop getting Bassmaster Magazine. We just couldn't afford it."
I told Kevin, on the spot, I would get him a subscription to the magazine.
"Consider it done, dude." Kevin then gave me his address in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin. I never had a chance to keep my promise.
But Kevin, Buddy, know this: I will be sending several subscriptions of Bassmaster to 226 N. Genesee Street, Ste. 206, Waukegan, IL, 60085.
One subscription for each of the five Fire Houses of the Waukegan Firefighters Local 473, Kevin's "brothers and sisters," in the hopes that while doing what they do, they come across five young children who love to fish and give them the magazine in Kevin's honor.
In hopes that his love for the sport will continue in the children of Waukegan. The promise from Kevin: "I told my wife, Katie, that when the time comes, I promise I will be there in Heaven waiting for her and my two daughters, Stella and Evelyn. I'll be there with open arms to embrace them, and never, ever let go again."
One promise that I know will be kept.
Rest in peace, my friend. It was an honor.
And, thank you.
For that last hug you gave me as we ran into each other in the New Orleans Airport the morning after the Bassmaster Classic.
And for what you whispered in my ear. "I love you, man."
Then, "Embrace life, man, embrace life." I love you too, dude. And, I will. Promise. Angel ...
"We'll meet beyond the shore ..."
Beyond The Sea
Don Barone is an award-winning outdoors writer and a member of the New England Outdoor Writers Association and the Outdoor Writers Guild of the U.K. You can reach db at www.donbaroneoutdoors.com.