The Family, Of Us: Moore, Oklahoma

“And love will…”

Dateline:  Buck Thomas Park

It wasn’t about the rods.

We came…

It wasn’t about the reels.

…for…

It wasn’t about the fish.

….you and…

It was about,

…us.

Tackle The Storm Foundation isn’t about,

the storm,

or the tackle,

it’s about, us.

Doesn’t matter if you hold a rod and a reel, or hold the hand of one who does, doesn’t matter if you hold the tools that build the fishing industry, or hold a pen that writes about it, don’t matter none.

What matters most, is what you hold in your heart,

for those who fish,

and those that love those who fish.

What matters most,

is,

you,

all of us in,

The Family, Of Us.

“…hold us together…”

We live on a planet where magic happens.

There is magic on earth and it is called, caring, caring for others.

For 30 years I was in the business of madness, wrote the headlines of horror, smelled of nasty and smoke.

Three decades of making cash on carnage.

I now know, that all the awards I have won, should be sent back, sent back because I only told you half the story, and maybe not even the most important half.

It would have been easy to do a better job for you, all I had to do,

was be late.

Missed the breaking news deadline, showed up a day or so after the flames.

Maybe, we as journalists, should slow down some, be late, hang around more, forget the rush to be “Live,” focus more on the “lives.”

There is no magic in the flames, magic comes when the smoke clears.

“…make us a shelter…”

Normal, gets a bad rap.

It’s life’s, vanilla.  The flannel of day to day doings.  The routine of our lives, not much magic there,

until its gone.

Is it the destruction of stuff, or the destruction of normal, that hurts so much. 

I’m checking the Normal box.

Normal is our safe place, take that away, and suddenly, we see, feel, just how vulnerable we all are.

How fragile, we.

Last week, my wife, Barb, and I packed up our Tundra, drove a thousand miles to Alabama to pick up the new Tackle The Storm trailer, then headed west to the City of Moore, Oklahoma.

Most people thought we were bringing fishing rods and reels to the children of Moore who lost all of their fishing stuff to the tornado that ripped through the town this past spring.

Yeah, we had a bunch of boxes of that stuff, but it wasn’t what filled the trailer.

When we pulled up in the park for the city of Moore Parks and Recs fishing derby, I knew what we really carried to Moore was,

normal.

Return to normal disguised as a fishing pole.

“…to weather the storm…”

Mean skies.

Wicked rides the wind.

Moore, Oklahoma wasn’t destroyed, and is open for business. 

Most of it anyway. 

Moore, Oklahoma was battered and bruised and has a huge slash across its torso, whole neighborhoods are gone, schools, shops, hospital, taken by the wind, but most of it survives.

It’s a city any of us would be proud to call home.

When you look to raise your children in a normal, family oriented, faith, family, flag place, Moore would serve you well.

But it lives under mean skies.

Mean skies reached dirt there last spring, you can google all that stuff, if you must, but when we drove into town, both my wife when she saw the destruction, and my daughter, Ashley who also saw it when she drove up from Texas to help out at the fishing derby,

were,

speechless.

Turn right at some fast food joint, a burger-ria untouched by mean skies, drive less then a block, and everything is gone.

A whole neighborhood once was, now gone.  Except for a lone mailbox still standing.

Don’t know what the neighborhood was called before the mean skies but this was the only sign we saw, “Final Debris Pickup August…”

Last Saturday I got to shake the city of Moore’s hand, and from talking to the residents, from looking into their eyes I knew this,

debris, does not define them.

“…and I'll be my brother's keeper…”

“Do you know who runs this Tackle The Storm thing...”

I was walking from the parking lot, where the fishing rods and reels were being given out, to the pond where the kids were using their new rods to fish with, when a man stopped me…

“I do…”

“…will you thank them…”

“…I will…”

“…thank them for the fishing pole for my son here…”

Son here was a young kid maybe 8, stood looking at me, baseball cap on backwards, stood smiling even though he wasn’t holding a fish.

“…tell them that this is the first event I have been able to do with my son here that didn’t involve picking up debris together…”

Dads hand now rests on the boy’s shoulder.

“…tell them this is the first time we have had fun together in a long time, tell them that will you.”

“I will.”

And they, I, will never forget that.

Not about the rods.

“Do you want to see what my house looked like…”

I was standing next to Barb and Bobbie Chapman, wife of AOY Brent Chapman who was down at the pond helping children catch catfish.

Before me was a short woman in a long dress, she held an iPhone in her hand, flipped it around for the three of us to see, see a pretty house, blue I think with white shutters, window flower boxes, American flag hanging by the front door,

then,

then,

she took her finger and swiped to the next photo,

and her home was gone.

All that remained, the front steps.

It wasn’t a house gone, it was a home lost.

Tears formed in both Barb and Bobbi’s eyes, there was a puddle behind my Costas.

“…when we got back all my son asked was could we find his favorite model car and his fishing pole…”

I knew what was coming, and I started slowly backing up, wanted to get away.

Another swipe of the finger, and suddenly amidst all the debris a young boy stood, smiling holding a red Camaro model car,

but,

no fishing pole.

“…we never did find his fishing pole.”

Bobbi Chapman, “Where is your son now.”

“…down yonder in the car with his Grandpaw…”

Barb, “Can you get him.”

“Yes…”

Me,  “Go get him.”

As I sat on the bumper of the Tundra I watched as the young boy, his grandpaw, his mother and sister all walked down to the pond to fish…all with new adult and children fishing poles.

Mean skies, you may take normal with you, but I’ll be damned if you keep it.

“…so the whole world would know…”

Shout outs:

To the Bassmaster Elite Anglers from Oklahoma who showed up to help the children, Edwin Evers, Jason Christie, Dave Smith, Fred & Julie Roumbanis and Kevin & Cara Ledoux…and especially the current Angler of the Year, and great friend, Brent Chapman and his wife Bobbie who drove 5 hours from Kansas to be there helping out.  And to best friends, Kevin & Kerry Short for donating all the stuff to wrap the Tackle The Storm trailer.

To, Chris Villani, Assistant Parks & Recreation Director, City of Moore, and his crew for making the whole thing possible.

To, Gene Gilliland, Assistant Chief of Fisheries, Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation for his tireless work with dealing with me to make sure everything came to be…Gene dude couldn’t have done it without you.

To, Zebco, BassPro Shops, Wright McGill, Shimano, Pinnacle, Livingston Lures, Missle Baits…you my friends put the children back on the water not me, someone asked me how it felt to be Santa Claus and I told them, you guys are the real Santa, I’m just the reindeer.

To, the B.A.S.S. Nation, The North Oklahoma City Bassmasters and the Sooner Bassmasters, without your help at the event we could never have done it without you, cheers my friends for all you did for the kids there…and elsewhere.

To, Barb and Ashley, I would not have been strong enough to do this without you there to lean on.

“…that we're…”

There is magic on earth,

and it,

is,

you.

The Family, Of Us.

In the end we probably gave away around 300 rods and reels to the children of Moore, Oklahoma, many of who lost everything, all of who lost normal.

To those children, please know this, that in the end, always and forever, love wins, not the mean skies, when all is said and done, goodness beats meaness.

Believe in that magic.

We also left behind with Gene and the B.A.S.S. Nation guys 104 rods and reels to bring to all the young anglers in the small towns outside of Moore who also lost all their stuff.

To those children, we will find you and we will put you back on the water, fine, dedicated men and women anglers are out there looking for you, you also matter, you are also loved, you too, are magic.

Through my eyes:

I will never forget the large man with tiny kids combos in his hands.  B.A.S.S. Nation Sooner Bassmaster Member, Bernie Strekansky stood for a couple hours behind the Tackle The Storm trailer ripping open boxes and handing the rods  and reels to the people inside to give out to the kids.

Bernie’s house was knocked of its foundation by the tornado and was totaled, Bernie himself and his three girls lost all their fishing stuff, and yet he was here giving to others.

Bernie my friend, thank you…and have fun now with your daughters fishing once again.

Through my eyes.

I will never forget the skinny man carrying 15 rods and reels.  Don Wallingford, an angler who wanted to help, called me a few weeks before and asked, “What can I do.”

I told him, “Find kids in the small towns, do whatever it takes to find those kids we are missing.”

Don found 15.

15 young anglers who lost everything are now back on the water fishing, thanks to one dudes determination.

Don my friend, you done good.  Real good.

Through my eyes.

I will never forget the young child walking through the morning dew on the grass, fishing pole slung over his shoulder.

Smile on his face.

There is magic on earth.

It is,

smiles.

When Barb and I pulled into our driveway yesterday after 12 days on the road covering 4,538 miles I looked at her and asked just one question, “Do you think it was worth it.”

All she did was smile.

There is magic on earth,

and it is,

Love.

I only physically handed out one rod and reel to a child, a young girl who told me she used to fish, “…before…you know.”

When I went and got her the magic wand of childhood, the fishing rod and reel, I handed it to her and she gave me a hug and asked, “Thank you for this…”

“…don’t thank me, it didn’t come from me….”

“…who did it come from then…” she said looking around for the person…

“…it came from an angler who loves you...”

“…are they here…”

“…they're everywhere.”

The Family, Of Us.

“…not alone”

Hold Us Together

Matt Maher

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