Dateline: Mayflower, Arkansas
Have you ever stood on the sun.
Ever surfed lava.
It is 95 degrees, humidity is pooling in every place on my body that can pool, heat index=6,302 degrees. Will tell you something gross here, for the only time in my entire 62 years of life, the bottom of my FEET, are sweating.
And a little kid in a backwards baseball cap just whacked my knee with a Bass Pro Shops Zebco rod & reel.
“Uh, can I help you young dude.”
He’s six, maybe eight, and he has mirrored sunglasses on.
The mini-me hands me his kids combo, “Here’s your rod and reel back, Mister.”
And as he turns his back on me and starts to walk away, I take the rod and reel, stretch out my arm and bop him on the top of his backwards hat…karma you know is a …..
Before he can launch into anything, I flip the rod up in the air like a baton, catch it by the tip, and reach out and put the rod handle on his chest…I’ve just Zorro-ed him.
“Here, it’s yours man, you keep it.”
“But it ain’t…”
“Yeah it is.”
“But it ain’t…”
So I bend and creak and get down on the one half of my good knee that doesn’t need replacing, “Hey, dude, did your house get hit by the tornado.”
“Did you lose your fishing stuff, your rod and reel.”
“Would you like to go fishing again.”
“Well then, here, this is your rod and reel…”
And as I say that his lower lip begins to tremble, “But it ain’t…”
“…it is, it is yours to keep, look at me (and he looks up as a tear runs down his cheek) there are anglers all over this world that want you to have this, they gave it to me to give it to you, it is yours, really.”
With that he grabbed the rod and reel, gave me knuckles, and ran down to the pond to fish.
And I took a long walk over to the air conditioned Arkansas Game & Fish building’s bathroom, walked straight into a bathroom stall, closed and locked the door, put the toilet seat down, sat down on it fully clothed,
“…brother, brother, brother…”
When the earth turns on us, the only thing we can do is to turn to each other.
I met a child today who was afraid of…clouds. A mother told me that her children, “Cry when it rains.”
“…ain’t got nothing left….”
“…sucked our house and foundation right out from underneath us…”
Things can be replaced, huh. Yeah right. Try replacing my Tom Swift and his Diving Seacopter book. Sure, I could buy a dozen of them on Ebay, but not a one would have written in it, “To Donnie, Love Aunt Irma 12/25/58”
It was my first “big boy” book. It is the book that started a lifelong love of reading…of words…of imagination. After my wife, the children, the dog, it would be the one material thing I would run back into the fire to save.
For me, and maybe for you, the cinema in my head that plays the memories of my life, those pictures, those moments start playing on the screen, not so much when I look at photographs, but when I hold the past in my hand.
When my thumbs run over the material, each bump, each bruise, each spot, brings back, yesterday, way back yesterdays. When I miss my long gone Aunt, all I need to do is to hold that book, turn those pages, and suddenly Aunt Irma is on the couch next to me sounding out the words I’m stuck on.
The most valuable commodity on earth is the time that has past. As you age, you will learn that gold is valueless, silver, platinum, all the so-called precious metals, worth squat.
Memories, are priceless.
And that is what this Sunday was all about.
“…you know we've…”
8:30 a.m. and it is already 90 degrees outside, about 400 degrees inside the Tackle The Storm all-black trailer. For the last hour and a half, volunteers from the Arkansas B.A.S.S. Nation have been unloading over 500 adult and kids rods and reels from inside the dual-axel oven.
“db, this is the hottest weekend so far this year,” Jim Alexander, president of the Arkansas B.A.S.S. Nation, is telling me, trying to comfort me as I’m already on my 2nd shirt of the event…and it is already stinky.
It is 30 minutes from the beginning of the the Tackle The Storm Foundation rod and reel giveaway to the victims of the April 27, 2014, tornado that roared through Mayflower/Vilonia and other towns in Arkansas…and already there is a line of families waiting.
I’m walking through the line talking to the families, the kids and hear over and over again of the horror, the loss, the tragedy, but also of the blessing. A man who lost everything, I mean EVERYTHING told me, “We were lucky, my family wasn’t hurt none.”
I hear the story of a mom and dad whose two young boys were killed in the tornado, hear that the mother has said that two days before the storm hit one of her sons told her something like he was ready for heaven…and when I meet the mom and dad they have scars all over them, suffered when crushed under flying debris…and the lady, a young pretty woman, reaches out and HUGS ME because we gave her a fishing pole.
I’m thinking I may need therapy, or Bourbon, after this event.
Behind me, dozens of B.A.S.S. Nation, and just regular folks volunteers, are ripping open dozens of boxes of rods and reels, tackle, line and tee shirts. The trailer is 10 feet long, 6 1/2 feet high and about 5 feet wide and is filled from floor to ceiling, side to side.
As I watch the stuff being unloaded, as I see the people lining up, I’m pretty much starting to panic…I know we have plenty of kids and adults rods and reels in the trailer, probably $8-grand worth of fishing stuff easy…
…and I’m not sure it is enough.
I tell my wife, Barb, “I may have to run to Wal-Mart with our charge card…”
Barb just nods her head, she knows my fear, my before event nightmares of some child walking away empty-handed.
And then, and then, then…
…it is 9 a.m.
“…got to find a way…”
Elite angler Billy McCaghren is standing in the hot sun at the end of a table opening kids combo packs and patiently put everything together for the families; throughout the day he must have done it a hundred times.
I watch sweat run down his forehead, down his nose, and drip onto the table, but as he catches me looking at him, he smiles, later he thanks me for inviting him.
Elite on, and off the water.
My best bud on the tour, Elite angler Kevin Short, is down by the pond helping probably the 20th child untangle his/her line; his wife Kerry is in the hot trailer handing out stuff to the people in line. As I watch the two of them work like crazy for these people out here, I have to wipe a tear running down my face, a tear I tell a volunteer is just sweat, but I tear up watching my friends help others because I just came from there 5th wheel which stands across the street from WHERE THEIR HOUSE USED TO BE.
My good friends are victims and yet they are here working their butts off for others.
Elite, on and off the water.
And as I watch, the line grows.
And as I watch, the empty cardboard boxes are stacking up behind the trailer.
And the heat is making me dizzy, and the victims stories are making me dizzy, and behind me volunteer Arkansas Nation folks are cooking hot dogs, and behind them a family that owns an snow cone trailer is giving out dozens of free snow cones,
as I’m standing there a tiny young lady comes up to me and hugs me and tells me that she brought her friend's “little boy to get a fishing rod and reel; he just got out of the hospital and can’t stay here too long in this heat, that’s him over there sitting on the tree stump…”
And as I follow where she is pointing, I see a small, really small boy, an almost concave little boy in a brown shirt and he is holding a brand new fishing combo…
“…and he just wanted to say thank you, thank all of you for thinking of him and all these folks…”
…and then the tiny woman gets up on her tip toes and kisses my cheek and as she does that I look at the tiny concave child on the tree stump and he sees me and breaks out into a huge smile and waves.
And I tell myself that it is just sweat dripping on my shirt.
But it ain’t.
“…to bring some lovin'”
All in all we gave out about 400 rods and reels this Sunday…199 kid combos…159 adult spinning and baitcasting combos…and 38 kids fishing rods and reels that I left with the Arkansas Game & Fish folks who will give them to some other children who need those magic wands of childhood.
Not a thing of this would be possible without the love and support from the folks at Bass Pro, Zebco, Livingston Lures, Missile Baits, Pinnacle Fishing, Strike King, Rigid Industries, Lucky Craft, Wright & McGill, Dick's Sporting Goods, Ranger Boats, Skeet Reese, John Crews, Dave Mercer, Bill Crews, Judith Kelley, Jan and Charles Heavener and the hundreds of B.A.S.S. Nation members around the country, especially Jim Alexander and his Arkansas Crew today.
Not possible without the love and caring of the entire field of Elite anglers who give me their used rods and reels to pass out, their lures, their cash donations, their friendship. Especially on this brutally hot day a huge shout out to Kevin Short and Billy McCaghren.
Not possible without the volunteer help today from the Arkansas Game & Fish folks who gave us their pond and loaded it with 500 pounds of catfish.
And then there is this…I come back to the hotel stinky and exhausted, fire up the laptop and get a message that someone has written something on my Facebook page…and when I click on the link, this is what I read:
"Mr. Don Barone, I just want to say thank you and everyone else for having this event. It was a mother's dream to be able to take her boys fishing with new poles and bait! What you all did today was a blessing to our family and community. Although my oldest son couldn't reel in his 'big' catch because of his cast on his arm, he still had a blast watching his momma panic when we got a fish! Haha! So much fun and I thank you all for the memories we made today! God Bless You All!"
Believe if you believe.
Wonder if you wonder.
I believe that we humans, you and me, all of us out there, were put on this blue rock in space for the main, if not only, purpose, to be there for each other, to help each other, care for each other,
and as I stood alone in the shade of a tree and watched the almost 400 people keep pulling stringer after stringer after stringer of catfish out of the pond…and watched as the fish just kept coming and coming and coming,
alone, and by myself, I smiled,
and I turned and slowly did the sign of the cross and looked to the sky and whispered, “Thank You,”
for it seemed there where more boxes of rods and reels than I thought, more catfish than anyone thought,
maybe, just maybe, because on one very hot Sunday in a field near a pond in Central Arkansas, we did, we acted as God planned.
And he cast a line into that pond as well.
"What’s Going On"