“And I'm a thankful man…”
Dateline: Shreveport sunset
Let me explain how I’ve come to do things now that I have somehow managed to survive long enough in the biz to come to that stage called, “the twilight of my career.”
For a quarter of a century, I was a crime reporter/investigative producer, won a bunch of hardware including the New York Festival World Medal for Investigative Journalism.
You just don’t fall into that stuff.
Being an Investigative Reporter/Producer involved incredible amounts of background work. I would say it was 60/40 preparation…60% of my work involved getting ready for the story…getting ready meaning basically knowing all the answers to the questions that I was asking.
Doing your homework.
40% of my gig was what you eventually saw on TV. So the majority of my career you never saw; you never really knew of the majority of my work.
I would work MONTHS on a story and not one word of it would hit air…then one day 7 minutes of it would run on SportsCenter or on Outside The Lines on ESPN.
When I left that life and came here to B.A.S.S., as I was driving South to my first tournament and during a couple days in the minivan, I thought long and hard how I would cover this sport…
…should I do what I have done for most of my career: dive in and learn all the answers before I asked the questions…
What if, since I was absolutely new to the sport, what if I didn’t do any planning, didn’t do any research, came to it,
virgin ears to the stories unfolding before me.
Telling you dudes, a whole new approach for me. What if…
I do not recommend this approach for any of you dudes in Journalism school, trust me. When you are starting out, NOT being prepared is a career crusher but out here in the twilight,
I planned not for what was around me here, just listened.
Became friends with the anglers, knew them as PEOPLE before I knew them as PROFESSIONALS.
And none more so then my friend Denny Brauer.
I know now the dude is probably in the top 5 of the all-time greats, had no idea about that the first time I sat down with him at a table in some restaurant somewhere and said pretty much this to him, “Help me.”
“Help you with what.”
“This…it’s crazy out here. And, dude, no offense but you’re an old guy like me; I just need not craziness.”
Denny chewed on that, and his steak for a moment, then looked at me and just smiled.
And from that moment on, Denny, unknown to many, was the one I went to when I needed calming down, when I needed escape from all that is intense out here. Denny was my rock.
And for the past year or so I have missed him dearly.
When I heard he was fishing this Open, I went down to the cabin that he and his wife, Shirley, are staying in, banged on the door and was thankful to once again be able to sit and just talk.
Talk like friends:
“So, dude, why did you leave the Elites man? I miss you. Why did you split?”
I just look at him with that “cut the crap” look.
We are sitting on the front porch of the cabin. Denny looks at me, then looks out at the setting sun. I’m getting ready for that “twilight” BS when he turns and looks back at me and says,
“A virus attacked my heart; I lost 50% of my heart and lung capacity…”
I’m just sitting there, stunned.
“Did you tell anyone out here that?”
We are sitting on the porch looking at each other eye to eye; inside, I feel like crumbling.
“Monday, after the tournament, I’m going to my doctor here in town, and he is going to put something inside of me, an implant that will help my heart.”
And my insides,
“…for every turn…”
“db, I didn’t really have a choice; it was a huge effort for me even to carry the fish bag in to be weighed. I didn’t know what was going on. I was lethargic, gaining weight … and my health, my breathing, my stamina was spinning out of control.”
I say nothing. There are a bunch of Bassmaster Open anglers walking around, who knows what they would think if I suddenly got up and hugged Denny Brauer and started crying.
“Until they found this virus thing – and from what I’m told it is extremely rare – until they figured that part out, I spent most of the year thinking I was having a heart attack.”
When friends tell me stuff like this I am thankful that I have a pen to write stuff down, NOT because of the story value, but because I can focus on what I’m writing and not on what I’m hearing.
That sounds cold, even when I re-read that above paragraph, but it is the truth, and it helps me NOT because I don’t care, but because I care TOO MUCH.
“At ICAST that year, I thought I was having a heart attack; it was the worst ever feeling. It turns out I had a stone lodged in a Pancreatic duct; they got that out but with a 1% chance of getting Pancreatitis… Well, I got it. It was the most sick I have ever been, db. To tell you the truth, it was the first time in my life that I thought I was going to die.”
Just so you know, if by chance you get to see the notes I took while Denny was telling me this,
if you read them,
what you won’t read is this,
I never wrote that word down.
when a close friend tells me that.
“…on every highway I've been down, every mile I've lost, every crossroad stop…”
Denny has been sitting there on the porch, staring at the sunset.
Comes the head turn, comes Denny looking down at his sunburned feet. His hands are clasped; his eyes are focused, a little bit of the Brauer squint coming my way.
“db, you know what I mean.”
And there it was, all my non-planning overturned by the plan put together by the Universe.
Believe if you believe.
Wonder if you wonder.
If there is a hand that leads, if there is a hand that guides, if we are all on a bus that someone else is driving, this trip with Denny and me,
This porch talk was coming from the moment I first sat down with Denny at a dinner table years ago.
Coming for the both of us, both of us fine and healthy back then.
Not so much today.
“db, you know what I mean.”
From that utterance on, this is how our conversation went: me talking, Denny listening, looking at the sunset and nodding.
I had no idea going into this that the story would turn in this direction but then again, neither one of us are drivin’.
“Denny, I don’t know if you know, but last New Year’s, that night in the hospital, a priest came to my room to give me the “Anointing of the Sick,” which is pretty much the politically correct way of saying, Last Rites.”
Denny, looking at the sunset, just nods his head.
“I actually got that Anointing of the Sick TWICE while I was in the hospital. Came real close to dying, not right there dying but close enough where I could see it.”
“Dude, after the priest left my room, I just laid there thinking. And you know what man? Between me and you, I never once thought about any of the stories I’ve done, never once thought about all the awards, never once thought about the money in the bank…”
“…Denny, all I thought about was my family, my wife, my kids, how much my dying would hurt them, and when the tear ran down my cheek it wasn’t because I was dying but it was because of how much I would miss my family, and what it was that I just had done to them.”
And with that, Denny turned from the sunset, turned from the nods of his head and said,
“…every storm that turned me around…”
Take it home, Denny. Take it home, bud:
“Life is good; I’m in a really good place. Now I get to spend more time with Shirley, with my family.
“I’m very thankful for my life. I’m a bricklayer who won the Bassmaster Classic. I have a great life, great house and all that…
…family, db. Love of family, that’s what really matters. And after they fix my heart, I’m going to be spending a good long time with them.”
For a moment, we both sit quietly, both just watching the sun set on the Red River.
The door opens. Shirley comes out, walks past Denny while slightly touching his shoulder and sits down on the porch steps.
Shirley turns and looks up at Denny, and Denny turns from me and looks down at Shirley.
And at the same time, they both,
at each other,
and on my ride back to the hotel I call my wife,
and when she answers I say,
“Hey babe, just calling to say I Love You.”
And I smile the smile,
of Denny and Shirley,
when they saw each other,
while sittin’ on the porch,
Godspeed my friend, Godspeed.
“…oh, it's better than I could have planned.”