“It seems like only yesterday…”
Dateline: Jetersville, Virginia
in the upland pine woods,
I had made it almost a year, fairly well intact, a few tears here and there, a few whoa is me’s, spread around as well.
Thought, I did, that I was basically, still, Superman.
But as I stood taking photographs of John Crews and his stepson, Noah, walking down a trail to go deer hunting in the pine forest,
I started shaking,
not from being cold,
I started getting dizzy,
but I didn’t feel faint,
it was as if a wave of understanding suddenly engulfed me,
it was as if a wave of faith blew through the pines,
and cradled my heart,
and alone in the upland pine forest of Jetersville, Virginia,
I was welcomed home,
home to a place I have never been, not a physical place, not a spiritual place, but a place of understanding,
a place where all that matters is,
believe if you believe,
wonder if you wonder,
but the understanding that engulfed me in the upland pines, is that maybe if you believe in heaven,
maybe, we are standing in it, and that maybe when time, when love, when family all comes together, that feeling of joy, of warmth, of understanding,
and all that matters is the time we give to it with love, with family.
In the upland pines of Virginia, as Thanksgiving dinner was being prepared, and the Crews family started to gather, and as I stood and saw my wife through the wavy glass of their 1750 era house,
the shaking inside of me stopped,
the dizziness stopped,
and the calm of understanding took over.
Almost to the day, one year back, I sat in a doctor’s office as he told me that a sophisticated test showed I had a brain tumor, that the tumor was wrapped around my optic nerve and that tests showed I had begun to lose my sight.
Almost to the day, one year back, I was asked if I thought I could still write, if I could not see.
Almost to the day, one year back, I was told that there was a chance that the brain surgery would leave me blind.
I knew all of this last year at this time when Barb and I went to the Iaconellis' for Thanksgiving, knew that Thanksgiving 2012 could be the last Thanksgiving I ever saw.
Some will say science.
Some will say faith.
Some will say surgeons.
Some will say God.
Take your pick, if you believe, if you wonder.
But in that moment, alone, in the upland pines of Virginia, I know an understanding, came, was given to me,
and no such thing as wasted time if you hold those values in your heart.
In the upland pines of Virginia, if you believe, or if like me, you wonder, was I given a brief moment of understanding,
a brief moment,
of standing in heaven.
A moment only,
my new eyes,
“…I didn't have a clue…”
Where comes from, the spirits of Virginia, the ghosts of the south.
John Crews, grew up in home built in 1750, with 600 acres of pine and hardwood forest surrounding it.
“db I didn’t hang around town much, I spent most of my time outside, out in the woods hunting, out by the ponds and rivers fishing.”
The nearest town, as far as I could make out, is a place called, Farmville, Virginia, where Barb and I spent a morning walking its streets, talking to it’s people.
We ate breakfast at a diner that only had a dozen or so stools at the counter, no booths. When neighbors came in you moved a couple of stools down to make room.
We walked the streets, visited the shops, shops filled with new stuff made by the Amish, shops filled with old antique stuff made by the rest of us.
“Where ya’ll from.”
“Well welcome, stay a spell.”
The old and the new separated by only the bricks of the common wall. An older man tipped his hat to me; a young lady opened a door for Barb.
As cars drove down Main Street the tires rolling over brick crosswalks and concrete intersections sounded eerily like horse and buggy’s coming to town.
Rolling hills and fast curves took us to the Crews family home, now called “Wayne Oak,” for the Revolutionary War General, “Mad” Anthony Wayne who was said to have bivouacked in the fields around the home.
Bill Crews, John’s dad, tells me, “db, some say I look like “Mad” Anthony Wayne, what do you think,” as he leads me into a room with a fireplace and painting of the General in question.
“See,” Bill says as he stands, proudly next to the painting. You be the judge…that’s Bill…that’s the “Mad” dude.
The house is exquisite in period detail and furnishings, many rooms heated by the original fireplaces of 300 years ago.
Bill Crews: “Back in the Civil War this was used as a temporary hospital during the Sailors Creek Battle which took place very near here.”
“Where was that.”
“Over that way.”
Which was pretty much in the direction I was standing when came,
“…I stood alone not knowing where to turn…”
Understanding, I believe, has been coming slowly to me since the brain surgery. Barb says I’m different, calmer, more calming to others, even more mellow than normal,
For most of my 30 year career in the news biz, I covered ugly.
You do that from inside a shell you build around yourself. They are them and I am me and I won’t do what they do or let the bad get on me. The wall around me went from the bottom of my feet to miles behind the moon.
Behind the microphone was my safe place, the sword that separated me.
Understanding started coming to me on I-95 South. To get to the Crews home Barb and I had to drive through one of the most populated places in America…through NYC, over the George Washington Bridge ($15 toll), down the New Jersey Turnpike, through Baltimore, through Washington, DC and northern Virginia.
Normally by the Vince Lombardi rest stop on the Jersey ‘pike, I’m in a foul mood…and Vince is the 1st rest stop we hit.
Not this drive.
There was a calm developing; I later told Barb it was the best 12 hour drive of my life.
We sat and talked, talked of the kids, the dog, the families. Talk of believe, or wonder, health, life, death, the comfort of Tundra seats.
Later, in the library of the Crews home, I told Bill and John of how calming the normal whacko trip down to see them was, never mentioned my breakdown in their backyard.
John sat in a chair to my left front, Bill in a chair to my right front, me I was sitting on a blue couch, coffee table in front of me, fire roaring in the fireplace to my left, a bust of JFK in the mantle behind me, decanter of fine bourbon in front of me caught the licks of light from the fireplace in the cut glass.
Both John and Bill sit on the Board of Directors of Tackle The Storm, Bill in fact was a founding father of the foundation along with Elite Angler, Skeet Reese.
Without the help of Bill Crews, Tackle The Storm would still be just a dream of mine.
I tell you all that for full disclosure, and so that you also are aware of the fact I know both of these guys very well.
So here I sit, a few hours removed from my understanding, Barb, Bill’s longtime girlfriend, Judy, John’s wife, Sonja, his sister, Allison and her significant other, Greg, along with all the children, Myah, Ivy, step-son, Noah and young cousin, Gregory, were laughing and talking in the kitchen and dinning room.
The house was alive, with love.
And as I was about to do the interview, a door opened, a door I didn’t even know was there, and in walked, Jane, Bill’s ex-wife and John and Allison’s mom.
Hugs all around, the Crews family Thanksgiving was complete.
“So John, Bill, dudes, tell me what Thanksgiving means to you.”
“…now suddenly I look around…”
John: “It is my favorite holiday, no presents or gifts involved, it’s not about what you got or didn’t get, it’s about spending time with family spending time together.”
Bill: “It’s all about spending time with the people you love, in the country you love, with the God you love.”
Two year old Ivy runs in and crawls up on John’s lap.
In my notes I write, “Ivy” and draw a smile.
Bill Crews, 70, is a very successful Attorney and Businessman. Very successful. But he is also very conservative, very caring, very funny. “db we say that Bill is a trip without the luggage,” Judy told me earlier in the kitchen, Bill who is petting the family dog with his stocking clad foot just looks at me and smiles.
“Bill, how did you feel that when John came out of college he pursued a career as a professional angler and not a career in law.”
John jumps in, “I think my father at one time envisioned that the two of us would be partners, that I would be working down the hall from him and that way we could spend a lot of time together…”
“…but db, I knew that for him to be happy it had to be HIS life, not MY life, it had to be what he wanted to do, not what I wanted him to do...”
Bill went on to tell a story of how his Grandfather really wanted Bill to be a Doctor, pushed him that way, in fact Bill’s undergraduate degree is in Chemistry.
“…I did tell John though to go to college and get a degree…’
“…which I went to Randolph-Macon College and got a degree in Business/Economics…”
“…but I knew from an early age where John’s heart was, in fact I dug him a pond on the property here, it’s covered over now with me putting green, but it was right there that John caught his first fish, it was right there that I first understood.”
Both father and son look at each other, and smile.
“My father did nothing but encourage me to fish, I had 100% support from my family.”
After that quote I draw, a frown.
I never had the full support of my family, I was told repeatedly that only smart people can make a living writing, my mother pushed me to go to business school to get a degree in Hotel/Motel Management, my father wanted me to “get a foot in the Chevy plant.”
I left home.
Amid the yelling, I told them,
“…you just don’t understand.”
I’ve asked Bill now, many times, if he would just adopt me.
He hasn’t, but he has sent me gifts of very nice shoes.
“…and everything looks new…”
In a very old house, comes some very new ideas.
“My dad is the smartest business person I know, db.”
I’m well aware of that via his refusal to make me kin.
“All my life he has encouraged me, and my sister Allison to have the entrepreneurial spirit…”
I’m in a library that was built while America was being built, a structure constructed downwind of Thomas Jefferson, I’m one room over from a desk owned by one of the Founding Fathers, Patrick Henry, all around me are artifacts to the greatest entrepreneurial success story in history.
The United States of America.
Only entrepreneurs want freedom for all.
To me, Thanksgiving is not only a holiday to be thankful for family, for faith, but also, very thankful for the foresight of the entrepreneurial spirit of our Founding Fathers.
If you don’t think the first Thanksgiving wasn’t a celebration of entrepreneurial spirit, the fact they tried something new, proved it could work, America is the absolute byproduct of people looking for a new way to do things, looking for the freedom to live their life, not someone else’s.
“…it was my father who encouraged me to start my company, Missile Baits.”
In 2012, John Crews started his own soft plastic lure company, Missile Baits. The company now has 2 full time employees and product in over 100 independent tackle shops, as well as in large retailers like Dick’s Sporting Goods, Cabela’s, Academy, Sport Chalet, Sportsmans Warehouse, and a few Wal-mart stores.
“Don’t get me wrong db, I have great sponsors, but in these tough economic times, sponsors can come and go, and one day, through no fault of your own you can find yourself without sponsors. Fishing with your own money is like treading water, most won’t make it. With Missile Baits, I’m getting so that I can control my own future if I have to.”
From the chair off to my right, Bill is looking at me but talking to John, “…you have to do it with integrity, integrity cannot be bought and sold, it must be earned, so while I support John in what he does, I told him that it must, must be built with integrity as the key.”
And with that Ivy came back in and said, softly, “Dinner, daddy.”
“…I don't know why but I think I'm starting to learn…”
At a table built for 10, there sat 13.
Before we commenced to eating, we all held hands, and each person at the table spoke of what it was they gave thanks for.
They spoke of thanks for, family.
They spoke of thanks, for friends.
They spoke of thanks, for faith.
When it was my turn, I gave thanks for all of the above, plus saying how thankful I was that the Crews family allowed Barb and I in…and you too...at their Thanksgiving celebration.
And then the passing began…turkey, gravy and handed down recipes. Sonja had made a plate of fruit look like a gobbler, Judy a family pear and apple cobbler, Jane a blackberry wine cake., Barb and I a box of Italian cookies.
Believe if you believe.
Wonder if you wonder.
Under the tall upland pines of Virginia what I was really the most thankful for,
was the understanding,
that my way came.
And for that moment of standing in heaven, when all things became clear.
That at the table that all on earth sit around,
we should all hold hands,
and give thanks for everyone sitting with us,
for the time we have together,
for the family that we all belong to,
for the friends we all should be,
for the greatest entrepreneur, who gives us the freedom to be us, and not him.
And when all that happens, hopefully someday soon,
as we walk under the tall upland pines of Virginia,
we will realize, that we all are,
standing in heaven,
and there will come to all of us,
Where all of us will be seeing Thanksgiving,
with new eyes.
“…they call it understanding.”
Editor's note: See more photos of db's holiday with the Crews family here.