- Don Barone, Outdoors
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"A time it was ... "
Dateline: Back then ...
I dream, in black and white. The colors of my past.
Glossy Thanksgivings, framed in white borders. I see my life in photographs. I see my life as it was, one crinkly photo album page at a time.
Black and white turkeys with black and white stuffing.
I dream in black and white, because the color of my past, has faded. With time. Time as it was.
" ... and what a time it was it was ... "
I smelled Thanksgiving, before I saw it. It came for me, Thanksgiving, out the kitchen, through the dinning room, through the living room, up the stairs, under my door, and hovered above my pillow.
The smell of the gas stove being lit. The smell of the good twice-a-year Irish linen tablecloth. The flames of candles of cranberry. The cinnamon of butternut squash, the melted butter in the silver dish.
I heard Thanksgiving, before I saw it. It came for me from the attic as my father dug around for the old box that held the electric knife. The long skinny box of holidays. The creak of the Sears stove door. The popping of boiling water, the whirl of the beaters, and pots in and out of the sink.
The black and white parade bands on TV, and Grandma humming. With time. Time as it was. Sounds, dim. Smells, fade. The glossy photographs, become the spirit of your heart.
And the crinkly plastic photo album, stays on the closet shelf.
" ... a time of innocence ... "
I have shaken the shattered hand, of Thanksgiving.
I have looked into the glass eye, of Thanksgiving.
And I have learned that the price of Thanksgiving is not measured by the pound.
The cost of Thanksgiving can be counted by the empty dinning room chairs.
By the place settings left on the beaches of Normandy.
By the place settings left in the jungles of Vietnam.
By the place settings left in the hills of Afghanistan.
And I was taught this by a young man who dreamed of being a B.A.S.S Elite angler.
Who dreamed of fishing with his dad, who dreamed of his love of fishing, his love of being on the water.
As he lay dying. In a desert.
Dreams, flowing away, carving rivers in the Iraqi sand.
It was in a courtyard, sunlit, chill in the air, Birmingham, Ala., this past Bassmaster Classic, while sitting on a concrete bench, I finally put the Thanks, in Thanksgiving.
That the holiday is not about what's on the table, but what's around the table.
I have shaken the shattered hand of Thanksgiving, I have looked into the glass eye of Thanksgiving, and by doing so, I have found its heart.
Shown, the spirit of thanks, by Staff Sergeant Brent Homan, 3rd Battalion, 8th Calvary, 1st Calvary Division.
" ... a time of confidences ... "
From a Florida tree, it takes flight. Tiny wings point to the Gulf. And the Hummingbird, takes to the sea. And 450 miles later, it lands in a tree on the other side of the Gulf of Mexico.
I wish I had the heart of a hummingbird.
I wish I had the spirit of a hummingbird.
I wish I had the confidence of a hummingbird.
I know Staff Sergeant Brent Homan does.
But to be honest, I didn't always think that way. When I originally wrote his story back in February.
I wrote of his possessing the heart of a hummingbird, more so in hope, than in belief.
He stood before me beaten and broken. Damaged in a way only humans manage to do to each other. He had been blown up and turned inside out. A shell held together by the faint glimmer of the human spirit flame.
I knew I had made him this way, and I was ashamed.
I am ashamed even more today. Because I saw the Sergeant, and not the spirit. Saw the wounds, and not the hummingbird's heart when he told me that someday he would be a tournament angler.
And so I apologize to the tiny wings that beat within this man, a man who while lay dying in the Iraqi sand asked his fellow soldiers to please find his thumb that had been blown up by the Iraqi IED so that he could still fish, because he really does have the heart, the spirit, the confidence of the hummingbird who takes to sea.
Because when he called me recently, I couldn't believe what he was telling me. As I sat in my minivan in the parking lot and looked out on the changing colors of the New England fall, I knew that once again, Staff Sergeant Brent Homan had once again, changed me, with just these four words.
"db, Sir, I won."
I couldn't drive, I had to park, and all I could do was to listen to the child who had been blown up in the desert, and who told an old disbelieving guy that he was going to fish someday, that he was going to fish tournaments, and that he was going to win.
And then, did just that.
In Brent's own words: "It was on Lake Guntersvile in Alabama, the 1st tournament of the PVA (Paralyzed Veterans of America) National Bass fishing trail, I was pretty tired and had some trouble gripping the reel, you know the back hurting and stuff, but I kept fishing and I won."
"It didn't really sink in until I got back to my hotel room, and called home to my wife Kelly. I just feel like now I can accomplish anything, you know self-pride, I can do this ... I CAN DO THIS, db."
I just sat there. Watched the cars go by, watched the people go in and out of the stores, watched the pigeons eat the French Fries.
"I'm still having trouble with my memory db, still lots of physical therapy, never really thought this would happen to me, dreamt it, but never thought it would happen to me."
In truth, neither one of us did.
But also in truth, one knew. Knew Brent could do it. Would do it.
Knew that as it leapt from the tree.
And pointed its tiny wings, out to sea.
" ... long ago it must be ... "
Long ago, I put out six China plates.
Six cups. Six saucers. Six knives, spoons, forks.
Long ago, I put out five China plates.
A few years ago, I put out four China plates.
And now, I would put out just three.
Gram, Mom and Dad, now sit at a table, not with me, or my sisters. And someday, all the China plates will stay in the cabinet.
This Thanksgiving, Elite Angler J Todd Tucker will set the family holiday table. And there will be many plates. And there will be two new sippy cups, and there will be new friends and family.
But in the family China Cabinet, there will be one place setting.
That stays back.
One place setting, missing.
And that would be, Kiley's China plate.
" ... I have a photograph ... "
In the photograph, I see a young woman full of life, and know that she has died. Kiley's 32nd Thanksgiving was her last. J Todd's 1st cousin, now sits at another table.
Without J Todd. Or her two young children aged 11 and 4.
"We were very close. Kiley passed about a year ago, she fought Breast Cancer for 3 years before it finally beat her."
I am in J Todd's kitchen sitting at the kitchen island. J Todd on one side, me on the other. A pitcher of sweet tea sits between us, the country music channel is on the TV.
A Leave It To Beaver life, in cowboy boots. A family who is close, a family who likes each other, a family of voices, who hear each other.
As J Todd tells me about Kiley, I hear in his voice, not only sadness, but almost, penance. A guilt felt in his heart, "I tried, but I didn't get to see her before she died."
Which sort of explains the pink tournament jersey he wore during Breast Cancer awareness month. J Todd says he wore the jersey for Kiley, and he did, but to see what he really wore for Kiley, you need to look real close.
You need to look where Kiley is.
You need to look close to JTodd's heart.
And that's when you will see, the Dragonfly.
"Kiley was always infatuated with dragonflies, wore dragonfly stuff, had a dragonfly tattoo, knew the dragonfly stood for strength and courage."
So on the pink jersey, there is a dragonfly, "Just to have Kiley on the tour with me ... I'm going to wear it every October because that's when the dragonflies come out in Georgia, it's like she comes back into my life then."
And that's the way it's supposed to be, J Todd. In life, the dragonfly goes through a metamorphism, as do we.
As did, Kiley.
From a place at your Thanksgiving table, to a place in your heart. Her metamorphism, is complete.
Love never leaves.
It just changes.
Into the spirit that beats within your heart.
Right where your dragonfly, sits.
" ... preserve your memories ... "
I rubbed the belly of Thanksgiving.
And Thanksgiving, licked my face.
I felt the wet nose of Thanksgiving on the back of my leg.
And knew I had found the spirit of Thanksgiving by a Georgia Pond.
If you are looking for the meaning of the holiday, you need to look no further than Sam.
If you need to look for what Thanks means, you need to look no further than a wagging tail.
Of a three-legged dog.
Sam is J Todd's female Black Lab hunting dog. A hunting accident took her back right leg.
JTodd: "It was on a hunt, and the guy I was hunting with his shotgun accidentally went off, she was only two feet away from the blast, I really believe she took one for me."
Sam spent 17 days in the hospital, and the day she got out, "I took her, still bandaged, out to the woods to see if she still had the heart to hunt, to run, to be the dog she was before the accident."
And Sam took off through the grass.
And has never stopped.
To me, the spirit of Thanksgiving, will always be, a three-legged dog who stands tall. Who runs free.
Thanksgiving can be found in the heart of the hummingbird.
Thanksgiving can be found in the spirit of the dragonfly.
And Thanksgiving can be found in a three-legged dog, who still wags her tail.
" ... they're all that's left you."
Simon & Garfunkel
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.
23mEthan Sherwood Strauss