George was a simple man. He led a simple life in a small town where each day seemed to be an instant replay of all the days that had come before it. It had reminded George of that movie, what was it called- “Groundhog Day”? This morning, however, was just slightly different. He drank his coffee today minus the customary reading of the small daily paper dropped at his front door by the McKenzie kid from the next block over. That boy certainly was punctual, George had noted several months earlier. But he was MIA this day.
He had not been particularly surprised by the announcement that the local newspaper was shutting its doors. With so little “hard news”, as the reporters like to call it, to report, everyone grew weary of reading about last week’s Sunday School social and the latest gossip columns. So, the publisher made an easy business decision. An announcement on page one of today’s issue informed the readership that the paper would cease publication in four weeks time. “At least it’s a change.” George chuckled to himself after a coworker told him the news later that day.
Shortly after each sunrise, George donned his ball cap, the same red and grey one he had worn for nearly ten years. He then climbed into his beat up old Chevy pickup, slamming the slightly malaligned door to be certain that it had fully closed. Next he systematically consumed his morning meal, a bright yellow banana, as he headed down his short dirt drive towards the busy highway. Bananas suited George. Healthy and tasty, they are provided by nature in a neat, biodegradable package. Even as he tossed the peel from the intermittently sticking, manually operated window of his vehicle, he felt no remorse. “It will be eaten by some creature even less fortunate than me.” George reasoned. He looked both ways at the end of his drive and aimed the battered truck north, towards the motel where he worked.
The journey consumed some twenty-five minutes of George’s day. He enjoyed the drive. The traffic was never overwhelming, and he had time to think about things. Where he lived, in central Arizona, even the weather hardly varied. Nearly every day was “severe clear” as George had heard the helicopter pilots describe such meteorological conditions back when he was in Vietnam. He tried not to think too much about his service days. He had been a helicopter mechanic, trained by the Army to keep those Hueys in the air, even when the pilots brought them back to him shot up, or their engines burned out by overstressing them during combat manuevering. He had been diligent in his duties, right up until that night when NVA sappers had crawled under the perimeter wire, killed the guards, and burst onto the base. One of them had fired a round from his AK at George as he emerged from his hooch, running to scream a warning to others in his unit. The lead found its way into his left femur, just above the knee. The bone had been shattered by the blast, but fortunately, the nearby major blood vessels escaped injury. This bit of good fortune saved George’s life, but ended his military career. He was medevac’d out after the sappers had been neutralized, to Tan Son Nhut, and from there to a military facility on Guam. There he underwent numerous surgeries. The skilled surgeons saved his leg, but it would remain a nuisance for the remainder of his days. His action that night saved many lives.
After he had recovered, he was given his Republic of Vietnam service ribbon, a Silver Star, and a Purple Heart as well. George was subsequently discharged from the Army. He came home to Arizona, where he married his high school sweetheart and raised a nice little family. He and Deb were blessed with two children, a boy named Joel and a daughter, Sarah. They liked the biblical names so popular in the local Baptist church they attended. Sarah and Joel were grown now, and had moved away, with lives of their own. Joel taught algebra at a high school in Tempe, and Sarah had married a minister with a new church in Albequerque. The house had acquired an unaccustomed quietness now. George and Deb grew close again, without the daily distractions of raising a family to consume all their time and energy.
George worked as a maintenance man at a small mom and pop motel on the edge of town. He fixed whatever went wrong. His training and mechanical proclivity allowed him to repair the AC units, the plumbing, wiring, or even do basic carpentry. He liked the work and found using his hands to be rewarding. Samantha and Leroy, the middle aged couple who owned and operated the place, were good people and appreciated George’s dedication and abilities. Ever dependable, George planned to work until he simply could no longer go on that bad leg. The work suited him and gave him a sense of purpose. Besides, sending two kids to college had left him in considerable debt. Even with Deb working as a server at a busy local eatery, finances were always a concern. His money worries, however, seemed to vanish when he thought about how happy Joel and Sarah had been to become the first in family history to attend college.
George had acquired a love of the outdoors in his youth. He frequently sought out streams and ponds where he loved nothing more than casting his line at bass and panfish. As he matured, he was able to get up to the mountains, where he learned to fly fish for rainbow and cutthroat trout. Fly fishing had become a passion which never left him throughout his life. He managed to buy an entry level Orvis rod and reel at an estate sale, and had become quite proficient at casting. Laying out a seventy foot loop and delivering a size six dry fly onto a nine inch plastic plate had become routine. His casts looked like they were straight out of “A River Runs Through It.” As Lefty might say, his loops were so tight, George could cast his fly line through a screen door. George’s innate manual skills made him a natural born fly tyer. Each of the locally available species had fallen in turn for George’s creations, pleasing him immensely. But now he yearned to move on to the next level. He had watched as famous television fly fishermen stalked exotic species such as tarpon, bonefish, and permit on the Saturday morning fishing shows. He burned with the desire to follow in their footsteps. He was mesmerized by the neon blues and greens of tropical flats, and steadfastly hoped that eventually, one sweet day, he would tread those same brilliant white sand flats. He pictured himself fly rod in hand, seeking out bonefish, the silver stars of the flats. These athletic fish had moved up to the number one spot on his bucket list. Mental imagery of a tailing ten pounder, gleaming and flashing in the Bahamian sun, filled his mind. “I just need to figure out how to afford it”, he mused. “Where there is a will, there is a way, as Dad used to say,” he thought. He just needed to find it.
George sat at the kitchen table, blowing his steaming cup of coffee the next morning. Spread before him, in place of the his usual newspaper, lay a fishing magazine. He had opened it to a full page color photo of some lucky devil standing calf deep on a gleaming sand flat in the Bahamas. His rod was bent double, and in the distance could be seen the telltale rooster tail of water caused by a speeding bonefish fast to the fly line. “Man, I would love to be able to that, just once!” George told Deb. “Do what?” she said. “This” responded George, handing her the magazine. “Oh my, that is so beautiful!” she exclaimed. She peered more intently at the page. “George, it says something about a contest to win a trip to the Bahamas. Why don’t you enter it?” ” I never win anything. It would be a waste of a stamp.” George said.
“Say, isn’t the paper still supposed to be published for a couple more weeks? Where is it?” George wondered aloud. “Well, I was talking to Sally Gardener yesterday, and she mentioned that Danny McKenzie, the paperboy, has been real sick.” answered Deb.” His Mom took him to see Doc Turner. Turns out he has a bad form of leukemia.” “What? That is TERRIBLE!” said George. “He seems like such a fine young man- good athlete too. And, I hear he loves trout fishing, just like me.” “Life can be so unfair at times.” lamented Deb. “Maybe the doc will send him to the university hospital and they will be able to cure him down there.” “They have all the latest treatments.” she added.
George turned towards the door, banana in hand, and bid his wife farewell. “Have a good day, dear.” she said as he disappeared through the door. “You, too” was his response. Deb picked up the magazine, reading about the lodge in the Bahamas and gazing at the spectacular photos of the tropical waters and strange looking fish. She opened the kitchen cabinet junk drawer and retrieved a pair of scissors.
Days went by, just as they had for the past twenty six years. The work at the motel was steady, and George and Deb were slowly able to pay down their educational loans. George still was able to slip away on Saturdays, and occasionally on Sunday afternoons after services, to place his feathery offerings before the persnickety trout inhabiting the clear, cold, fast running waters of the mountain creeks above town. It gave George great pleasure to watch a selective bow accept his fly after thumbing its nose at lesser fishermen’s clumsy efforts. After releasing the brightly colored fish, he sat down on a flat rock on the water’s edge and had a long drink from his water bottle. He felt quite contented at that moment in the pleasant Arizona sun. Despite the satisfaction of the release of the rainbow, images of bonefish flats drifted steadily across his consciousness. Though he cheerfully released every trout he caught, he seemed simply incapable of releasing the idea of chasing bones, no matter how remote the chances of actually living his dream. He sighed as he contemplated the fact that he really did already have the good life. He had a wonderful wife who worshipped him and two kids who had grown up to be responsible, productive members of society. Emotion washed over him as he considered how narrowly he had escaped death that day in ‘Nam, and wondered if Danny McKenzie would be as lucky. “Well, I best let these guys rest a little.” George thought, glancing towards the stream. He began packing his rod in its metal tube. “Hope my leg doesn’t give me too much trouble going back down the trail.”
Tuesday morning found George at his customary place at the kitchen table having what he thought was his customary coffee. “Hey, Deb. This coffee tastes different today. What gives?” George inquired. “Oh, it’s Jamaican. It’s a tropical blend. I thought you might like to try something a bit different today.” With no paper to read, George looked down at the table, silently thinking about the day’s work tasks. The eight ton AC unit would need to have the Freon topped off today. George wondered when he would have to switch to the new government mandated 410A refrigerant that was supposed to be better for the environment. “Probably a good thing.” George thought. Anything that could protect his precious trout was all right with him. “Oh, this came for you.” Deb said as she dropped an envelope in front of him. “It is from Tropical Fly Fishing Magazine.” George said as he examined the envelope.” They probably are looking for another subscriber. I don’t think we can afford it, at least until we get those loans taken care of.” He casually tore open the paper. He retrieved the letter it contained and began reading.
“Dear Mr. Taylor, we here at Tropical Fly Fishing Magazine are delighted to inform you that your entry was drawn at random from over four thousand that were entered in our recent contest. It is our great pleasure to let you know that you have won a week long trip to Abaco, Bahamas, to fly fish for bonefish, permit, and tarpon. Congratulations! All expenses, including airfare, lodging, and transfers are included. Please contact us at your earliest convenience to make the arrangements. Thanks for entering and being a supporter of our magazine.”
George was stunned! “There must be a mistake. I never entered any contest!” he protested. “No, you didn’t, but I did!” explained Deb. “After you left for work, I filled the form out with your name and mailed it in. I never dreamed you would win, but you did! George, you deserve this! I am so very happy and excited for you!” George looked up at Deb. “I love you, Deb. How can I possibly deserve such a wonderful woman AND a free trip to the Bahamas?” “I love you too” was her simple response.
George had great difficulty concentrating on work that day. He had even forgotten to eat his banana on the way to work. Hunger never entered his consciousness. Instead, his mind’s eye saw massive schools of silver flashing in the Bahamian sunlight. He imagined his homemade Gotcha sailing through eighty feet of salty air, landing gently six inches from the mouth of a hungrily feeding bone. Then he wondered what it might feel like to have a ten pound bonefish emptying his reel of all of its twenty pound braided backing. George was completely enthralled by the upcoming trip. He made it through the work day and hurried home to begin his preparations, despite that fact that the trip was still several weeks away.
Back at home, George found Deb home from her shift at the restaurant. She was beginning dinner preparations. “Deb, I am so excited about the trip, I could barely think of anything else today.” George told her. “How was your day” he asked. “A bit disturbing” she said. ” I overheard a conversation about Danny, the young man with leukemia.” “What is going on with him?” George asked. “Well, the news is not good. The doctors at University Medical Center have looked over his test results. They say his leukemia is incurable. He has maybe eighteen months left. Sad, isn’t it? A nice young man being taken from us. I feel so bad for him and his family. I just don’t know what to do to help them.”
Once more, George was stunned. He was sick to his soul as he considered the situation. He uttered a silent prayer of thanksgiving that his own children had grown up healthy and happy. Danny, on the other hand, would never enjoy many of life’s greatest joys. He would never graduate from high school, marry, see the many marvels of the world, or have kids of his own. How could God let this happen?
George suddenly looked up and a broad smile developed across his now tear tracked face. “I know what to do!” he said joyously.
He fumbled through his wallet and extracted a small piece of paper with the phone number he had called to claim his fishing trip of a lifetime prize. He quickly dialed the number. George explained that he wished to transfer his prize to someone else. The nice man on the other end of the line explained that such a thing was not possible. However, once George explained Danny’s situation, the folks at the magazine had a change of heart and agreed to allow the sick boy to make the trip to Abaco instead of George. “Thank you SO much” George told the man. “You have made a dying kid’s life a whole lot better. He now has something to look forward to. God bless you, sir”.
The next day, Deb and George went to Danny’s house. Danny’s parents were doing the best they could to be strong, and called for Danny to come downstairs. Danny didn’t look sick, at least not yet. He still maintained the vigorous appearance of a sixteen year old, easily able to stand on the bow of a flats skiff and cast to the silver treasure of Abaco’s flats. “Danny,” George began, “I have a big surprise for you- and one you are going to really like! I won a free fly fishing trip to the Bahamas and I want you to have it. Please accept it and go have a great time.” “Gee, thanks so much, Mr. Taylor. This is so very cool. I have watched those guys on TV catch bonefish, and I know I will absolutely love this trip.” “You are more than welcome, Danny. I know you like to fly fish , and bonefish are like trout on steroids!” responded George. “Don’t forget to take photos so that you can do a show and tell for us when you get back.” suggested Deb. Danny hugged them both, as did his parents. Deb and George excused themselves and let themselves out. No longer able to contain their emotions, tears rolled down their cheeks as they walked down the walkway to their car.
It was several days later when the doorbell rang. George answered it to find Thomas Lineback standing there. “Come on in, Tom”, said George. George had become acquainted with Tom through the local veteran’s group and knew him to be a fine man who was quick to come to assistance of any vets in the area who might find themselves in need. “How are you doing, George?” Tom asked as the two men sat down on the couch. “Can I get you a cup of coffee or anything?” George asked his guest. “No, actually, I have something for you today, George.” “Tom, as you know, there are lots of guys around who need help more than I do.” George responded. “Yes, that’s true, but there aren’t many so willing to help others as you!” Tom said as he handed George a manila envelope. George opened it, emptying its contents onto the coffee table. “What in the world is this?” George asked rhetorically. He sorted through the materials and found a plane ticket to Abaco and a reservation confirmation at the very same lodge where Danny was to fish. He checked the dates, and saw that they matched those of Danny’s trip. George broke down, weeping in gratitude.
“Not many men are heroes twice in their lives, George. I am proud to know one of them!”