There comes a point every month when I start becoming more aware that we have a first of the month deadline for all new Fishmonster articles. In other words, this November article had to be submitted by October 1. So around the 15th of each month I start to get a little “antsy” if I don’t have a trip that gives me some inspiration for an article and I start to rack my mind for other ideas. In the three years I’ve been doing this, it’s been really amazing how many times I’ve gotten to that point, still at a loss to think of what the heck I wanted to write about that anyone else would care to read when something happened that almost wrote the article for me.
That was the situation on September 18. At the time, I was sitting on the dock next to my boat drinking a beer, feeling sorry for myself because September is always a slow month people- and trip-wise, hoping against hope that someone would come by and want to book a trip. Due to the dearth of trips, I was also wondering what theme I could use for my November article, and Thanksgiving Day was an obvious viable option. I then noticed a new voice mail on my phone. It indicated that the call was from a good long-time customer and now even better friend, Tom Khoury. He’s the president of Action Machinery, one of the leading machine tool and equipment dealers in the U.S., located in Bethlehem, PA. As I’ve mentioned before, in this job you often become so close to your customers that you start to consider them akin to family and vice versa. Trips almost become like family outings. That’s the way it’s become with Tom and me, so I was always excited when I got a call from him because it either involved his plans to come to Key West and book a charter or some bit of good news/’’guy talk” that always brought a smile to my face. Lately, though, I’ve had some trepidation when I get that call. He hasn’t fished with us in a while, in large part because his 30-something daughter Kimberly, who works for his company and whom he loves dearly, has been dealing with a very serious, potentially life-threatening medical condition – breast cancer. That’s been his main focus for a long while but he still calls at least once a month just to check in and find out how my life is going. He usually updates me on his daughter’s condition and the news has always been optimistic. But, still, you never know. So, every time I see his name on the caller ID, I instantly think “let it be good not bad news.” I lost my dad over twenty years ago to a long battle with another serious disease – ALS - and was living across the country at the time. I still remember to this day the knot that instantly gripped my stomach every time I got a call from my mom during that period.
Fortunately this time it was good news. The voicemail said that Kimberly had just the day before finished a seven hour surgical procedure that went perfectly and her prognosis was excellent. I called him back immediately. I don’t know which one of us started to cry first – I’ll selfishly claim it was him – but by the end of the call we both had lumps in our throats and I definitely had tears in my eyes. Funny how good news can make you cry easier than bad, isn’t it?
The ironic thing is that it was a life-threatening illness to one of Tom’s long-term key employees that brought him and me together for the first time several years ago. Because of a dire prognosis in that case, Tom decided to bring that friend/employee and another one to Key West for what might be “one last fling” together. He booked a trip with us and we hit it off instantly. We gave them some extra time on a slow day and finally caught his ailing friend a trophy-size mahi. Tom and I have been close friends ever since.
After Tom hung up, I started to realize how much I had to be thankful for. By the time you read this article in November I’ll be 65. (Did I really just admit that?) While Í have the usual “old man” aches and pains, I don’t need to take any medicines and have never had any really serious medical problem (some people might say “at least not a physical one”) in my entire life. I can perform pretty much any physical function I want. That allows me to run this charter boat as many times as I can; go wherever I want whenever I want; ride my bike as hard as I want; and hit the gym at least a couple of times a week. I don’t need anyone to care for me. My biggest worry is when my next trip will be and what we’ll catch - fairly small items on the big agenda called life. Being healthy is probably the most important gift you can have in life, but we tend to forget that or take it for granted until we get a jolt, such as Tom and I did when his daughter was stricken.
As I pondered that, I also realized that I’ve had a lot of other less important things for which to be thankful this year. My boat ran well and often, catching lots of great fish and precious memories in the process. Roselle Catholic, my old New Jersey high school, decided that I was worthy of a lengthy article about my current occupation in their alumni magazine, which is circulated to thousands of former students. That gave us some great unsolicited exposure to a whole new potential customer base. A lot of old customers/friends came to fish with us, so I got to spend a lot of days with my extended “family” members. One of them, Brian Ford, was even promoted to C.O.O. of the Tampa Bay Bucs earlier this year – a really nice reward for a really nice guy and now great friend. (We had one of his sons hooked up to a marlin in June before it pulled the hook.) A lot of new customers/friends came on board as well, including a couple of now older “boy band” celebrities who chartered us in July. Also in June and July, we were fortunate enough to finish first and second in back to back tournaments we entered, getting us some nice additional “pub” and putting a little extra bit of spending money in my pocket. Adding those factors noted above to living in what has to be one of the greatest towns in the world – Key West; having a great boat – a 47’ Buddy Davis – as my home in the best slip location I can imagine – the A&B Marina on the Historic Harbor Walk; having great neighbors – i.e., the bars/restaurants in and adjacent to the A&B, including the great people who work in them; having a great set of local friends with whom I share countless laughs and beers daily, I realize that I have a whole lot for which to give thanks this year.
I don’t know yet exactly what I’ll be doing Thanksgiving Day, other than it will definitely involve a “happy hour” (or two) in one or more of our neighboring establishments, sharing it laughing with friends. Hopefully, the day will also involve great weather and a great fishing charter with some wonderful people. But even if that latter possibility doesn’t pan out, I know I’ll feel very thankful all day. One thing I definitely know that I’ll do is to make it a point to call Tom to check on his daughter and just spend some time connecting with a great friend. That will be my idea of a perfect Thanksgiving. I would suggest you do something similar. Take the day to assess all the really important things – and I don’t mean money – for which you have to give thanks and share the day with family and/or friends in whatever way you prefer (fishing, maybe?) to celebrate those gifts.
I should add that, because I was reluctant to publicize Kimberly’s illness without her consent, I sent Tom a draft of this article right after I first prepared it and asked him to let me know if he and Kimberly were OK with it. That draft just referenced her disease vaguely, not specifically describing it as breast cancer. Tom responded that, not only were he and Kimberly both fine with the article, she actually wanted it to encourage all women to get early breast exams to try to give as many as possible the best chance for a cure. So, I decided to make the facts of her disease more specific. If that helps encourage even just one woman to get a breast exam that saves her life, then Kimberly, Tom and I will be ecstatic and this will easily be the best article I wrote this year.
Before closing this piece, I’d just like to personally thank all those good friends, customers, neighbors and local acquaintances who helped make our past year down here as great as it was. May all of you have a great Thanksgiving holiday and may you appreciate the good things in your life as much as I do mine.
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