Sunday, August 19, 2012

Eli helping hold the Flounder "he" caught.
 As one of the fiercest storms to churn the Atlantic, Hurricane Ivan took 25 lives and caused $14.2 billion worth of damage in 2004 when it hit the Gulf of Mexico coasts in Alabama and Florida. Ivan was the most damaging storm to hit the area of Orange Beach and Gulf Shores, Alabama, in 100 years, according to a 2005 report by the National Weather Service. In Ivan’s destructive path was Alabama Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores, Alabama. In addition to buildings and natural losses, the park lost the popular fishing and sightseeing pier that was located off the beach into the gulf. The fishing pier attracted 250,000 visitors a year, according to the state, and was a critical component of the park, which is a top ranked park for the state. Construction of the new pier endured two additional hurricanes, but the $16.3 million project was finally completed in 2009. In March, our family was given an opportunity to go to Orange Beach, Alabama, during spring break for the girls and during Eli’s break between radiation and chemotherapy. I blogged almost daily during that trip except for this one day because it was so special that I didn’t want to just slap it together in a midnight daze. But time has marched on, and I am getting backblogged on writing about special days, so I decided to tackle it today as best I could. Today was Eli’s day of rest. And, so far it has been. His temperature has stayed down as of this writing, his electrolytes have lined up, and he took two bites of applesauce. The half does of Cisplatin probably helped with the immediate symptoms he usually fights, so we take blessings as they are given. If he continues on this path, he will actually discharge on time after his stem cells, which will be a first for us. We hope his immune system will still be up for us to get back to Toys R Us before his counts go down for him to get his end of chemo toy, the big Lego set he was looking at in an earlier picture. Just say a prayer for my patience when I (notice I said “I”) put it together. Please, remember Hunter and his family. I do not know them and they do not know me, but I know the power of the prayer of a righteous person, so how could I not use this site to reach out to you on their behalf. Please, ask our Creator to intervene and thwart the evil of this earth that has taken hold of this innocent child. Thank you for your effort.
Caleb trying to figure out how the reel works.
So, while we were at Orange Beach, we visited the Gulf State Park Pier. It is open 24-hours a day with on-site security, and is the longest pier on the Gulf of Mexico at 1,540 feet long, which is 550 feet longer than the original, and it is 20-feet wide, six feet wider. It features an air-conditioned concession area, restrooms, souvenir, bait and tackle shop, picnic tables, benches, fish cleaning stations, electrical outlets and turtle-friendly lighting for night fishing. The pier attracts the serious angler as well as the curious sightseer. It is a favorite spot for locals and tourists. Remnants of the old pier were recycled as artificial reefs that have been strategically placed around the end of the pier to attract a variety of saltwater fish, including sheepshead, mackerel, redfish and flounder. So, on the kids’ bucket list for the week was fishing. We are not fishermen, but our kids think they really like fishing, so we thought it would be fun for them to do some saltwater fishing. Even when we are at home with our worms and Barbie fishing poles at a pond or on the river, we are pretty clueless, so Vic wanted me to seek help knowing that even the novice fisherman can accidentally hook something scary from the ocean. Eli was still weak, and nauseous, so we wanted to pier fish instead of charter a manned fishing boat. But we didn’t know how to go about getting help to fish off the pier. So, with complete confidence, I turned to our local family for help. I called the office of the church of Christ at Gulf Shores where many of you have seen Eli’s name in the bulletin when you visited this summer. The church secretary, Charlene Quick, whom I had no doubt could hunt down the right person, put me in touch with a real life Go, Diego Go!
GeeGee and Daddy watching for a bite.
Bill Hanks, a retired Kroger Co- Manager, and his wife Bonnie, a retired chemistry teacher, volunteer with a group called Share The Beach to rescue sea turtles and aid the hatchlings during their journey from the beach to the water. Check out the group’s site at www.alabamaseaturtles.com for information and cool video. Bill and Bonnie, their neighbor Monty, and a friend named Mike, who works at their favorite restaurant Nikki’s Seafood Restaurant in Orange Beach and is a local fishing guide, came to our rescue. They contacted Kelly Reetz and Kelly Galloway, who both work for the state park, and they set us up with bait and poles, and we had a unique and fun experience. Bill and his gang were so kind to spend their morning with us even though they didn’t know us at all and we, obviously, were no help except to hold a pole every now and then. They were so patient in showing and teaching the kids about the fish and how they were catching them. And, yes, we caught fish! Big, scary looking ones and Bill caught a three-foot wide stingray that he pulled up to the surface of the water for the kids to look at from over the pier railing. But, no one was interested in pulling it in, so they cut the line. Bill and his wife are real life Animal Rescue Rangers, and the kids were excited to meet them. We would not have been able to have that experience without their help, and we are blessed to know them.
Abbey's participation.

That morning, I wore a St. Jude tshirt, as I often do now, and was walking down the pier to the bathrooms, of course, with the kids behind me in a little duck row. The pier attracts just as many sightseers watching the fishermen as it attracts fishermen, and one such regular was walking past me. Slim in her clam diggers, with a little bag of bread pieces tucked under her arm for the birds or fish, she strolled the pier enjoying the activity. As we approached to pass each other, she put her weathered hand on my arm and motioned at my shirt. With a raspy but cheerful voice she said, “That’s my favorite charity to give to.” She patted me then began to move on. Quickly, I said, “oh, well then let us thank you.” And, I reached behind me and pulled Eli out to step in front. “This is Eli, and he is a patient there. We appreciate your gift to us.” She took a quiet quick breath, startled, and took a small step back looking down from under her sun hat at him. The girls and Caleb popped out from behind like I was some kind of Russian nesting doll. I tapped Eli on the shoulder with a sharp index finger and he looked over his glasses and said “hi” behind gritted teeth. She blinked herself back to the moment and nervously fiddled with her necklace. With enthusiasm she said “Well, hello there, Eli, I am just so proud to meet you.” She stuttered a bit, stalling to find words and I could see the tears welling in her wrinkle-trimmed eyes. Then she said “I’m sorry that you are so sick, but I can tell you are a strong and brave boy, and St. Jude is just a wonderful place…” She cut her words off and nervously crossed her arms and tried to say something else, but just kind of nodded her head and curled a quivery smile and a tear began to escape. She caught it with a quick finger swipe, patted him on the shoulder and took a step to walk on. As she passed she put her trembling hand on my shoulder and said in a raspy voice to my ear “Bless you, child,” and kept walking.

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