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Old Fisherman’s Tale

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                           Old Fisherman’s Tale



by Ed Heckard


Thursday afternoon, May 14, 1998, my older sister, Sue, and I packed up my car in Seattle and headed for the coastal community of Long Beach, WA. We were born and raised in Long Beach, the largest of five small towns on the Long Beach Peninsula. The peninsula is located in the Southwest corner of Washington, a 3.5 hour drive from Seattle.

Although our father had passed away in ’96 and our mother was not doing well in assisted living in Seattle, we four siblings still had the family home in Long Beach.

My intention for heading to the coast was admirable. While Sue was going to clean up our home’s flower beds, I had a loftier goal in mind. I was going to join a group of volunteers spending Friday and Saturday sprucing up Lone Fir Cemetery prior to the following weekend’s Memorial Day services. My father was buried in Lone Fir. Mom and I had plots there as well. The local Funeral Director and cemetery association had extended our family special consideration when it came to my father’s burial and headstone arrangements. I wanted to show my gratitude for their kindness.

Friday morning I gathered up a shovel, rake, a couple smaller garden tools and gloves prior to heading out to Lone Fir. I had read about the spruce-up party in the local paper. I knew it started both days at 9:00 A.M.. I was apprehensive driving the short 2 miles east of town as I began to wonder if anyone would even remember who I was. It had been 17 years since I had been working at the beach prior to moving to Seattle for more fruitful job (and dating) opportunities. This was besides the fact that, in years past, I was better known sitting at the bar of the local watering hole than being among a group of cemetery work party volunteers.

If by chance anyone is still reading this tale, you’re probably wondering, “For crying out loud…is there a run or isn’t there?” Sorry, no run on my radar…I’ve got work to do. 9:00! Here I am…alone. Where is everybody? Where is anybody? I hope kin of that black bear we saw while picking blackberries up here 40 years ago aren’t lurking around the nearby bushes. 9:30…a car can be heard in the distance.

Up drives Edie Shier, a cemetery board member and all around wonderful lady. Edie is of my parents generation and I have known her since childhood. All is well with Edie in the house! She quickly put me to work clearing out an overgrown unsightly patch of vegetation intruding on a nearby covered gazebo. At first glance this appeared to be a manageable task. However in about 15 minutes I was becoming more & more surprised at how stubborn and sharp this vegetation could be. Compounding this I was beginning to wonder when anyone else was going to show up.

Long story short (at least this part), I barely made it to lunch time. It was shocking how the little work I did that morning took such a toll on my body (and mind). I had not done manual labor for close to 20 years. With obstinate sticker brush, scratched arms, sore knees and a stiff back, my enthusiasm for work parties was quickly fading.

No one else showed up that morning so I garnered the courage to tell Edie I was going to lunch and would she mind if I didn’t return until tomorrow morning (Saturday). She was gracious regarding this request as she thanked me for helping and bid me adieu.

While driving back to the house I could feel myself reverting to my old self. The one who, for years at the beach, found the only tools my hands took a liking to were golf clubs, softball bats and pool cues.

When I got home we called in a ‘to go order’ of two cheeseburger baskets and shakes from Chuck’s Drive-In. Chuck’s was a popular dining spot in town & fortunately for us, a mere two blocks from our house. Sue & I enjoyed a leisurely lunch. She was delighted to be home for some quiet time and we reminisced about the good times we had growing up in Long Beach.

It was about this time I began to feel the strong urge to bag the next day’s (Saturday’s) volunteering at the cemetery. I would instead, with my sister’s blessing, drive to Skamokawa, WA and enter the “Great White Tail Deer Run”. Sue has always been supportive of my running and quite aware of my penchant for play over work. Receiving her approval to enter the run was a piece of cake.

I had packed my running gear as, when home, I enjoyed a jog or two along some of the old routes I used to take when I took up jogging in 1980. Also, in the back of my mind, I was aware of the weekend’s White Tail Run. Saturday morning I was off to Skamokawa. It’s about a 55 minute drive east of Long Beach. The town is in Wahkiakum County, just west of the County Seat community of Cathlamet. The closest town of any size is Longview, a 25 minute drive further east.

I knew of this run not only through the listing in Northwest Runner Magazine, but through a friend of mine, Mike Matthews. Mike was one year behind me at Ilwaco High School. Located on the Long Beach Peninsula the high school’s entire student body totaled 200. I graduated in ’63, Mike in ’64. We were teammates on the football, basketball and track teams.

The town of Ilwaco has a slogan of “The Salmon Fishing Capital Of The World”. Hence the high school’s nickname: Fishermen. In May of ’98 Mike was finishing a 30 year career as a school teacher. He spent most of that time teaching in the Naselle-Grays River Valley School District.

This picturesque countryside, surrounded by the Willapa Hills, is where, for many years, my dad, uncle, brother and I spent many an enjoyable day hunting deer or elk. Mike and his wife, Diane, live in Rosburg, a tiny town 10 minutes west of Skamokawa.

For 3-4 years Mike had encouraged me to come down from Seattle to run The White Tail. My running was so hit and miss I hadn’t. This year was different. I was running well (at least for me). The week prior I had won my age division (50-54) in a 10K at the first annual Red Cross Run held at Seward Park. It was held in a drizzle and I clocked in at 41:37. Mike was also running well. Earlier that Spring he had run a 5K in Portland in 19+, a time I found intimidating. If we were to compete in the same race today, I knew I had my hands full.

The Run is held in Skamokawa at the Julia Butler Hansen National Wildlife Refuge. In addition to protecting endangered deer, the refuge is a wintering area for waterfowl on the Pacific flyway. Eagles, heron, swan and elk populations are easily seen there. 1998 was the 14th annual running of this 4-H fundraising event. (3) Races (10K, 5K and 2 Mile) were to begin at the same time and place. They also were to run in the same direction. The shorter the run the sooner the runner would be turning around and heading back to the finish line (the original starting point).

Day of Race Registration entry fee was $8.00; $12.00 with shirt. It was good to see Mike and Diane and we spent an hour or so visiting prior to the race. Also at the run were Richard & Barbara Olafson. As Silver Striders are aware, these two know the hidden gems of road races in Western Washington. My fears of a showdown with Mike were alleviated when he stated he was running the 5K. I was entering the 10K so I immediately felt 10 lbs. lighter. 3 Minutes to the starting time of 10:00 A.M. there couldn’t have been 35 of us toeing the line and that was for all (3) races!

Ed Heckard (left) age 51, 1st O/A 10k and Mike Matthews, 1st O/A 5k.    Gold medals plus blue ribbons.

We had caught a beautiful morning and I had long forgotten any real or imagined aches and pains I had picked up during the previous day’s couple hours labor at the cemetery. I felt good. I was running about 3rd or 4th in the first mile and didn’t notice any 2 mile runners make their turnaround as they were probably mostly walkers behind me. However at the 1.5 mile turnaround for the 5K runners the 2 or 3 runners in front of me turned and headed for home. Low and behold, I see Mike leading the pack by a comfortable margin.

Holy Smoke Batman! What’s going on here? Not only is Mike leading, I’m also now leading the 10K. I’m far from comfortable in this position. I haven’t led a race since high school, 35 years ago. How could this be? There is no one to pace me. Heavens, I could take a tumble at any moment, worse yet, my legs could give out.

After making the 3.1 mile 10K turnaround I could see I was not going to be challenged. For the most part I settled in, enjoying the moment while attempting to maintain a smooth tempo. I broke the tape in 41:27. Mike was also 1st overall in 19:14. (2) former Ilwaco Fishermen, now in our early 50s, had each won our respective race.

The morning brought credence to the adage “the best thing about memories…is making them.”









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