A Present From The Past
By Jon Heath
The big guy standing in front of me, with baggy pants, duct-taped gloves, a helmet and goggles, looked like he was born on a snowboard.
I hadn’t really noticed him as I was skiing with (and ostensibly chaperoning) a group of middle-schoolers from my church. I was speaking with one of them about a family situation when another boy from our group tapped my ski pole with his.
“This guy is talking to you.”
“Jon Heath,” the big guy said again, with more certainty now that I was looking in his direction.
Recognizing even one’s own family can be a challenge when bundled in hats, layers of clothes and goggles, so I was at a total loss.
“Who is that?” I blurted out, managing the universal bewildered smile of those in my predicament.
The big guy was standing now, and I glided closer, weaving through my group.
“I was one of your camp-ers,” he said in a playful, sing-song voice. He was enjoying his advantage. He knew exactly to whom he was talking, while I was in the dark. Faces and names flew through my brain. I had worked at camps since I was 17, so there were hundreds, even thousands of faces to sort through.
“Twenty years ago, man.” That narrowed it down. The grinning, mid-thirties, barrel-chested, born-to-ride, 6-foot-tall man didn’t resemble any camper of mine.
“What is your name?” I yelled, with a smile growing wider.
“It’s Dan-ny Tha-all,” the lyrical voice replied and waited for my reaction.
He didn’t have to wait long. The name struck an instant chord, and the man-hug that followed was genuine--and very large. With both of us taller than 6 feet in our boots and well over 200 pounds in our winter garb, gravity quickly took over--and we were on the move. An entwined mass of skis, poles, arms and legs--all more or less piled on top of Danny’s snowboard--was gaining speed.
We managed to take out only one other skier and a small section of rope marking the safety zone around the chairlift. The lift operator, rounding the side of his warming shack, approached with a quizzical expression and his arms held outs in the “what-are-you-thinking” pose.
“That was a 20-year reunion!” I hollered up to him. “Sorry about the rope!”
We were forgiven, but had little time right then to show our gratitude. Twenty years of catching up had begun.
“Hey, Danny, this is my son, Conrad!”
“Whoa. You have children?”
“I have three!”
Danny’s mouth expressed awe and disbelief. His carefree camp counselor, who had chased him through the woods at breakneck speed playing Capture-the-Flag, and chased him even faster out of the girls’ cabins, was Dad … to a teenager.
“Are you here by yourself?” He nodded. “Do you want to ride with us?”
The half-dozen middle school boys were most grateful that the “Hallmark moment” was finally over so they could get back to the snow.
A celebratory mood was in the air. The middle-schoolers were high-spirited, showing off for each other by boasting, racing, jumping and photographing for fireside-bragging purposes later.. Danny and I were ahead of them all, laughing louder, jumping higher and skiing faster. Eventually we left them behind, sure that we would lap them as long as they stayed on the same run.
On the lift, we discussed our lives in detail, and the honesty on both sides was humbling. He was into organic farming now, and had ten acres near the mountain, half a dozen employees, an accountant and a girlfriend he loved.
The boy was surely a man, but my mind’s eye saw a loveable, towheaded imp who was a total “Calvin,” constantly in trouble.
On the runs, we pushed each other to go faster, stop less, and jump longer, gaining confidence and control as the magic of a serendipitous meeting enveloped us.
“How old are you?” Danny asked bluntly, as we caught our breath after one run.
My birthday was less than a week off. Feeling immortal that day, I gave the bigger number.
“Wow, I’m only six years younger than you. We’re practically bro’s now.”
“We are bro’s now,” I quietly replied, quickly adopting the term despite its novelty.
He paused before adding, ”You used to be … bigger.”
He pushed on: “I still worship all you guys, my counselors, Mike and Skip and Bobby.”
In three runs we had caught up to the boys. Danny had been on the mountain all day, and the cookies in his truck were “calling his name.” I was feeling guilty about abandoning the guys, who were perfectly content on their own.
The goodbyes were as heartfelt as the greetings--less intense, but more comfortable. Danny cruised down the mountain, carving a final, beautiful turn in the lengthening shadows with one arm stretched skyward, hand clenched in a tight fist before he pounded on his chest: “Love ya, man.”
I turned back into the mild-mannered “Dad” almost immediately.
“Who was that?” asked one of the boys as soon as Danny was out of sight.
I was silent. I didn’t know how to answer. What words do you use to describe all of that?
“That was you … twenty years from now.”
Jon Heath has been the director of Camp Bow-Isle on Bowen Island, BC for 15 years, and has been associated with camps serving the Christian Science community for his entire career. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org