This year, Easter happened on the same weekend as the third anniversary of my dad’s passing (April 6). At the Foundation, we plan special tributes like #pickupforjose. We asked people to collect trash in and around the water as away to connect with my dad’s passion for the environment. I am always very grateful for the positive things that have happened to me since I lost my father. Some of the best things are the memories, bonds and the additions to the Spanish Fly family. Some of our fishing trip recipients were at my wedding. Some came to the hospital two weeks before the wedding after Dave had a bad fall down the flight of stairs at our stilt home. His head got into a fight with the concrete at the base of the stairs and the concrete won! Thankfully, he made a full recovery and the support we received certainly helped. We are even lucky enough that after their trips with the Foundation, they come back to visit on their own time.
One such visit was from the Foundation’s very first “Wish Family”: Tyler Murdoch, his Mom Danny, and his dad Gary. They arrived on Easter, April 5. Dave and I had them over for Easter dinner, and our good friend Jeswyn prepared a wonderful meal, Dave was teaching Tyler to tie flies, while Danny, Gary, and myself caught up.
Tyler is sooo big now! He was shorter than me when we first met in November of 2012. Now he is at least 3 inches taller. They grow up so fast. I remember hearing these types of comments when I was growing up. Now I am the one making them!
We had planned spending the day fishing and picking up trash along the way. It seemed only fitting that we started our trip on my dad’s 34 foot Seavee with Dave as the captain. The last time Ty was here he fought a sail for 45 minutes before it broke off. He wanted to try again! We spent a lot of time catching ballyhoo on a sibiki. For some reason, I love catching bait, and this was no different for Tyler. We chummed them up enough for Dave to throw a cast net on them expediting the process. We were now prepared, so we headed offshore to do some trolling, looking for frigate birds to lead us to the fish.
As we traveled, I started to reminisce about Ty’s first trip through Make-A-Wish Foundation. He was very quiet and it seemed 90% of what he said was “yeah” or “oh yeah”. Trying to get a picture of him smiling … ugh! Since Tyler’s Wish was filmed for the last season of the show I had to digitize the video. While I was doing this it became even MORE obvious how little he said. When Tyler came for this trip he would talk and talk. What a difference. AND he was smiling! This time when he would say “yeah,” we would respond with “Oh yeah”. It became a running, light hearted joke.
Humor is needed in a family that has dealt with so much pain. Tyler has Gardner syndrome, a hereditary condition shared by his mom Danny. It is a condition characterized by multiple polyps in the colon and tumors outside the colon. To make things worse, fibrous tumors may be provoked by surgery on the colon. There is no known cure and it can be unbelievably painful. Danny shared with me that a few months ago she had some bowel blockage as a result of earlier surgery. She had a different type of surgery than Ty since she had her’s when she was younger. It is very dangerous to repeat the surgery to unkink the bowel. Danny was in intense pain, turning gray and vomiting from the pain. She told me how bad she felt for thinking this, but she said “You would think that I was thinking about my kids, or my husband. All I could picture was the Keys, and how I would not die until I got to come back.” They are planning on moving to Florida in 2-3 years. That was all the more reason to make sure this trip was special.
While we trolled for sailfish, we could pick up the normal plastic bottles, and bags you usually find in the ocean. The first piece of unique trash was two bright yellow pillows. Ty’s family drove down here, and at one of their hotel rooms they left their pillows. We joked about how they could take these home.
SO the trash was the easy thing to find…not so much the fish. We caught some bonito, cero mackerels … nothing crazy. We came up on a gas tank type-thing with barnacles clogging the opening. It was a pain to get it in the boat considering it was so heavy with all the water in it. Good thing we had a young guy on the boat that won’t throw their back out when lifting stuff.
Tyler was on trash duty.
As we started making our way back, we got a bite. Sailfish!!! The previous sail he hooked up on his Wish trip had been filmed. Mikey (my dad’s old employee) was in his face taking pictures for media content. While Tyler was fighting this fish, he said, “Krissy get over here and take some Mikey Torbisco pictures.” It was funny because he was so freaked out by the cameras the first time. This fish danced like you wouldn’t believe – one jump after another! Tyler got the fish to the boat, Dave grabbed the leader, and it popped. If you touch the leader it’s considered a caught fish, which this fish was. But Tyler said something that made me so proud … I told him that I was sorry we didn’t get a picture with it. He said “Just being able to see that fish jump like that, AND to see him so close up is plenty for me. I think that is what your dad would say.” This young man has really grown up.
A few days later we went back on the water. Dave had a charter, so Neil who works for the Foundation and is also a captain, brought us out. We picked up some more trash and came up on a body suit that was floating in the water. We circled around it and caught some jacks and schoolie mahi.
Tyler never caught a mahi before … and still hasn’t. He hooked one, got it to the boat, and the line swam around the prop. Gary held Neil’s legs while he went over the motors to cut the line out. After we circled the suit a few times, Tyler grabbed the gaf and grabbed it out of the water. We were only going to do a half day, but while we were a mile away from the yacht club, we ran into a school of Jacks busting everywhere. We got there at 1pm. Gary and Tyler hooked up one after the other while Neil drove around in circles. We got back to the marina at 3:30. Time sure flies when you are catching.
At the marina, Tyler was talking about the T.V. show “Wicked Tuna.” TJ Ott (his boat is the Hot Tuna) keeps his boat at the same marina and when we passed it, I pointed it out. Tyler went on about how TJ was his favorite. TJ has done a trip for us before in the past, and lives in Key West when he’s not filming. I called him for a favor, and luckily, he was in town. “Our first Wish kid is down here, and he keeps talking about you. Can you say hi?” “Of course!,” TJ said. I told Tyler to come over to the truck so I could listen on speaker since it was loud outside. TJ said “hi” and explained who he was. Tyler’s eyes lit up! Tyler, from the “Wicked Tuna” show and boat named “Pinwheel,” was with TJ. TJ asked if he wanted to say hi to him? If you don’t watch the show, Tyler’s role is kind of the “Punk” character. Our Tyler said “No, I really don’t like him.” We got a good laugh out of that. Tyler from the show isn’t the Tyler you see in person. He actually is a very kind, thoughtful, and polite young man … at least to me.
We hung up, and TJ texted me that he was going to come down and say hi. Tyler was so excited. They talked about fishing and got some pictures. Costa Sunglasses donates a pair of shades to everyone who comes on a trip with the foundation. Tyler lost his, and we had one pair at the house, but the lens was cracked. He was using the cracked pair. TJ looked at them and asked him if he liked the style that are called “Permits?” TJ walked to his truck, and grabbed him a pair that he had in his car – a brand new set of Costas! A personal pair from TJ! He was pumped.
We left the marina to get cleaned up before heading to the Square Grouper Bar and Grill for dinner. Lynn Bell, the owner, has been nothing short of amazing to the families, and the Foundation. I am so happy for her, and her new addition to the Grouper…a tapas bar upstairs and shuffleboard! We ate deliciousness (empanadas, pork belly sliders AND THE SOFT PRETZEL…prepare to be wowed!) Dave and Tyler played shuffleboard to round out a truly priceless visit.