Tag Archives: Family

The Unheralded Hero: Bonnie Bach

13173206_10103005628732776_2807476143193203519_oI’ve written extensively in this blog about my father, a man for whom there are not words: he was tough as nails, moral almost to a fault and funny to boot. I’ve sung the praises of my grandmother, who amazes me daily with her strength and optimism.

I don’t, I don’t think, give my mother the credit she deserves… if indeed anyone ever could. Maybe I’m afraid to try to put into words what an inspiration she’s been and how much joy and hope she’s brought into my life… fearing that I’ll come up short.

Were it just the case that she was an amazing woman, who worked her way out of poverty to build a beautiful home and life for her son, that would be almost amazing enough in itself.

But for almost three decades she has struggled with Bipolar Disorder. This is hard to write, and certainly I never would without her permission. And it’s easy to see how far we’ve come as a society when we’re talking about medical advances in cancer research or battling diseases like leukemia, but our understanding and treatment of mental illness is, I promise you, far, far behind.

The doctors and medications that have failed her, at times spectacularly, would bring me to tears to describe. So I won’t.

Her perseverance through those disappointments, those medical attempts to provide her the healthy and fulfilling life so many of us take for granted, is stunning to the point where it almost defies belief.

Anyone who knows anyone who has struggled with mental illness knows that the word ‘struggle’ here is not at all an exaggeration. She has battled it every day with a courage I cannot imagine.

The oldest of 8 before losing a sister to leukemia,  she has helped her sisters whenever she could, and has helped her mom, my grandmother, more than anyone could have imagined she might be able to when their family of 9 was living in a second-story walk-up, using a dresser drawer for a crib for the youngest daughter.

On some days, I’ll either call or stop by the house and I’ll be telling or listening to a story, sharing a memory or a laugh, or talking about my crazy dream of building you a magazine… and I’ll just stop. A wave of realization washes over me about what this woman has been through, overcome, and what she continues to battle every day.

I don’t say it as often as perhaps I should, but not a day goes by when I don’t think: “That’s my mom, damn straight… and thank God she is.”

The ‘We’ Behind Catch a Cure

familypicWhen writing blogs or social media posts concerning Catch a Cure, I’ve tended to use the pronoun ‘we,’ referring to my effort, when addressing those of you kind enough to take a look at my project.

Lately, I’ve felt somewhat foolish, because the pictures you see of a guy holding fish, the pictures you see of a Jeep on the road with a driver, those pictures are (except for the incredible guys I’ve fished with from Oklahoma to the BassOnline crew in Florida to South Carolina) are mostly… well, me.

But I’m not trying to “create” the perception that it’s a team rather than an individual effort, because that’s the furthest thing from the truth.

When I’m home in Upstate New York, I reside at my grandmother’s house. I tell people it’s so that I can help her out (she is 82 and no longer drives and can use a hand with the heavy lifting like laundry, grocery shopping, and the like) but the opposite — namely that she helps me, with almost every aspect of life — is every bit as true, if not moreso.

My aunt, Erin Wheelock, was kind enough to ship out our first online order of shirts the other day, and has helped in numerous aspects of the project as well.

Another aunt, Tara Healey, helped me design the route and contact vendors along the way where I might sell the shirts, and is a source of daily inspiration.

My mother, well… there are not words. She has encouraged every dream I’ve had for as long as I can remember.

My cousins Everett Lockwood, and Joe and Chris Critelli, all roughly my age, are always inspiring me with outdoor ideas, their passion, and we can always pull a funny, hillarious, or outrageous memory from our childhoods to get a laugh when we need one.

We all need a ‘we’ in our lives, and those are some of mine. They have not been as blessed as I have, to travel, to fish, and to meet so many of the amazingly kind anglers that I’ve been fortunate enough to meet, which makes their effort, help and support all the more amazing and selfless.

But to not mention them, recognize them, and thank them… every chance that I get… would be a tremendous mistake on my part. And even if they were not, could not be, with me on the water, on the road, they were with me every step of the way. And to quote the late, great Muhammad Ali: “”Anywhere I go, there is always an incredible crowd that follows me.”

My crowd is smaller, but no less incredible, and I wouldn’t be here, doing this, writing, fishing or fighting cancer without them.

The Heart and Soul Behind Catch a Cure

12091395_10102696255289636_8511669274550224479_oI’ve had a few very kind anglers praise this project, and my ambition to eradicate skin cancer from our planet, and I’m grateful for every kind word, but I’d be remiss to take some kind of credit when there are people, and one specifically, who might not be blogging, who might not be on Facebook, but who is a hundred times the human being I will ever be, and who inspires me every day.

Pictured above is Marilyn Jones, my hero and my best and oldest friend. Ms. Jones, or ‘Nana’ as she’s know to those of us close to her, reminds me every day, every time I’m home, and with each phone conversation, how strong a human being can be, what we can endure, and how we can remain positive.

Marilyn Jones was born in 1934 into poverty, and has worked almost every day of her entire life. More than that, she has created a unique, accepting and loving atmosphere for her seven children and 13 grandchildren… a place where we all feel “home,” in a way we might not anywhere else.

When grandchildren started coming (I was the first in 1986), Marilyn closed up the doors of her yarn shop, where she knitted amazingly beautiful garments and sewed anything that needed mending, and began caring for the next generation. She watched me, my younger cousins, and a host of fortunate toddlers in Upstate New York and saw them through to the beginnings of adulthood. I have friendships to this day that were born in that daycare, and some of my closest friends are from those earliest days.

I am not, nor will I ever be a good enough writer to express how kind and compassionate, strong and beautiful of a woman this is, and I’d do her an injustice just in trying. In a single day, she’ll tell me she’ll mend ripped jeans, cook something delicious for dinner, tell stories from her past that will make you laugh until you cry, or cry until you laugh, and do it all in such a way that reminds you that there is nothing in life you cannot overcome… indeed she has been faced with and challenged by the most heartbreaking of human conditions, whether that was losing loved ones, suffering medical difficulties herself, or… most recently, losing her beloved West Highland White Terrier, Duffy.

But before she even has breakfast or reads the paper, takes her myriad of medications that keep her functioning as best she can, she has an idea for what to do that day, what can be accomplished, what problem can be fixed, what hope can be sewn where there was none before.

She is everything, every day, that I hope that I might some day become, and I am the most fortunate of men to have had her presence in my life for as long as I can remember.

Catch a Cure’s Final Four

12091395_10102696255289636_8511669274550224479_o
Marilyn Jones leads the charge for the #1 Seed.

Alright, I might try to feign being some sophisticated academic at times here, quoting Hemingway and Harrison, but in all honesty, I’m a tattooed, country-music-loving, college basketball fan like most of the rest of you.

In that spirit, I’m creating the “Final Four,” of “Teams,” who have helped this effort more than most. This is in part inspired by the fact my Syracuse Orange are in the Final Four, so I’m paying more attention to the bracket than usual, but also because… well… it sounded fun. Without further ado…

#4: Emerson College: (Key Player: Gian Lombardo): When I executed the first Catch a Cure, I did it during the summer, between semesters at Emerson, where I’m pursuing my graduate degree in Publishing and Writing. In part I was hoping it would serve as a platform for a repeat, with greater sponsorship, but I knew working toward my degree had to come first. Prof. Lombardo, a fisherman himself, helped me build an academic project that would function with, and around, the fundraising project, and the school got behind my effort. Professor Bill Buettler, the Department Chair, and Emerson’s Dean of Graduate Studies, Jan Roberts-Breslin, were key players in getting behind this project, the function of which, in case you forgot, is to build you a magazine by asking what you want to read.

#3: Sponsors (Key Player: Get Vicious Fishing): When I decided to attempt a Catch a Cure repeat, after Buff so generously supported the first installment, I e-mailed everyone in the iCast directory (every company even remotely related to fishing) to solicit support. I sent out more than 100 e-mails detailing my project and my ambition to beat melanoma. Get Vicious, Native Eyewear,Sunology Sunscreen and Hanes and Rick Roth at Mirror Image all responded and got on board. It’s not fair to compare these companies, because some have more resources than others, and they all gave what they could, but Get Vicious agreed to donate up to $500 and contributed prizes for readers to win as well. So, although it’s close, they’re leading the charge from this group.

#2: BassOnline/BassMaster (Key Player: Tyler Wade and Steve Niemoeller): These are the people in the fishing community who came out of the WaterWork to help this project. The guys at Bassonline, almost every one of them, gave this project an essential element that it’d be nothing without: The Fish. It’s a nice idea to “Go try to catch bass on your own from shore,” as some suggested, but when pounds of fish are dollars, put plainly: you need guides. And I had some of the best on this effort. Tyler Wade and the people at B.A.S.S. gave the project a home, a place to live online, and for that I’m forever grateful. Steve Niemoeller, Todd Kersey, and all the guides at BassOnline made sure I had the means to put fish in this project, time and again.

#1: The Joneses (Key Player: Marilyn Jones): No, this isn’t a cliched phrase. My Grandmother, Marilyn Jones, getting back on her feet (literally, in a rehab center) is the old…er… wisest of the Jones family of which I’m the oldest grandson, but she embodies the spirit that exists through my large, Irish-Catholic, loving family. My cousins, Joe and Chris Critelli and Everett Lockwood are some of my best and oldest fishing friends. And my Mom, the oldest Jones daughter, is (and it’s true I’m biased) one of the kindest, most giving and outgoing people you’ll ever want to meet. Throughout this project, my family and extended family have come out of the woodwork to share my project on social media, support my effort and give me hope and faith in my attempt even when things looked bleak. This makes them the far-and-away favorite of the final four.

First Stop: Family

Family is a thing that, the older you grow, the more you appreciate it. When you’re young, the gang’s all there and there’s nothing to soak in or be grateful for. If anything, you’re miffed about having to wait for the bathroom or share the last slice of cake. But as years tick by you find that these people, who wouldn’t have any contact with you were it not for blood relation, are the heart and soul of your future.

So my first stop in Florida was to see my cousin, Chris Critelli. Chris, a few years younger than me, has been an avid outdoorsman his entire life. He has even gone as far as becoming a certified diver (now in training here in Jacksonville) so that he can spend even more time amongst fish than most of us anglers do.

Videos and pictures he has from dives all around the Southeast are incredible. Just seeing the sharks he comes into contact with up close on the screen is amazing. I’ll see if I can send along some videos to you guys going forward.

Without a boat, it was tough to dream up a scheme that’d find us bass fast up here, but it was good to have a place to land. I’ll be moving on from here, but that have that spot to land, that spot that never moves no matter where it travels, is a comforting feeling for anyone.

We talked about fish and Florida late into the night, with the occasional reference to some crazy incident in the past. But whenever you jump, it’s best to first make sure you have solid ground to land on, and I’m grateful I did.

Fish Forward.