Uncovering Secrets

Today, the unseen does not go undetected

My mother is well shielded from the sun in her bucket hat, long-sleeved gingham windbreaker and long cotton pants. She is seated at the bow of a heavy, open fiberglass fishing skiff and, while her eyes are shielded by sunglasses, her aspect clearly suggests not celebration, but incredulity, about the improbable fish that she has caught.

The fish remains hooked and is suspended by the wire leader that Mom holds surely with both hands. It is a cloudless day and the waters of Sarasota Bay are near calm. My father’s left arm and hand intrude upon the photo, which sits atop my dresser, from the left; he holds the tail of the orange filefish — it is about a foot-and-a-half long — and has turned it broadside to the camera.

The Creator must have been in a Seussian mood when she came up with the filefish and tagged it with the odd pectoral spine that springs from the top of its head. Unseen are my two brothers and I; we also were aboard.

As a family, we relived the filefish moment often.

Paul Hendrickson, in his remarkable biography, “Hemingway’s Boat: Everything He Loved and Lost in Life, 1934–1961,” quotes the critic Mark Stevens, who found that every photograph has a secret, “something mysteriously and tantalizingly withheld, even when the world seems laid out as plainly as a corpse on a table.” (And, I suppose, there are few things less guarded and unvarnished than a cadaver.)

The photo of my mother holds a secret, one that was not revealed to us until, years after the picture was taken, she was stricken while walking on a beach in Mazatlan, Mexico. Mom, who lost her parents to heart disease, had heart disease.

I can picture very well the yellow wall phone on which I took the call from my cousin, Mary, whose mother had been vacationing with Mom. 

American doctors in Mexico, Mary told me, attempted several bypasses in an effort to save Mom, but what used to commonly be referred to as “hardening of the arteries” had advanced too far. At her funeral, Mom’s doctor apologized to me for not having detected the disease that overtook her, but we didn’t have then the diagnostic tools we have today. I had never thought much about the frequent naps Mom took toward the end.

Today, I am 10 years older than I was when my Mom died. Unlike her, I do not smoke and, unlike her, I trim the fat from the steaks I eat on occasion. And still I run a bit. I could do far better regarding diet and exercise, and I may need to. I’m fixin’ to find out.

Not long ago, I met cardiologist Greg Hartlage with the Southern Medical Group, locally. Greg’s specialty is imaging and he recommended that I submit to a coronary calcium scan, given my family medical history. The test looks for specks of calcium in the walls of coronary arteries. Such “calcifications” are an indicator of plaque, the waxy substance that led to my mother’s early death.

“You want to know,” Dr. Hartlage assured me, and he is right, of course.

And you all will know how things turned out if you see me dining on romaine where once I supped on ribs.

Motivation to adhere to any recommended lifestyle changes won’t be a problem.

As I write this, my second grandson’s arrival is just days away.

And there are countless untold stories to be written.

And there are fish out there with my name on them: gator trout and hawg bass and smoker kings and bull reds. Maybe an orange filefish.

I am not of a mind to believe all things happen for a reason, but just maybe I met Doc Hartlage to ensure that I will live more of those years that Mom missed out on.  

Be well,

Steve Bornhoft


Boys Town girls deserve congratulations

To the poised, confident, proud, strong, respectful, appreciative, tidy, fresh-faced, goal-oriented young women I met late last year at Boys Town North Florida, I wish all the best in 2017. Denied stability for far too long, you have emerged as profiles in courage and resilience.

Thank you for the tour of your family home (see page 26). I have allowed myself to believe that your rooms are always as neat as they were the day I visited.

I encourage you to try foods that you’ve placed on your Yuck List. They wouldn’t be there if they weren’t good for you. Remind yourselves each morning to adhere to the “STOP. THINK. DO.” mantra that your family teachers stress. It’s likely that I have never made a misstep that stopping and thinking wouldn’t have prevented.

Finally, congratulations. You are helping to see to it that Boys Town North Florida is a remarkable chapter in the 100-year history of the organization envisioned by Father Flanagan.

Categories: Director’s Column, Opinion