I woke to the news of Dick Enberg’s death and it made me so very sad. Not just because I am a huge sports fan and his voice was like butter for me, but because I think he was my angel Gabriel. He is the central part of a story that some could dismiss as serendipitous, but I saw as a direct message from heaven.
It was one year after my husband’s death. Looking back, I was still in the fog that follows such devastating loss, but I had somehow survived a chapter of my life that also featured lice, mice and a squirrel in the house.
Six years ago, I summarized my “touch with greatness” for some friends in an email, and I pulled it out of my Sent Items folder today. I think it is a message that bears repeating…as an ode to one of the world’s greatest sportscasters who foretold his own epitaph, but also as a soothing reminder to all of us who live with the pain of loss that is exacerbated during the holidays. Heaven’s messengers are all around us. Our hearts just have to be open to hear.
From: Katie Parks [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Friday, August 19, 2011 8:40 AM
Over the last year, there have been numerous occasions where I’ve thought I could write a book entitled You Can’t Make This Sh*t Up. Some chapters would be ironic, some heartwarming, and some just plain sad where the reader (much like the protagonist) would think, “Are you kidding me? How much more is the main character going to have to deal with in this short span of time?” And some would send chills down your spine where the reader (much like the protagonist) sees clearly that heaven can speak to us here on earth.
Last night, a new chapter was drafted.
Maddie, Clare, Fletcher and I are enjoying a beautiful week Up North…perfect weather, complete relaxation. Last night, Clare picked where we would go out to dinner. (Very few chapters in this book will involve cooking at home.)
Clare picked the Weathervane in Charlevoix because “she’s never been there.” “Of course you have,” I reply. “I don’t remember,” she says.
How can she not remember? As many of you know, it’s a restaurant that feels a little trapped in the 70s, next to a drawbridge and waterway that connects Lake Charlevoix’s Round Lake to Lake Michigan. There’s a whole line of windows where you can watch the traffic in the channel. And the whitefish is fantastic.
“I don’t think I’ve eaten in there,” she insists. Of course she has. How could she not remember, years ago, when we stood in the crowded bar waiting for our table, and were surrounded by a bunch of old men who were there for their Central Michigan reunion? Didn’t she remember when Dad pointed out Dick Enberg among the crowd? “Who?” Maddie and Clare say in unison. Sigh.
So, I tell them the whole story about how when Mr. Enberg passed by us, Dad and I shook his hand and told him what huge fans we were. And then I gushed babbling on about how much I love basketball and there was no one who could call a game like he and Al McGuire, and I’m sure that’s part of the reason why I went to Marquette because I loved Al and everything good in my life is a result of that decision to attend Marquette University.
I didn’t remind the kids of the part where Pat gently pulled me away from the increasingly frightened broadcasting legend saying, “No more chardonnay tonight, dear.”
Fast forward, Lord knows how many years, to last night when we re-enter the Weathervane and find it much less crowded with people but so packed with memories that I have trouble making my way past the host stand.
I am quickly pulled out of my reverie as we pass all these beautiful, albeit EMPTY, tables right up against the windows with clear views of the water. I think to myself, “Where the hell is she taking us? I want to sit there…and there…and there.” We end up in the back of the restaurant in a little round room, and despite the fact we usually like being among the hustle and bustle, from this table all three of us can clearly watch the channel, and just as we are seated, a huge sailboat with really rich looking people sitting on the deck holding wine glasses and wearing pastels serenely passes by the window. OK, this will do, I guess.
I sit with my back to the rest of the room. I open my menu, comforted by the fact that it really hasn’t changed and the yummy whitefish is still there. I’m about to point out the shrimp feature to Clare when…. no. This cannot be. I must be dreaming. Or having a stroke. I haven’t had an ounce of alcohol. Yet. So, I’m not hallucinating. That voice. Oh…my… God… that voice.
I turn my head ninety degrees and see that I am sitting shoulder to shoulder with Dick Enberg.
“That’s him,” I mouth to the girls. “Who?” they mouth back. (Although Clare’s was more of a stage whisper. On a stage for the hearing impaired.)
I pull out my phone, Google Dick Enberg and pass the phone around the table. Even the kids have chills running down their spines at this point. Freaky. This man who I just rambled on and on about on the ride over, who was witness and voice to many of the greatest sports events in my lifetime…Wimbledon, major golf tournaments, the Olympics, Super Bowls, World Series and best of all, college basketball, is now SITTING NEXT TO ME? Unbelievable.
For the next 20 minutes, I had the BEST EVER eavesdropping experience in the HISTORY of eavesdropping, as it was just Mr. Enberg talking with his fraternity brother from college. After that, the fraternity brother’s family joined the table and it became a little less exciting.
But in those 20 minutes, he talked about the upcoming US Open that will be his last one for NBC. He recalled story after story about tennis, basketball, Angels’ games, Padres’ games, and the Olympics. He said that he was asked a question recently that no one has ever asked him before, “How would you like to be remembered?” He paused, and my heart was racing, just like it has as he’s paused before a putt, a serve or a foul shot. As he paused, I gave my very best death stare across the table that clearly communicated to my children, “Anyone chooses to open their mouths now will live to regret it.” Even the waiter felt the vibe and stayed away.
Then Mr. Enberg went on to say that so many commentators today feel a need to be part of the entertainment, are misguided into thinking they need to add to the natural drama of sport and are just talking too damn much. He said, “I would feel happy if, one day, it reads on my tombstone, “He was never called for interference.”
HOW AWESOME IS THAT??????????
So as our dinner ended, I said to the girls, “I’m gonna say something to this guy, and if you are too embarrassed to handle it, you might as well just go to the car now.”
Florence Griffith Joyner never moved as fast as those two did.
So I, quickly and succinctly, (unlike this email) apologized for the interruption, recalled the circumstance of our first meeting in this restaurant and the irony of seeing him tonight after our year of incredible loss. He and his dinner companions peppered me with a few questions about Pat and how we met, which prompted me to bring up Mr. Enberg’s voice-over on Marquette’s recent Father Wild video and how great it was. (He hasn’t seen it yet! MU better send him a copy.) I told him it was perfect, and that my response upon receiving it via email was “I could listen to Dick Enberg read the phonebook. His voice just warms my heart.”
I then told him that I believe that God has a way of letting us know that everything is going to be all right, and often that message is sent through other people. Tonight, I believe it was sent through him. Mr. Enberg got up from the table and his prime rib (that, btw, he ordered “as rare as possible”) and gave me the biggest, warmest, nicest hug that I think I’ve had in….well, just over a year.
I’m telling you…you can’t make this sh*t up.
Rest in peace, Mr. Enberg.