Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Hidden Treasures

I have done my best to stay in contact with people during this time of isolation. I’ve called friends to check in on them, I’ve kept in touch with my family daily and connected with others on Face Book. My Bible study group is meeting online. I may not see many people face-to-face, well, at least no closer than six feet apart, but I don’t feel alone.

I’m also trying to embrace this time of isolation doing all those things on the “to do” list. We all have that list somewhere, even if we carry it around in our heads. So far, I’ve cleaned out cabinets and my office has never looked better. I’m painting a picture and of course writing. But one task I set out to do this week afforded me a wonderful, unexpected experience.

When I moved into my current home, I boxed a number of items, labeled them, and never opened them again. I knew some of what was in each box but decided it was time to take a second look. One box had a collection of writings I’ve worked on since I was a child. Seriously. I read a few of my musings and laughed out loud. Another box held an assortment of books from when I taught. I taught everything from kindergarten to college so you can imagine what that box looks like. 

The last box I opened, at least for now, contained pictures and old newspaper clippings. I rummaged through the pictures amazed at how young I was when Tom and I married. I looked at old report cards, both his and mine. 

Then, in an unmarked envelope I found a newspaper clipping. I remembered it. Tom’s mother gave it to me. It was a story printed in the Tampa Tribune in 1969. It was the account of how Tommy Waters of Lutz, had rescued a man drowning in the lake. I knew the story.

June 1969…Tom finished his junior year and school was out for the summer. He and his family were eating dinner when a neighbor ran toward the house screaming. Two men were in trouble in the lake. Tom’s sister told me how he jumped up and over the table, shoved his way through the latched screen door and bounded toward the water. He dove in and helped one of the men onto the dock where his neighbor, a disabled veteran stood and helped the sputtering young man. People nearby told Tom there was another man. Somewhere.

Tom dove again but found no trace of the man. He surfaced for air and because he knew this lake so well, he widened his search to the end of the dock where dredging caused the lake bottom to slope down nearly fifteen feet. He suspected the second man could have drifted into that area. Tom later told me he needed more air when he spotted the lifeless body. He feared that if he surfaced for air he would lose the man and the man would lose his life. So he pressed on. 

Tom pulled that man out of the water and onto the beach. He started mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. He had learned the rescue technique in Boy Scouts from the town doctor, Dr. Gates. Shortly after he started breathing life into the man, the life squad arrived on the scene. Since Tom was making progress, doing everything as he should and had established a rhythm, the life squad volunteers stood aside and let him continue. Slowly the man responded and the volunteers took over. 

Tom Waters became a local hero.

But as I held the newspaper clipping in my hand I realized something I never considered before. The man’s name. I’ll protect his privacy here and call him Bobby Shoemaker. The article disclosed he was twenty years old and a student at the University of South Florida. His name. His age. His school. More than I ever knew before. I’m not sure Tom ever knew. He wasn’t boastful about it and didn’t understand all the fuss people made. In his eyes, he did what anyone would do.

I looked at the paper again. “I wonder…” I Googled the name and found a Robert Shoemaker in Tampa. Three, actually, but one of them was seventy-one-years old. That would be about right. A few more clicks, a little investigating and I had a phone number.

I called. A woman answered. 

“Is this the residence of Robert Shoemaker?” I asked.

“What is your business?” she asked. She wasn’t rude. She was merely screening calls.

I told her about the article and that my husband pulled a twenty-year-old Bobby Shoemaker from the lake in 1969. There was a pause.
Then she said rather quietly, “You’ve found him.”

Jenny Shoemaker and I talked of the accident and the near death experience. It turns out Robert nearly died again on the way to the hospital. He was traumatized by the event and had no recollection of the day. 

“All we ever knew,” she said, “was what his sister heard. That a man pulled him out of the water and saved his life.”

I had to smile. “You can tell him that man was sixteen-years-old.”

Robert spent time in the hospital and has lasting effects of the lake water that filled his lungs that day. However, he managed to finish college, get his masters degree and make a good life for himself.

“He’s been a wonderful husband and father. He’s always volunteered in the community and still volunteers now that we’re retired. We’ve had a good life,” she said. “Because of your husband.” I could hear the crack in her voice. I understood. 

What treasures are you uncovering during this time of staying home?


  1. Such a cool story. Great to talk to you today!

    1. Thank you, Adam! I so loved talking with you and I look forward to helping you any way I can. You are another "connection story" in my life!

  2. What a remarkable and wonderful story. Really inspirational. Thank you so much for sharing!

    1. Thank you, Silvia! I am so glad you enjoyed this. The experience has certainly helped me cope with this "shelter in place" time of my life!

  3. And that is one of the good things about the internet. So sweet!

    1. "For such a time as this"...right Janet? Thank you so much for reading and encouraging. We are in this life-walk of widowhood and pandemic and understand. I appreciate our friendship.


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