The call came in - as it always does - in the middle of the night. And when the phone's jangle rips you from slumber at 2 a.m., you just know the news is not good. And it wasn't.
After pounding out more than a million freeway miles, Vern Johnson finally missed his exit.
A traveling salesman, Vern, 64, had been covering the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida since 1981. After 20 years in a first career as a tool and die maker, he'd struck out on his own with Eagle Sales, selling everything from custom molds to custom signage.
I remember how excited he'd been setting up the new company and acquiring all the then-new technology. Copier, car phone, message recorder. But even with it all, he'd insisted on doing his sales calls the old fashioned way, face to face.
As is often the case in automobile crashes, Vern had only purchased the now-totaled vehicle weeks before. He'd gotten the new van reluctantly after his old Chevy Astrovan finally faded after 600,000 miles. I'd often chided him to tell Chevy of the van's tenacity, do commercials and retire. But he just laughed it off, never calling, relentlessly racking up the miles. And w hen the old van finally tired out, Vern refused to trade it in, retiring it instead to hauling him into the woods for hunting excursions. You'll never convince me that the old van would've let him miss that exit.
Vern had been through a lot. The only boy in a family with four other sisters, he'd watched his father die at age 10, crushed to death while shielding Vern from the collapsing barn they'd run to for protection from an advancing Wisconsin tornado. After high school he served a stint in the army, got married, graduated from trade school, and became the father of three boys.
Less than two decades later, he lost his wife to cancer, leaving him alone to raise the 14, 11 and 8-year-old boys, as if thrown into a real life "My Three Sons." Somehow he'd made it, the kids grew up responsible and he'd been remarried 20 years now.
And now the phone call.
The news could've been worse. A concussion, a broken vertebrae, some stitches. He'd be laid up for quite awhile but he'd pull through OK.
But what if he hadn't? Had I told him everything I'd been meaning to say? Had I ever thanked him for all those years of upbringing while he was handling his own crisis's? Had I told him of the great example he'd been? Had I ever told him that the older I got, the smarter he looked?
It was a scary thought. One split second, one missed exit, and I'd have lost my chance forever. Luckily, there's still time to say thanks. And what better time than today?.
Thank you, Dad.
Mike Johnson is an energetic writer & entrepreneur. Learn more about Mike's offerings at www.MikeJohnson.biz