“Gone Fishing” is what the note said on the table. It was nothing new for my father as he enjoyed heading to the lake after a hard day’s work. When my brother came home and saw the note, little did he know it would be the last thing dad would ever write.
Two weeks earlier dad hopped down the steps of my freshman dorm saying, “Two more weeks kiddo and you are all done!,” then he wrapped me in his big daddy arms and kissed my cheek, for the last time. It was the night before finals when my sister showed up in my dorm fishing through her purse for tissues and took me home.
Unbeknownst to us the week before his death, dad had taken his Honda 750 all over town visiting folks he hadn’t seen in months, even years. We found this out as the droves of people who came to the funeral home in waves for hours on end would say, “I can’t believe it, he was just at our house last week.”
For dad it was a matter of genetics. His father’s first heart attack was at 42, my father’s at 46. He was only 54 when he went fishing for the last time. With the only friend he had who was not a believer or proficient in CPR, not that it would have helped.
It was a May evening and dad and Ron were bringing the boat back across the lake when my dad got a big hit on his line and reeled in a lovely specimen, just a tad under regulations. His friend said, “Neil there’s no one around, just keep it, them’s good eatin’.” Dad who had a knack for doing the right thing replied, “No we’ll put him back he’ll make a good keeper next season.”
As they rounded the corner of the lake, the limestone bridge where Route 422 traversed was awash in a golden hue of sunset. Dad said, “That is exactly how I picture heaven; all bright and glittering like that.” Little did Dad know that within moments, he would get to cross over a similar looking bridge into eternity.
Dad had been a rebel in the army and raised his share of heck as a young lad. But his life and my legacy changed when he came across a man who told him about a certain fisherman, a “fisher of men”. The man was Billy Graham in 1968. Billy Graham had gone fishing in Pittsburgh and reeled in a keeper, my father.
From then on my dad changed his life and set out to learn as much as he could about Jesus Christ. He studied, he read and eventually he taught and counseled. This tool and die operator found himself a child of a King and a fisher of men. Many of those he led to the Lord had their own stories during the funeral and some share still years later.
Dad, an avid fisherman and hunter, loved being outdoors in the Lord’s creation but the quietness of a lake, fishing with a friend was truly his favorite place to be. As much as he loved to reel in a bass or a salmon he loved reeling in people to the kingdom.
Ron said that Dad put his rod and tackle against the car and turned around. Ron walking toward dad, saw dad’s face break into a smile. “It looked like he was seeing someone he knew and was happy to see,” Ron later explained. “I thought your brother or someone he knew was behind me. When I turned to look I saw no one. When I turned back around your dad was slumped down with a smile on his face and a peaceful happy look.” Forty-five minutes later, dad was being whisked into an ER but he was already home.
His friend went through a serious health crisis as his blood pressure sky rocketed and depression of losing one of his best friends set in. Through my dad’s witness in his life and in his death, Ron came to know the reason for the smile and gave his life to Christ. That day, the Master fisherman had gone fishing and took home a real keeper. Even to the end, dad was a fisher of men and he did his best to stock heaven.
Neil E. Pilston Sr. January 1932 – May 1985