As the dawn of December 25th, 2007 began, so did the unknown of the events that would begin to unfold.  Much like so many others, my wife and I exchanged gifts with each other, shared a cup of coffee, and began to get ready.  Every year for Christmas morning, my family gathers at our house for my mom to make a huge breakfast.  This tradition goes back 36 years to when my parents first bought the house, and has continued since my wife and I bought it 3 years ago.  This year would change the tradition for every year to follow.

For the first time we would be going to my sister’s house for breakfast.  The atmosphere would be different.  The conversations would go from retelling the hunting stories of all the hunting pictures on the walls, to probably talking about general life.. life outside of hunting and archery.  As the 9:00 am hour approached, we climbed into our car and drove off.

As the breakfast table was cleared, the excitment started to build.  It was time to exchange gifts. Again, this year, it is different.  As each person takes there turn to give a gift to everyone else and watch them open, the nervousness and fear begins to set in… I’m next in line.  Just like everyone else, I typically give a gift that is unnecessary in cost, but one that still brings a smile. This year is different.

This year, I hand a card to every person at the same time.  In place of a gift that took away my savings, they all get a letter to read.  However, each letter is different.  Each letter is an explanation to why I love that person, what they have done in my life, and thanking them.  To follow was a discussion that most parents do not want to hear from their last born.  A discussion that I had been diagnosed a week earlier with cancer.  The hour to follow was a blur, but the ending comment that was made by my dad is one that will not be forgotten.   Since treatments are available at this time, he said, “There is a difference between having a house, and having a house on fire.  One gives you comfort, security and hope.  And we all still have those things”.

The significance of that comment would be greatly increased in just four short hours.  As my wife and I headed back home and pulled on to our street at 2:45 pm, we saw the fire department completing the task of putting out the flames of our home.  When we left in the morning, a candle that was forgotten to be put out had fallen over onto the carpet.  A home that had been in our family had just lost 3 complete rooms and the rest was destroyed from smoke damage. At 3:45, the fire department cleared the home and allowed my wife and I to enter for the first time.  As we walked around in complete disbelief and shock, we made our way to the basement. 

Even with everthing upstairs being ruined, everything in the basement was untouched.  My wife’s wedding dress in storage, our wedding album, my archery equipment.. all untouched.

As the days to follow unfolded with little sleep, black powder season opened in Ohio.  To get away from all the work and stress, I was convinced to go hunting with my dad, my dad’s long time friend, my brother in law, and my wife’s uncle.  As the darkness started to fade, so did my stress.  The woods started to fill me with hope, comfort, and excitement for things to come.  Shortly after day break, at about 9:30, the silence of the woods was broken.  I had just taken the biggest buck of my hunting career.

As our group stood around the deer taking pictures, and the hand shakes and high fives were given out, I saw it.  When I saw it, I finally knew exactly what it meant.  I looked into my dad’s eyes, the one who taught me to hunt, the one that got me excited about archery, the one that helped me develop my passion for the outdoors… he did it again.  He taught me another life lesson, and seeing myself surrounded by friends and family doing what I love to do, I realized..

“There is a difference between having a house, and having house on fire”.