The church was in full dress this morning. Deep purple cloths embroidered with gold thread adorned the pulpit and lectern while urns and sprays of lilies, roses and carnations were arranged between the two. The thin wisp of clouds that had delayed the dawn had retreated, leaving bright bluebird skies. The morning sunshine awakened the stained glass windows in the church and different hues of blue, red and green gave off a radiant glow. The colored glass diffused most of the suns intensity but several shafts of light penetrated the colored veneer, spotlighting the polished walnut casket at the front of the church.
In twenty minutes, a young woman and her young children would be seated just a few feet away in the first pew. Her dark glasses wouldnt be able to hide the tears or the anguish of becoming a widow and single mother of two.
Outside the church, three men wearing dark suits adorned with red boutonnieres stood together in a tight huddle. The trios body language betrayed their emotions. Their mood was somber and lacked the jovial nature when the four of them, now three, normally got together. They didnt know what to say but stood close in close proximity as a way to support one another in their mutual loss - a silly one because it could have been prevented.
"Pam wanted to read his obituary at work but she couldnt remember how to spell Jabczynski so she typed in "drowned kayaker" into her search engine," said Bert, the tallest of the three friends. "What she saw was pretty sobering."
"She was expecting to find the newspaper story about Franks death but she found page after page of unhappy stories about kayak accidents and fatalities - and all of them were from this year. One fellow died because he capsized in rough conditions and drowned when he couldnt get back in the kayak. Another died when he capsized and succumbed to hypothermia. Another died of a heart attack when he took a kayak excursion during a Caribbean cruise."
"Well, at least we dont have to worry about heart problems for a while," said Mutt, the shortest one of the group who was known to his fishing buddies by his nickname.
"True, but what about your uncle, or his buddy Joe? They arent spring chickens any more. Do you remember how red in the face Joe was after our last fishing trip? We need to make sure they dont over do things," replied Bert.
"Kayaking is a very safe sport overall but accidents do happen. Pam put her foot down and let me know that I cant go on another fishing trip with you guys until I take a safety course. I looked online last night and the American Canoe Association has all types of classes we can take," Bert continued.
"Well, I dont know," said the third angler. "It seems like a lot of work to me. How long does it take? And how much does a course cost?"
"They have all sorts of classes. I am going to take the Introductory to Kayaking class. It takes six to eight hours," said Bert.
"Why the introductory class?" asked Number Three.
"I have been paddling with you guys for five years," Bert responded, "and I was a bit put off by the title of the course, but once I read the syllabus I realized that the course teaches you how to recover if you capsize. I dont know how to do that. Do you guys?"
"Not really," Mutt admitted. "The kayak shop never mentioned that there are safety classes available. I got the feeling that they just wanted to sell me stuff."
"But you still havent told us how much a safety class costs," said Number Three.
"Most of the courses cost about a hundred bucks. Thats not much money in the grand scheme of things. About 8 spools of monofilament," said Bert.
"Or a fill up," Mutt added quickly.
Silence enveloped the friends huddle, each of the anglers pondering the cost of a safety class in their mind and wishing they could spend it now to bring their friend back
"I am going to really miss fishing with Frank. He was a great friend. He died way too early," Mutt concluded.
"Guys, I have to admit I am going to have a really hard time with this," Bert said to his friends with resigned confidence. His angling buddies nodded and stared at their shoes, doing their best to avoid eye contact in order to minimize the risk of seeing a good friend cry.
The funeral director standing at the front door of the church signaled the pallbearers to assemble inside the church, saying simply, "Gentlemen, its time." One by one, the three friends made their way into the church to bid farewell to their fishing companion.