Mar 12, 2019

Paying It Forward

Memorable day helping nephew harvest his largest deer offers opportunity to reciprocate kindness

By Tony Blando 

I love the concept of paying it forward – responding to someone’s kindness by being kind in turn to someone else.

I’ve been blessed with great parents, siblings and other family and friends who’ve been very good to me. I know none of them are keeping score, but if they were – and this life I live were a football game – I’d probably be down by a couple touchdowns. I’d guess that’s how the Packers felt most of this past season. Thankfully, although I can’t always directly repay their kindness, it’s not too difficult to find others around me in need of assistance.

There are times when people in my life have done things so special I’ve wondered if I’d ever be able to even the score or, at a minimum, pay it forward to someone else.

A favor received

I recently had one of those experiences where I actually got to pay back, in a small way, a very special favor my brother, Joe, did for me, my wife, Jeannie, our daughter, Ali, and our new son-in-law, Ryan.

Ali and Ryan met several years ago as students at the University of Wisconsin. After graduation, Ryan landed a job as a mechanical engineer at Oshkosh Corp. and also received his commission as a lieutenant in the Wisconsin National Guard. Ali entered the workforce, but after a short period, went back to school to earn a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction. She earned a teacher’s certificate so she could realize her dream of teaching English.

One special day, Ryan asked me for Ali’s hand in marriage, and I enthusiastically said ‘Yes!’ As a father of three daughters, I want only the best for each of them. We already were blessed to have a fantastic son-in-law in Joe Lemens, husband of our oldest daughter, Kate, and we were doubly blessed to soon have Ryan McCarty join our growing family.

So Ali and Ryan spent the better part of a year planning their wedding. They wanted something other than the traditional affair, so they looked at various venues: a back yard, a barn, the beach and several others. Eventually, they decided to plan a beach wedding on the Outer Banks of North Carolina this upcoming fall 2019.

We have an old saying in the Army: “If Uncle Sam wanted you to have a spouse, he would have issued you one.” We say this in jest, but the truth is, servicemen and women take an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. So when duty calls, Uncle Sam doesn’t really care what else might be going on in your life – not even a pending wedding.

Shortly after deciding on the beach wedding, Ryan’s Army unit received deployment orders to Afghanistan. Although they wouldn’t actually put boots on the ground until late winter or early spring 2019, they would be mobilized for training in November 2018.

Ali and Ryan didn’t want to wait until after Ryan’s deployment, so they decided – for reasons too complicated to explain in this column – to marry earlier than planned in Rocky Mountain National Park in late October.

Like with any wedding, there are lots of logistical details, including travel, lodging, drink, photography, flowers — oh, and the small detail of choosing an officiant to actually marry them.

A few months before the wedding, Ali called and said, “Dad, I have an important question for you. How would you feel if I asked Uncle Joe to marry us?” After a short period of silence, because I couldn’t seem to talk past the rising lump in my throat, I replied, “Ali, I can’t think of a better man to marry you than Uncle Joe.”

Seriously, you would be hard pressed to find a better man than my brother, Joe Blando. Jeannie and I are very thankful that he, his fantastic wife, Rosemary, and their two sons, Nicolas and Anthony, live in Oshkosh directly behind the home in which my Ali and Ryan live. Joe, Rosie and the boys do so much for Ali and Ryan, and we are forever grateful to them for their kindness. This is one of those cases where we could never “even the score” with them. They are the kind of people who would rather we paid it forward anyway.

So my recently ordained brother, Joe, married Ali and Ryan in one of the most spectacular settings I’ve ever seen. On the shores of Sprague Lake, teeming with trout, in the snowcapped Rocky Mountains above Estes Park, Colo., with elk bugling in the background, Ali and Ryan became husband and wife.

A favor returned

Eighteen days later, I was back in Oshkosh for work, but since we were at the tail end of the rut, I planned to pop out to Fort Blando, our hunting property in Marquette County, to get a few sits in and possibly put my tag on a mature buck.

On Nov. 13, I stopped by Joe and Rosie’s house to drop off some venison I had just picked up from the processor. The meat came from a doe I harvested in October, and since I didn’t plan on taking it to our apartment in Washington, Joe and Rosie said I could keep it in one of their freezers.

I had just mentioned to Rosie that I was going to hunt the next day when my nephew, Nic, walked in. Nic is a freshman at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, and he happened to be done with classes that day. So I said, “Hey Nic, I’m going to Fort Blando to hunt tomorrow evening. You want to go?” Nic hesitated for a moment, which surprised me, until he said, “I don’t know, I have a paper due the next morning.” Being the responsible uncle, I said, “C’mon, Nic. It’s the tail end of the rut and you just might shoot a buck. Let’s hunt until dark and I’ll get you back home with plenty of time to write the paper.”

After a little more cajoling, Nic acquiesced. So I picked him up just after lunch the next day. Nic and I spent the majority of the 57-minute ride from Joe’s house to Fort Blando narrowing down the 18 stands on the property to the two we would sit in that afternoon.

The date was Nov. 14, and although peak rut was waning, we believed we had a relatively good chance of seeing a good buck or two courting a doe in or near one of our food plots. Eventually, based primarily on wind direction, we settled on T-bone and West Field, two stands located on trails leading directly to food plots.

As we pulled into Fort Blando, I said to Nic, “You get first pick. Which stand do you want?” He thought about it a few seconds and then responded, “If you don’t mind, I think I’ll take West Field.” I replied, “Great choice, Nic. If I were out here alone, that’s the one I would be in.” So I headed to T-bone, and Nic headed to West Field.

It was a gorgeous day, with a clear blue sky and the temperature hovering around 27 degrees. We had very little wind coming from the southwest, which was absolutely perfect for both of those stands. Since sunset was at 4:26 that evening and we are allowed to hunt for 30 minutes after sunset, I told Nic to climb down at 4:56 p.m. and meet me back at the truck shortly thereafter.

Although I thought the conditions were perfect, all I saw were black-capped chickadees, pine squirrels and the cutest baby opossum I’ve ever seen. Nonetheless, it was as glorious as any other day in the woods. As I was enjoying my little nature buzz, I had a feeling that things were going to turn out well for Nic that evening. And at 4:54, I heard the telltale “thwack” of an arrow entering a rib cage in the vicinity of the stand Nic was in.

At 4:56, I received a text from Nic reading, “Shot at a buck, think I got him!”

I was elated. I text Nic back, advising him to quietly sneak out of the woods and meet me back at our shack. After our traditional one hour wait, Nic and I headed back to the spot he arrowed the buck and immediately picked up the blood trail. After five minutes and approximately 75 yards, we found the buck, long expired from a perfectly placed double-lung shot.

After some hugging, back slapping and a bunch of pictures, Nic and I field dressed the large buck and then transported him to our barn, where we hung him up to be skinned and deboned after the morning hunt of the gun opener a few days later.

It was on the ride back that evening I felt an overwhelming sense of spiritual energy and gratitude for the special autumn I had. I couldn’t help but think how grateful I was to have a man like Joe Blando officiate the marriage of my daughter and son-in-law. I remember thinking if I had to pick one person on the planet to preside over the marriage of one of my daughters, it would be him.

I then felt a strong sense of gratitude to God for placing me there with Nic that evening to help him with the largest buck he’d ever harvested. The next day Joe thanked me for taking Nic hunting, helping him track and field dress his deer, and helping with all the other tasks associated with harvesting big game. He then said, “If there was only one person I could have picked to be with Nic tonight, I would have picked you.”

As I said, I’m incredibly blessed to have family and friends who do countless good deeds for me and my family. Mostly, I have to rely on paying it forward, in some small way, to pay them back.

The beautiful autumn of 2018 will forever be burned into my memory as one where someone I love did something really special for me, and I was able to similarly reciprocate. Some may think it’s karma, but I think God had his loving hands in every bit of this story.

Thanks, God!