Premonition or intuition?

By John Ford Sr. | May 14, 2010

With Memorial Day right around the corner, I ran across one of the more personally devastating entries in my diaries. It began June 8, 1981, when I received news that my father was in a Portland hospital diagnosed with incurable cancer.

Our family suddenly found itself in a situation like so many others had before us. We were on a roller-coaster ride. One with only God at the helm and only He would decide the final outcome.

I found myself visiting the hospital, some 100 miles away, spending quality time sharing pleasant memories and discussing the future with the man who gave me life and so much more over the years.

Dad finally insisted I go home and continue on with my own life. At the same time, he offered reassurances that he planned on being around for a while longer and that I shouldn't worry.

I was highly impressed with his brave and positive attitude and the strong will to fight this dreaded disease. I didn't realize it at the time, but I'd be facing a similar scenario of my own in the future. But that's a story for later.

I reluctantly returned home, although I constantly found myself wondering what, if anything, I could, or should be doing. It was a son's worst nightmare, one of total despair and helplessness.

In the following days, I faithfully stayed in contact, offering whatever support I could. Each time I was assured by the family patriarch that he'd call if he needed anything and for us not to worry. He always was positive, upbeat and chipper whenever we talked.

I halfheartedly continued to work, realizing that life as I knew it had a dark omnibus cloud hovering overhead. We all face the death of our loved ones sooner or later – nothing is eternal. It was only a matter of time before I'd be dealing with the reality of this event and I desperately was trying to prepare for that moment.

I constantly thought about my father's future. Would this dreaded disease drag on for months while his body slowly deteriorated from the cancer consuming him? Would the end come quickly, or would he suffer day after day, as we helplessly sat by and watched?

Call it premonition or intuition, I can't explain what happened next. On the morning of June 19, 1981, I suddenly left my patrol area without permission and headed to Portland for yet another visit with my father. It was as if I had someone strongly advising me to make the journey south. "I'd be glad if I did – and sorry if I didn't."

Dad and I talked for a couple of hours, laughing and joking about the many good times we'd shared. We relived the countless memories of great hunting and fishing trips taken together as a family. We reminisced about the numerous wild animals we rehabilitated over the years, each one of them with their own little personalities. These critters were one of the main reasons I chose to pursue the great career I had.

We chuckled over the time he purposely placed a dry fly over the back of a 4-foot water snake sunning itself on a log along a small trout stream we were fishing. The resting snake never knew what was happening, until Dad set the hook.

The water erupted in a tremendous turmoil and the fight was on — one that Dad never expected, as he nervously debated what course of action to take next in order to protect his favorite fly rod from being destroyed and to rid himself of the sudden predicament he put himself in. The last thing on his mind was to pull the snake his way.

Jokingly he sputtered, “I never thought there was a chance in hell I could place that fly where I did!”

It was obvious that I wanted no part of this unbelievable fiasco, as I'd already shot as far away from the stream as my fat little legs could carry me. I was headed to dry ground like a launched missile headed into outer-space.

Eventually, Dad managed to cut the fishing line. The last we saw of that damned old snake, it was slithering downstream in among the bushes, while keeping a weary eye our way. So much for fishing along that stream anymore that day.

We both relived several happy memories. The visit made my unexplained trip south well worth the time and effort. It was perhaps the best visit we'd ever shared between us. Dad seemed to be very comfortable and upbeat as to how things were going.

I left that afternoon satisfied he was not in any obvious pain. I even was a little encouraged, believing he might beat this dreaded disease after all.

The next evening, I was dispatched by the Maine State Police to assist Trooper Dick Reitchel with apprehending a man in Thorndike wanted in connection with a rape investigation.

When Dick approached the tent where this person was staying, he observed the young man flee into the woods. I quickly headed to the scene to assist my pal in the search for the suspect.

After a brief period of floundering around in the thick woods, we captured the man and escorted him back to the trooper's cruiser. When we finally cleared the scene in Thorndike, it had been less than 24 hours since I'd returned from my excursion to visit with my father.

I felt somewhat guilty for failing to notify anyone in authority of my abrupt absence without official permission to take the trip south the day before. Such a spur-of-the-moment decision was highly out of character for me — if wasn't like anything I'd ever done before.

As I cleared the scene with my trooper pals, I was advised to immediately call home. I simply assumed it was another complaint waiting to be answered as I called from a nearby phone booth. I sensed from the tone of Mrs. Ford's voice, though, that this wasn't a routine complaint.

She very emotionally stated, “Your father passed away late this afternoon from an apparent heart attack, John, please come home as soon as you can.”

A cold chill went up and down my spine as I desperately tried to keep my emotions intact. I slowly entered the cruiser in a state of shock, thinking of that premonition telling me to head south the day before.

How strange it had been. I had wondered what had prompted such a move. Was it a premonition or intuition? I'd never know. I'm only glad that I made the trip, even if it was against department protocol. Thank God I heeded whatever the source it may have been.

To this day, I'm still puzzled as to the timing of it all – but extremely thankful I responded as I did. This personal loss was another entry into the diaries, one that I wish I hadn't made.

May you rest in peace, Dad. You may be gone from the world as we know it – but you are not forgotten. Hopefully some day we'll once again hunt and fish together in the happy hunting grounds above.

As we all anticipate upcoming Memorial Day festivities, we need to remember those who were closest to us and who are now gone. Those who gave us so much, whether it was a friend, relative, co-worker or soldier who sacrificed his or her freedoms so that we may enjoy our own.

This somber holiday is one of remembrance and thanks. Here's hoping that most of you have your own memories that you'll think about on this sacred holiday. I know my thoughts will be about my parents. Folks who provided me with a proper upbringing and the chance to enjoy life in what I considered to be a real front row seat to life itself.

No words can ever express the gratitude and love I have for them both. They are gone, but they'll certainly never be forgotten.

May your Memorial Day holiday be safe and enjoyable, as we finally say goodbye to spring and welcome the warm summer months ahead.

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