Bonus blog by Judi Sanders Silvey
Our Hankins and Sanders families were very close knit. Family reunions were always made perfect because of the efforts that you made to clean up the picnic area on the banks of the Whippoorwill Creek on our family farm. The legendary “foot rocks” are still in place today because of your efforts to preserve them. I have often wondered about the stories of those who crossed the Whippoorwill on our foot rocks, just to gather fresh water from the spring.
Then came Meriam, and three of the most beautiful little babies I’ve ever seen. I fell in love with them, even before I met them. That love only grew stronger when you brought them through the door of my home in Bowling Green. And then began the Christmas “slumber parties” with 20 people sleeping in my house over the holiday. People and kids were everywhere. We still tell the story of one Christmas Eve on the way home from Aunt Bill and Uncle Claude McCoy’s house. I nearly ran over you when you jumped out of your van and started pointing at the sky…then three little Sanders kids jumping up and down with excitement as you explained in great detail that you had, indeed, seen Santa Clause. I also remember the Christmas that it snowed. Your kids had never seen snow. Oh, the screams, the laughs, the excitement! You were just as big of a kid as they were!
I remember the weekend that we had been cleaning up an area of the creek bank, when we heard you yelling “FOX FIRE! IT’s FOX FIRE!”. We were all wondering what crazy joke you were pulling this time, when we skidded to a halt in front of this gloriously glowing log. You were pointing to the greenish yellow glowing matter that was kind of spattered over the entire area. Again, we asked, “What did you spray out here Dale?”, for we just knew that you were pulling a joke. You finally calmed down enough to explain that Fox Fire really is a thing. And then it became a real thing. A something that we will all share for years to come. We had fox fire right there on our farm, on our creek bank. Not long afterwards, Tommy and I named our part of the farm “Fox Fire Ridge”.
Fox Fire Ridge
Through the happy times of camping, playing, and working on the farm and the creek, I’ve always loved you. Through disagreements, I never stopped loving you. We didn’t talk often, but I always knew you were there. You were just a phone call away if I needed you. Did you get on my nerves sometimes? YES. But I still loved you.
In June of 2014, we gathered at your house in Memphis for a “big announcement”. Even though I knew what the announcement would be, my emotions overflowed when you said you wanted to paddle the entire length of the Mississippi River, at 80 years old…and you wanted to do it in 80 days…and you wanted to raise funds and awareness for JDRF...in honor of Anna.
Forty-seven days later, you paddled into sight in Hannibal, Missouri. All I wanted to do is hug your neck. The following days were nothing but a blur, running up and down the Mississippi river to find campsites in flooded conditions. After a July 3rd celebration below the last lock and dam in Alton, Illinois, Big Muddy Mike changed my pride into a sense of excitement that I had only dreamed about. Paddling in the beautiful Voyageur canoe named Junebug, Big Muddy allowed me to experience a small taste of what draws you to the river. I felt an immediate sense of adrenaline when I was the first person to step onto that big ole cottonwood tree.
In Cairo, Illinois, Anna was able to come with me for a very emotional, yet short celebration. It was the precursor to your team’s entrance in Memphis. Each person who introduced themselves to me painted a picture of the great man that I have always known. Your circle of friends in Memphis is more like extended family, and for that, I am so grateful.
There are no words to describe the feeling I had when you paddled into Burras, Louisiana, with Anna standing at the dock with a cold bottle of water for you. You two were both winners in that moment in time. Both of you…heros.
I counted your paddle strokes as you pushed that last mile into the Gulf of Mexico. I watched through tears, as you struggled against the current and the wind. I knew you were determined to reach the Gulf. NOTHING was going to stop you.
While you were breaking records, and Elaine was becoming a world renowned research scientist, all I wanted to do was get married and have babies. While I have never broken records, and I’ve never been published in a medical journal, our family tree did grow. The most noteworthy of my accomplishments is the birth of two beautiful children, and three beautiful grandchildren…one being named Anna.
My world crashed down the day Anna was diagnosed. You stepped in to help bring awareness and show the world how important knowledge and research is. You brought us one step closer to finding a cure for this vicious monster we call Type 1 Diabetes. I love you Brother, and I always will, and "thank you" will never be enough.
Your baby sister,
I'm the Grey Beard Adventurer. But you can call me Dale Sanders, and these are my stories.