A friend for the long haul

by Mary Helen Darah

Mike Pasko proved that friends come in all shapes, ages and sizes. The small but mighty man was a huge source of positive energy.

Sometimes friends take a step into your life and end up traveling on your road for the long haul. I returned from a quick trip up north, sans WiFi and cell coverage, and learned that my dear buddy Mike Pasko peacefully passed in his sleep. I met Mike Pasko a decade ago while writing cancer survivor stories for a small Michigan community paper. He wanted me to help him spread the word about his mission to get a cancer prevention research program to focus on his neck of the woods. Frankly, I needed a break from “cancer writing” and attempted to reschedule my meeting with Mike.

Let me tell you, a writer and her lame excuses are no match for a cancer survivor who also lost his beloved son Kenny to the same disease. We met. I wrote the story and I have had the blessing of having him in my life ever since.

Once Mike called to tell me that he had just collected some spare change after recycling his cans and would treat me to a Tim Horton’s apple fritter. How can a girl refuse an offer like that? During our discussion he told me he was making plans for his 40th fishing trip up north with his posse to Iron Bridge, Ontario. I couldn’t believe it. Iron Bridge! As in 1.2 hours from our cabin in Ontario. Jokingly, I asked if I could hitch a ride and next thing you know my pooch Maggie and I hit the road with 14 men heading out on their annual fishing pilgrimage.

I began to wonder, as did my family and friends, just how well I knew this Mike Pasko character. Even though he was selflessly involved in his community, church and with family, you never know. My dear friend, whom I lovingly refer to as my “New Yorker,” informed me, “Whadda ya thinking? You know you could end up duct taped inside a Hefty bag at the bottom of the lake.” The dog and I ignored her concerns and my worries and arrived at Mike’s house at 5:30 a.m.

We hit the road and traveled north five miles to meet the rest of the gang. Mike told the group, aged 10 to 80, that Maggie and I had been hitchhiking and he just had to stop. I think we had a few of them highly confused. I know I was. This group of “fishermen” was nothing like what I’d imagined. There were two young teens, adopted from Africa, a couple WWII vets including a gentleman from Poland, dads, college students, grandpas, sons, sons-in-law, grandsons and someone who had to be a coach. I could tell the way he clapped to motivate us to our vehicles.

To my surprise, Mike, my Corgi pooch with an attitude, a 6’7” soon-to-be college freshman that drew the short straw and was crammed in the back seat, and I made it across the border. It proved my theory that Canada will let pretty much anyone in that has a pulse and paperwork.

We arrived in Iron Bridge where the pooch and I were soon picked up by my parents like a parcel and delivered to our cabin. I was to return Friday to Iron Bridge with my mom and dad and take part in the group’s traditional fish fry and awards ceremony. I discovered that I would have to spend the night there since we would be leaving to return at “o’dark hundred” the following morning. Traveling with a group of men is one thing but staying in their camp on an overnight is another. Once again, I was pleasantly surprised. The fish dinner was just as amazing as the prayer before dinner, the handing out of the 2011 t-shirts and the awards ceremony.

Mike Pasko, middle, and members of the “Grumpy Old Man” cabin take a break from the festivities.

The older men in the group helped the boys light lanterns in the night sky in memory of those who were no longer with them, talked around the campfire and took part in the fine art of doing nothing. Meanwhile, Maggie and I were in the “grumpy old man cabin,” playing euchre and trying to finish a Molson (I’m such a lightweight). I was told that my euchre partner was Polish and witnessed the death of his family and the horrors of WWII, but you could sense his joy of life. It got me thinking that around our little table in the cabin, whether it was due to the loss of loved ones, cancer, or the ghosts of war, we were all survivors and were enjoying every minute before day’s end.

I thought as the token female, I would have to endure a slew of “F words” including foolery, filth and flatulence. I did witness “F” words and they mostly came from the older generation. They were family, friendship, fraternity and faith.

Mike beat the cancer stats and died peacefully after a long, purposeful life. I know he is in his slice of Canadian heaven having a beer and reeling in a big one with his son and grandson.

Put a Molson in the cooler for me, Mike, and rest in peace.

One thought on “A friend for the long haul

  1. Dad would have really loved reading this story. Those trips to Canada meant the world to him and I’m sure your presence that year stirred things up! Thank you for sharing this with us.

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