Jessica Sieff: Some jobs require more than a pat on the backPublished 9:27pm Wednesday, August 11, 2010
For the last six seasons the show has followed a fleet of crab boat fishermen and their captains as they head out into the Bering Sea, filling their days and nights with grueling, physically demanding and dangerous work.
This season, the show dove into new waters when it captured the death of one of its own, Captain Phil Harris. To me, Harris was just the leader of a pack of mythical creatures, men with old-fashioned values, where hard work is what you’re measured by, a handshake is as steady as a contract and skin was made tough by a life as unpredictable and unyielding as a wave appearing on the sea.
When news had broken of the skipper’s death, following a debilitating stroke, leaving his two sons and the crew of the Cornelia Marie behind, I was saddened. Watching it play out on screen was heartbreaking.
Even as he recovered from a stroke that left him almost unable to speak, Harris left strict instructions for the cameras to continue rolling. His reason? There was a story that had to be told, he’d said. Even as he sat in a hospital bed. Even as he stared out the window toward the sea.
Once again, the show has been nominated for an Emmy. And it should. From the very minute Harris was found almost unconscious on the floor of his room aboard the boat the direction of “Deadliest Catch” was artful, poignant and even at times, poetic.
Those men aboard the boats that head out for the tumultuous sea seem like the kind of guys you’d just be lucky to know for a day.
I felt that way last year, when I got the chance to sit down with Niles residents Johnny and Pam Brawley. I remember thinking those are people you’re lucky to know even for a day.
A huge golf outing was in the planning stages for Johnny, who had been diagnosed with cancer on his 43rd birthday.
I’d known Brawley previously only by phone, at another job. He was good natured and easy going even at 2 a.m. when there might have been a problem to be handled.
One very rarely gets to use the phrase “salt of the earth” so I try to drop it whenever I can and I can say that’s exactly what came to mind in the hour that I talked to the Brawleys about everything from how they met to how their family had become known for their fundraisers to how they were handling the diagnosis and an uncertain future.
I remember specific details from sitting there that day in Johnny’s office, first — he had me sit in his chair and grabbed a spare for himself. Second — the interview was not limited to Johnny and Pam, it seemed anyone and everyone who came into his office were as close as family. And finally, I can remember Pam talking to me about the blog she’d started up chronicling the experience she and her family were going through. I remember her talking about how it had been a sort of catharsis for her. I can remember at a couple of points her eyes went wet, but not too much. I remember that it was so obvious these two people weren’t just a run of the mill husband and wife. They were best friends.
These are the kind of people that go out of their way for strangers the way fish breathe under water. Naturally. These are people who you see and you figure they probably know the secrets to a strong family, a good relationship, well-raised kids, like it’s a secret ingredient in an old family recipe.
And that, I got from them in just one day. I can’t imagine what some in this community have gleaned from them over so many years.
Mythical creatures, both. The kind they just don’t make all that often anymore.
When I found out about Johnny’s passing earlier this week, I couldn’t help but think about that day. And then I read Pam’s blog, which you’ll find is raw, emotional, courageous and brave and I couldn’t help but think about the people that are left behind when the ones we love are lost. About the people facing the same kind of loss when someone they love is ill. About those facing an uncertain future.
They don’t give out awards for getting up in the morning and moving through the day after suffering that kind of loss. They don’t roll out a red carpet when you’re forced to face illness and your own mortality. They don’t dress you up in a tux or an elegant gown and treat you to a seven-course meal when you pick yourself up and keep breathing. They don’t give you accolades for heading back out to sea without your captain, for living life without your husband or brother or son or friend.
But for those people that do… they should.
Jessica Sieff is a reporter for the Niles Daily Star. Reach her at jes email@example.com.