Myrtle Beach is on fire. I pray that the Timmermans are OK.
Don't get me wrong. I hope that the fires die down before anyone else along the Grand Strand is harmed, too - but I really pray that the Timmermans are OK.
The Timmermans, you see, are among my dearest friends. I met Dick quite by accident in 1986. I had put together an All-Star girls' basketball team from the Metro Atlanta area to compete in Europe. A funny thing happened on the way to The Hague. Momar Khadafi became involved in a number of terrorist acts aimed at the United States and Ronald (Don't think I won't do it again) Reagan retaliated by bombing Khadafi's palace and suddenly the parents of the girls I recruited weren't so excited about dressing their daughters in red, white and blue and sending them across the pond to play basketball - not even with me.
We went and played in Hawaii instead. Tough duty.
So what, you might be asking, does this have to do with the Myrtle Beach fires and the Timmermans. As Gene Talmadge used to say, "I'm a comin' to that!"
I needed a place to take the girls, none of whom knew one another, to begin to turn them into a team. I had fallen in love with the Myrtle Beach area a couple of years earlier when my lovely wife Lisa and I vacationed there. I had a friend who knew a guy whose uncle coached at Myrtle Beach High School and Myrtle Beach High School had a gym we could use, so there you are. The Atlanta All-Stars would hold their basketball camp at Myrtle Beach.
There was just one problem. The gym was a dump. I don't mean to be disparaging here. Beggars can't be choosers and one should never look a gift horse in the mouth and all of that - but the gym was a dump. A new high school was under construction with a modern new gymnasium, so the old gym had gone to seed. It didn't have a single fan - much less air-conditioning - and, in fact, the only air stirring in the building was an occasional breeze that blew through the broken windows. There were lots of broken windows.
But there were birds in the rafters and no nets on the rims and the only thing filthier than the floor was the ladies rest room. It must have been 100 degrees at the beach that week, and it had to have been 120 in that gym. Morale was not high, understand, when my friend, Scott Crook, dropped by to see how things were going.
He took one look at the facility and said, "Let me make a phone call."
The phone call went to Dick Timmerman who was the recreation director for the city of North Myrtle Beach - and one of the best human beings I know. Scott actually worked for Dick as a beach lifeguard. Dick had a modern recreation facility at his disposal with a basketball court (with actual nets on the rims), meeting rooms and air conditioning - which is not a small thing when you are trying to keep 18 teenage girls happy.
Scott explained the situation and Dick Timmerman welcomed us with open arms. We were strangers in a strange land and he took us in and treated us like old home folks.
Throughout the course of the week I spent a lot of time getting to know Dick and took an immediate liking to him. We were cut from the same bolt of cloth. He was a no-nonsense, old-school kind of guy who would give anybody the shirt off his back if he liked them. We stayed in touch after that first summer and for the next eight or 10 years I took my high school teams back to North Myrtle Beach for summer camp - and Dick always allowed us to use his facility.
I got to know him and his wife Sharon, who is an educator in the Horry County school district, and watched his son, Chris, grow from a scrawny little gym rat into a college athlete and a fine young man who now has a wife of his own, (I photographed the wedding) and a precious daughter.
We have a strange friendship, I suppose. I see Dick and Sharon about once a year, usually when we visit the beach on summer vacation. I talk to them a couple of times a year, just to see how things are going. I see Chris, who lives in Jacksonville, at the annual Georgia-Florida Cocktail Party and talk to him from time to time as well. But I don't have a truer friend in the world, and there is nothing I wouldn't do for Dick Timmerman - and nothing I wouldn't ask him to do for me. So when a hurricane approaches the Low Country, or a whale washes up on shore or a waterspout rolls in on the tide, I worry about him.
And all this week I watched wildfires burn in the peat bogs that are right across the intercoastal waterway from his home - less than a mile from the Barefoot Landing area that has been featured so frequently on the television news. I've tried to call a few times but haven't gotten through yet. Maybe the next time I call I'll get him.
Meanwhile, Myrtle Beach is on fire and I pray that the Timmermans are OK.