Surfing in Heaven – Section 3 title page (chapters to follow).
“If you are going through hell, keep going.”
— Winston Churchill
I was at Trader Joe’s when a fellow Mountain View Masters (MVM) swimmer dropped in on my cash register and blurted out,
“Hi Mike, did you know that Jerry passed away on Father’s Day?”
This confused me, as I was having trouble figuring out who she was with all the coverings on (I don’t recognize swimmers with their clothes on!). My dad (Kona Jack) had also died on Father’s Day …
As I began to scan her groceries I shot back,
“Jerry? Jerry who??”
By the time all was paid and bagged I realized it was our dear friend Jerry Rodder. There was no funeral or obituary or much of any swimming going on, so word did not really get out. Jerry’s departure hit me hard. He was an amazing man who had a sense of humor about life I am really going to miss. He reminded me a great deal of my dad. They both loved Trader Joe’s.
Jerry and his wife Jill were part of a 5am swimming group I somehow brushed shoulders with for ten or so years at Eagle Park pool (note, they were waiting at the gate at 4:45am; even on those icy cold dark mornings of winter). Jerry and Jill had been around MVM forever. They even wrote the original bylaws for MVM, when Jerry told me they would jump the fence and swim 10,000 meters before anyone else arrived. The early bird got the worm in their house.
It was always a big motivation for me to get there for the 5am workout knowing Jerry would already be in the pool. Since Jerry was twenty five years my senior, this got my attention. The swim workout at that hour was not my favorite thing. It was hard to get going… But the 6am shower after with Jerry set the tone for a good day.
We took long and leisurely showers after the workout, which Jerry joked that we would drain the city of Mountain View of all their hot water. He would still be showering, as we were shaving and getting dressed for work, walking over to me (dripping wet naked) to tell me that he couldn’t remember the last time he shaved; and that he was going to go home and take a nap.
Each day Jerry would bring a joke to the pool to share among us guys. His jokes were not always clean (most were not) and they definitely were off color at times, but they were always funny. Jerry delivered these jokes as if he were on Broadway, casually pausing to drop the punch line with impeccable timing. He would even bring me a printed copy of “the good ones” so I could send them off to my dad in Hawaii (which I often did – and he loved them!). I had very little in common with Jerry other than our love of swimming, but our morning laughs in the shower were something I cherished.
I never knew much about Jerry’s life until I unexpectedly received an invitation to his home. He had pencil sketched the time and address on a small scrap of paper, handing it to me after our shower. “Come on by” was all he said.
My wife Marla and I had no idea what to expect when we showed up at Jerry and Jill’s house in Los Altos, which was a story in itself. The interior of the house had no walls separating the rooms. What?! It was one big room that was decorated like a museum. The museum pieces were displayed in groups and were quite varied and unique. There was a Swiss army knife that was as tall as me (in the “knives” section); there were out of the ordinary clocks (in the “clocks” section). One wall was adorned with seventeen U.S. Patents with Jerry’s name on them. He never talked about that.
A plaque with a newspaper clipping from the San Jose Mercury News (circa 1964) showed Jerry next to the machine he had invented. I asked him what it was, and he chuckled, telling me that it could measure the weight of a speck of dust to within .0000001% accuracy (or something like that). “Oh”, was the only response I could muster. Needless to say, this was a side of Jerry Rodder I did not know beyond his jokes in the shower.
We wandered outside to Jerry’s expansive vegetable and fruit garden and entered a large greenhouse that was adorned with award-winning Orchids – dozens of them that were stunning in their brilliant colors and ornamental shapes. Jerry explained he competed in local Orchid contests where he often won 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place prizes. He had invented a magic “alcohol-based” fertilizer that caused just about anything to grow to record levels. We had been savoring mouth-watering tomatoes and melons that Jerry brought to the swim club for years, and now I knew why. He joked with me that the Environmental Protection Agency would shut him down if they had any idea what he put in it.
Just as we were getting thirsty for a drink or bite to eat (not a scrap of food or drink was to be found), Jerry told us all to sit down so he could play his piano recital. Huh?
As he sat down at his magnificent Steinway grand piano and played the first set of notes, I instantly knew we were in for a treat. Jerry played variations of Beethoven, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Mozart and more for 45 minutes straight without reading a note. Marla and I sat in stunned silence as we drank in the wondrous melodies watching his fingers float over the keys. Upon completion, Jill promptly brought out fresh-baked cake along with sweet melons from Jerry’s garden. It was an exquisite unforgettable evening!
Jerry was a very unique and colorful individual who covered more ground in a lifetime than a Winston Churchill memoir. He was a husband, father, grandfather, scientist, inventor, chemist, horticulturist, swimmer, concert pianist, and comedian; and I barely knew him, first meeting him in his late seventies. I believe Jerry was a genius.
The last time I saw Jerry was at his house a few months before the pandemic hit after his 90th birthday. He was no longer swimming and had help at home to keep good food on the table since Jill had departed two years earlier. We had a brief conversation about Trader Joe’s and how he loved going there to do his shopping. I bid him farewell, never thinking that was it.
I miss Jerry.
I miss his jokes and his ability to make fun of whatever and whoever was in the news. Jerry kept his wit right up to the end. He loved swimming. He is the only person I know who could get me laughing at 5am. He loved his music and most of all he loved his wife Jill. It was hard for him when she left first.
The world is a little more serious of a place without Jerry Rodder.
God bless you, my friend!
I found this short clip on the web about Jerry and Jill:
Fri Mar 23, 2018, 8:38 am:
- More sad news, Jill Rodder, wife of Jerry Rodder (Jerry’s Grow) passed away last evening. They were a great couple, Jerry grew them and Jill prepped them for display. Jerry’s magic fertilizer was the best on the market and he grew the finest orchid plants I have ever seen anywhere. Jill shone the leaves and cleaned the husks so that every orchid displayed was a glistening specimen. Jerry still has plants but at a more manageable level now. The Cymbidium hybrid named in Jill’s honor is a beauty and was her joy when it bloomed each Spring. Those of us who know and love Jerry, one of the smartest and most technically accomplished people I have ever known, will surely be there to offer him love and support at this difficult time. Hopefully any orchid wannabes will not seek to exploit Jill’s death for self-aggrandizement at any forthcoming orchid shows………
** Resources **
Bonnie Tsui is an accomplished author, writer, and swimmer who immerses you into a wonderful analysis and tribute to the sport of swimming with a sort of memoir of her life blended in. If you like to swim (or just be in the water) you will drink this up! If you don’t swim, this book very well may get you in the water. It is very well written and Bonnie covers all aspects of the sport, including some fascinating historical insights.
“Cowabunga dudes, let’s go surfing!”
I see a long strand of glittering white sand several hundred feet wide extending into the horizon. Perfect waves are rolling in like clock-work on both sides; right-facing waves on the left side of the strand and left-facing waves on the right. A perfect point break wave without a rock in sight. I am stupefied as I watch unbelievably clean barrels peel off in succession for as far as I can see! There is no lull. I cannot imagine a more ideal surfing spot.
As Uncle Charles, dad, and I step into the water on the left side of the strand I immediately notice its crystal-clear clarity. Lying on our boards ready to paddle out, the three of us are a picture of God’s joy. Beaming smiles in anticipation of what is to come. As the first wave rolls softly over me, the water has a sweet smell and flavor so appealing that I open my mouth to drink it in and am refreshed by its taste. The water is warm on my body and invigorating to my senses. The air feels the same. A gentle offshore breeze warms me from within. It feels right to be here; this is where I belong. It comforts me deep in my soul. I look down and notice I’m wearing my yellow “Hang Ten” surf trunks from my grammar school days. I chuckle to myself, thinking how much I love them.
We easily paddle around the breaking sections of each wave with Uncle Charles leading the way, even though there is a constant outpouring of flawless tubes going by. The interval between each wave seems to vary as if the ocean knows we are trying to get out, giving us a break when we need it. I gasp at the scene of all before me and give all the glory to God; only He could have orchestrated this.
As I paddle over a feathering lip I notice that the white water of the breaking wave is whiter than I have ever seen. Light of day is radiating from the water when a wave breaks, as if light-emitting plankton are on steroids! The contrast with the perfectly clear water is out of this world, like painting daylight onto the night sky.
Paddling is effortless, an underwater current is pulling me out. There is no drop-off in the ocean floor and no end to the strand of pure white sand; waves are breaking on the horizon as far out as I can see. The offshore breeze is blowing the breaking lip of the wave into a stunning rainbow of colors I have never seen. I pause to take it in and notice the symphony of music synchronizing to the pattern of the waves. It is all connected!
Below the surface are an extraordinary variety of plants, fish and glowing rock formations emitting more light. Watching a bright kaleidoscope of life in a fantasy of color as I paddle by. It reminds me of a coral reef in Hawaii, but so much more intense and vivid, as if I am seeing HDTV for the first time. I can’t take my eyes off of it. Dad and Charles are laughing as they see me try to take it all in. Dad calls out,
“It’s as if the earth was a black and white movie, Michael.”
I can’t resist diving off my board into the depth of the thirst-quenching water. Astonished, I can see perfectly and continue to breathe and laugh out loud underwater. “ARE YOU KIDDING ME!?” Fish of unimaginable varieties and sizes and colors swim up to me as if they are a part of the homecoming party. Its like LED lights within them are illuminating their brilliance. It is sensational to see and quite difficult to comprehend. Excitedly, I swim to the surface to tell Charles and dad; they look at me and laugh as they continue their paddle out. “Welcome to heaven!” Charles calls back.
I am well over a mile out from the surf shack, yet the sparkling sand of the strand is just a short distance from my position in the water. I feel no tiredness from the paddling, just invigorated and excited. I sit up on my board. There is a deep inner sense of peace and tranquility within me. There is no sun, but the air is warm on my skin and the golden glory of the sky is more powerful than a noonday summer sun in Hawaii. Clouds of unimaginable variety streak through the sky like a Matisse painting with a pallet of unlimited color. I could spend my life right here. I begin praising God for such a day:
Time is lost. I have no idea how long I am sitting on my surfboard and singing to God. It doesn’t matter. The ocean and I are one. I have no questions. Everything is good.
I look up to catch a view of dad crossing a beautiful peeling wave that is well overhead and feathering a rainbow of dazzling colors behind him. He drags his foot off the tail of his Simmons Foam Sandwich to make a sweeping bottom turn and lets out a hoot to me as he sails by. A sight to behold.
A large formation of white birds with golden streaked wings appears on top of the next wave coming. I know this is my wave, as I swivel my board around in anticipation. With a paddle I am all at once lifted up and rushing with the swell, sensing the tremendous speed and power as I drop in over the feathering lip. The offshore breeze fans a rainbow around me as the spray pelts my face with the sweet taste of the crystal water. The birds sweep into the sky in perfect unison, as if they are kicking out, giving me my first wave in heaven. I stand up and realize my balance is perfect and feet are firmly planted. There is no fear of falling. Exhilarating beyond my wildest dreams. I howl out my praises to God,
Ahhhooooouuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu!!! How great thou art Lord!!!!
Howling without losing breath as I fly down the face of the wave and plot my first bottom turn, I look through the wave at a complex pattern of colors and lights below. It is as if I am gliding down a large glass mountain with the brilliance of the sea life below me lit up like a French cathedral at night. I carve a long effortless turn off the tail of my Hobie Super Mini and immediately am propelled forward even faster as I sense the wind in my face and see schools of fish lighting up the face of the wave ahead. In awe of the oneness I feel with my wave, I stare down the steep shoulder ahead with a sense of readiness for what is coming. Slicing a second turn off the lip of the wave I notice it is well overhead as the spray from my board blows off the lip in brilliant color.
I turn several more times, propelling up and down the wave when seven white dolphins with royal blue fins suddenly swim into the wave from behind. Like the Blue Angels, they are gliding effortlessly in perfect formation, as if they are leading the way for me. I seem to know they are angels from heaven; white as satin and magnificent in their size and beauty. They come in and out of the wave together, looking at me like they know my every move. It is magnificent to see their beautiful symmetry and the elegance at which they are surfing the wave. I follow their lead, turning with them as we zig-zag back and forth on the wave. They are laughing. I am laughing too! We make more turns than I can count, enjoying the perfect harmony of God’s creation. God’s animals are part of His plan for eternity. It is heavenly! The music praises God and we savor His creation.
The wave transforms into a soft shoulder and I jet out ahead of the break to carve a cutback that makes a complete half circle around the dolphins. They jump into the air in perfect formation. I have never seen anything like it; I howl as I crank a floater off the brilliant white water and turn back into the face of the wave building up again along the strand. The sand is glimmering in the shore break like diamonds as I fly by faster than I have ever gone on a surfboard.
The dolphins take another jump in unison before making their exit. I crank another bottom turn as I go deeper into the curl and in an instant everything around me turns bright florescent green. I am getting barreled as I maintain just enough speed to stay ahead of the peeling lip. I sense no danger of wiping out. I just go, firmly planted on my board as the surge of the wave propels me forward into a dense cloud of green spray, enveloping me. I am able to sense every cell in my body. Suddenly I am flying out of the tube onto a soft shoulder like a fireball shot out of a cannon. My face is frozen with an ear-to-ear smile. I want to tell the Hodads about the green room in heaven!
Shooting across the shoulder onto open water like a water skier I leave the breaking section of the wave behind. I do not slow down as I crank another bottom turn on the open sea, looking ahead to see the surf shack in front of me. Mom is watching from the shore with her patented Charlene smile looking as though she is at Malibu in 1953. I make my final cut back on flat water toward shore to carry me onto the soft white sand as the cool crystal water rushes up the beach.
I feel more alive than ever. All my worries, anxieties, and concerns are gone. Finally, I am home. This is where I belong. Halleluiah Lord Jesus!
I ponder at how this changes everything. This is indeed the life that God intended. Oh, how my life on earth would have changed if I had truly believed the glorious wonder of what God had waiting for me in heaven. I am overwhelmed with such joy and gratitude and love for a God who could provide such perfection. I want to go back and shout the truth of it all.
“Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven”…
Matthew 5:12 (NIV)
** Authors Note **
In my earlier blog “Begin with the end in mind”, I discussed a life better than we can ever imagine awaiting us in Heaven. The very best we may have experienced here on Earth will pale in comparison to what God has planned for us in eternity. Most of us really do want to go to Heaven, and I believe God desires for us to use our imagination to anticipate the beauty and wonder and joy of what awaits us there.
In Matthew 6:19-21 (NIV), Jesus commands us to set our hearts and minds on heaven above:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on Earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
** Resources **
Of all the books on heaven v5.5 that I have referenced, this one was the most captivating to me. Published in 1898, Springer writes of an experience or dream she had while seriously ill in a care facility. It is a short read and quite beautifully written telling how she was able to experience the renewed earth. For me, it reads like poetry of the life that awaits us in heaven.
June 20, 2016
This post is in honor of our father, grandfather, and good friend,
Jack B Mulkey *
On the night of a full Strawberry Moon, Kona Jack, as he was known on the big island of Hawaii for the past 27 years, passed away peacefully in his sleep, just 4 months shy of his 90th birthday, and after spending Father’s Day with his daughter Terry, and her husband, Bob Hankenson. He was in fact doing fantastic that entire week, still living the independent life he loved at the Keahou Surf and Racquet Club in unit #29. But he always told us that he never did want to reach 90.
I should add that his Father’s Day included Terry washing his feet (they needed it!), his favorite meal, fish and chips; and his favorite cocktail, a Rob Roy, served “up with a twist”. He even completed the day’s crossword puzzle in the Honolulu Advertiser!
It’s safe to say he passed on exactly as he would have wanted.
* Dad will be laid to rest in a ceremony at the West Hawaii Veterans Cemetery on Friday, October 28th (9am). A celebration of his life will be held on Saturday, October 29th at the Keahou Surf & Racquet Club in the late afternoon. Please let me know if you would like to join us! (email@example.com).
The following obituary ran in the Hawaii local newspapers on July 15, 2016:
Jack “Kona Jack” B Mulkey, 89, of Keauhou died June 20 at home. Born Oct. 30 in Santa Monica, Calif., he was a maintenance helper for the Keauhou Surf & Racquet Club, retired right of way agent for General Telephone Co. in California, surfing pioneer and U.S. Navy World War II veteran. Service information at surfingforbalance.com. For info, call 650-799-3292 or 805-252-5376. Survived by daughter, Terry (Robert) Hankenson of California; son, Michael (Marla) Mulkey of California; four grandchildren. Arrangements by Cremation Services of West Hawaii.
These blog posts below are dedicated to dad’s memory, for all the wonderful lessons in life I learned from him through the sport of surfing and balancing life. If you would like to read more about the blog, click on “About”. And if you would like to read more on dad’s history with surfing in California, click on “Malibu and The Greatest Generation”.
Dad was a huge John Wooden fan from the day he took the helm as head coach of the UCLA men’s basketball team in 1948 when dad was attending there on the GI bill from WWII. As I was looking through some of the hand-written notes dad had sent me over the years, I found this one in response to reading one of Wooden’s books I had sent to him:
“Mike: It all boils down to preparation, details and work, work, work. No wonder I was never successful! Everything the man says makes so much sense that I can’t believe so few coaches have followed his philosophy. I suspect because it involves too much work.”
This post below (Peace of Mind) was in queue for dad’s review at the time of his passing.
I am publishing it today in his memory.