Not only is it a tradition here in this space to write a post about family members to celebrate their birthday, but it also now seems to be a tradition that they come somewhat belatedly. So in that grand tradition, I am honored to reflect on my middle brother’s birthday. Which was 2 weeks ago.
As I think about my brother, the one thought that keeps coming back into my head. “Matt was always the cool brother.” And yes, I am fully aware that that was the lead thought in his birthday post from last year. But you know what, it is true. In fact, you might consider him to be on par with ‘The Most Interesting Man in the World’.
Matt is the kind of guy who rocked Z Cavaricci’s when they were cool, after a spirited and heartfelt debate with our parents. He spent a week trying to eat ice cream for breakfast when he was at basketball camp. He went to Cancun on Spring Break when he was in high school. He rides dolphins.
If only it would have been like Poseidon or Aquaman, then we really would have a story on our hands. But I was there and witnessed what happened. While it is not the stuff of mythologic legend, it is something that has gone down in McKenna Family Lore.
We were enjoying a day at Busch Garden and Matt was probably around 6 or 7. We had ben having a great day riding rides, seeing some shows and doing all of the touristy things that families from the frigid Midwest do when fleeing winter weather for a week. At some point, we decided it would be a good idea to take in the dolphin show. And with that decision, Matt’s life would be changed forever.
We sat down and waited for the show, which soon was underway. My brothers and I were excited to watch the show unfold and our excitement increased exponentially when they were asking for children from the audience to participate in the show. Our hands quickly shot up as we hoped to get up in front of the crowd and get better acquainted with nature. When you are a kid, you don’t fully grasp the concept that most children do not get picked to go on stage and the likelihood of this happening is extremely small. This is especially true when it happens to be that one of your brothers actually gets picked by the members of the show to go up and be a part of the show. At that moment in time, it seems natural, like going to get the mail or sitting down to eat breakfast in the morning. Of course, we know one of the kids going up to be in the show. This happens all of the time. We are pros at this. But in truth, this is a huge honor and extremely exciting!
We all watch nervously and excitedly as Matt walks up to be with the trainers in the show. He is standing up there, looking kind of small with no other children there, surrounded only by adults and a rather large dolphin, obediently positioned below them in the water. But he is not afraid to be up there. He seems to have been born for this moment. We have no idea what they are going to ask him to do, but we know it is going to be tremendous. Only we had no idea how tremendous.
As Matt is standing up there and is introduced to the crowd, the trainer with the microphone asks him a life altering question. “Do you want to ride the dolphin?”
I do not remember if Matt every gave a verbal answer to the question. What I do know is that quick as lightning, Matt moves closer to the side of the pool and throws his leg up in the air to straddle the dolphin while the crew scrambles to prevent this from happening all the while the crowd is cheering and laughing and probably secretly wishing he would actually be able to get on. Because who hasn’t ever dreamed of riding a dolphin?
Sadly, Matt never did get to ride the dolphin and I don’t even remember what he actually did in the show. Whatever it was was nothing compared to his improv comedy act on the stage. I am sure he lived up the visit to Busch Gardens for a lot of people that day. I wonder if there are other people that talk about that? I would like to think that there are.
For myself and my family, this was so unique that it is by far one of the most memorable events of our childhood. But for all I know, the crew gets young volunteers to come up on stage hoping for this exact scenario, only most kids are too nervous or scared to actually try it. But not my brother, The Most Interesting Man in the World. Happy birthday, Matt. I hope that some day you actually get to ride that dolphin.