Andrew Dys

STRANGERS NO MORE

The Rev. Paul Long, center, leads Josh Fosdick, left, and Joe Caldwell in prayer along with other members of Caldwell's family at his grandmother's home in Chester. The two were reunited Saturday, 17 days after Fosdick helped rescue Caldwell from rising floodwaters Aug. 31.
The Rev. Paul Long, center, leads Josh Fosdick, left, and Joe Caldwell in prayer along with other members of Caldwell's family at his grandmother's home in Chester. The two were reunited Saturday, 17 days after Fosdick helped rescue Caldwell from rising floodwaters Aug. 31.

CHESTER -- White and black fingers intertwined, yet colorless tears flowed. "Thank you Jesus" came out from many mouths, from somewhere deep in souls that 16 days ago none knew would be connected forever.

A new family prayed together Saturday morning in a Chester dining room.

A new family because Betty Caldwell and Joe Caldwell Sr. welcomed another son to their embrace.

They squeezed the man who jumped in a flooded Fort Mill creek 16 days ago to save Joe Caldwell Jr., Betty and Joe's only son. Josh Fosdick leaped, while others stood on a bridge and watched.

On Aug. 31, Caldwell's car crashed off a flooded bridge on Pleasant Road, moments after sunrise. Caldwell clambered out of the car and was hanging on to a submerged tree when Fosdick jumped in. Fosdick grabbed Caldwell and hung on until rescue teams could pull Caldwell out about a half-hour later.

Both had just finished overnight shifts at different plants on Pleasant Road. The first time they had ever lay eyes on each other was in the water.

The second time was Saturday.

Both men were sore after the rescue, but both are back to work on the third shift. Joe Caldwell is a shy guy, so his mother had to set up the meeting as a surprise. She called Fosdick, and Fosdick agreed to be at Caldwell's grandmother's house. Caldwell thought the gathering was just the precursor to the family heading to Columbia to watch Chris White, his first cousin, play center for the University of South Carolina Gamecocks football team.

Caldwell worked until 7 a.m. Saturday. He walked up a porch step three hours later, and turned to see Fosdick walking toward him.

They shook hands.

"Hey," Caldwell said. "Thanks."

"No problem," Fosdick said.

Then Fosdick was mobbed by others in the family, who wanted more than handshakes. All wanted hugs and all got them, too.

"Josh, you are mine now, too," Betty Caldwell said. "My son. Forever."

Later in the prayer circle, Fosdick's wife, Brenna, held hands with Robinson, the matriarch of this close-knit family. Fosdick held the hand of the Rev. Paul Long of Antioch Baptist Church, where Caldwell's family has gone forever. Long's other hand held Joe Caldwell's hand. Almost two dozen people were linked in the chain.

Two cakes, with pictures of both men copied from the front page of the Sept. 1 edition of The Herald, sat on the dining table.

That story about the rescue had pictures of both Joe and Josh, side by side emblazoned across the front page.

Fosdick never mentioned that day that Caldwell is black. Caldwell never mentioned that Fosdick is white. It didn't matter to them then. It didn't matter Saturday.

Still, it was Fosdick's heroism, and those pictures together, that Caldwell's aunt spoke so emotionally, so forcefully, about Saturday.

"Josh is a young man with a wife at home and a son at home, and he risked his own life to help Joe," said Evelyn Mobley, Caldwell's aunt. "Words cannot express our gratitude. We cannot give you anything that can ever show how much we appreciate it. The picture in the paper, it was an ebony and ivory picture. But it wasn't about anything other than you, Josh, caring about your fellow man."

He just jumped

Fosdick gulped. He admitted to the Caldwells, his new family, that he didn't think that morning about his wife and 4-month-old son. He just jumped.

Paul Long, the preacher, led the prayer. Somebody burned down Long's church more than four years ago. Police say the fire was arson but it was never solved. Long, and Antioch, rebuilt.

So Long knows a little bit about tough spots, and courage, and faith.

Long prayed for the bond to last, forever, between Josh Fosdick and Joe Caldwell. The prayer circle showed no breaks.

Afterward, Fosdick sat in the living room, surrounded by his new family. He agreed to play music Oct. 8 at Antioch church, and hopefully go with the family to a USC game later in the season. His wife sat in the dining room, surrounded by her new family, too. The Fosdicks' new family wanted to know everything about their son, Gaines.

Fosdick told the details, as many times as asked, about the day of the rescue -- how he left immediately from work that day, instead of hanging around a few minutes like most mornings.

Some might call it fate.

Long called it God.

Fosdick talked about how at the grocery store, the gas station, even stopped at red lights since the rescue, people will stare at him.

Those pictures from the paper, he said.

"People say, 'You're the hero,'" Fosdick said. "I say, 'I'm no hero.' I did what Joe would do for me."

But why jump in, family demanded?

"Because Joe needed me," Fosdick said.

Fosdick and his new brother, Joe, hugged.

Brothers do that.

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