It wasn't just Sarah who got the call

T.C. Mitchell

WASILLA -- Charles and Sally Heath were in their garage Friday afternoon trying to unpack from a gold mining excursion turned back by a flooding creek.

The work was going slow because the phone kept ringing from people all over the state, nation and the world wanting to know about their daughter, Gov. Sarah Palin, who had just been tapped by Sen. John McCain as his running mate on the Republican presidential ticket.

Friends called to offer congratulations.

"We knew nothing about it until 4 this morning," Chuck Heath said Friday afternoon. "A friend from Atlanta called and said, 'You better turn on Fox News.' "

If that creek hadn't flooded, Sally and Chuck Heath would've been at their remote mining camp. The only way word of their daughter's rise in the political world would've come on Caribou Clatter, Heath said, referring to a Bush radio-message system.

"It still hasn't sunk in," Chuck Heath said.

The phone rang yet again.

"No, nothing's going on here," Heath deadpanned to the caller. "No calls. Well maybe 300."

After hanging up, Heath said there was a positive in all the attention.

"We've heard from friends we haven't heard from in a hundred years. Probably a dozen from all over the country."

A family friend burst in, gave Heath a hug and asked how he was doing.

"It's been a long day."

She said if there's anything she can do, just call.

"Vote," Heath said, laughing.

The phone rang again and again in his garage filled with fishing and mining gear, antlers, horns and hides.

"I'll let Sally take that."

There was no time for idle chatter. He was intent on listening to the Eddie Burke radio show from Anchorage. Burke promised Sarah Palin, vice presidential candidate, would be on soon.

Heath talked about all the media attention and was happy to hear Rush Limbaugh had gushed over his daughter on his show Friday morning.

As he waited, he said he had no idea her future was about to soar from small-town mayor to small-state governor to the world's most illuminated political stage.

"She has a good poker face," Heath said. "And we don't pry. If she has something to tell us, she'll tell us. When we visit, it's not about politics. It's about family or sports."

Soon, there she was, talking it up with Burke.

"She always has good answers," the proud father said. "Me, I have good answers the next day."

Heath said the McCain campaign has made accommodations for Sally and him to attend the Republican Convention that starts Monday.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing," Heath said. "But it sure raises hell with my hunting trip. I was going out for the first 10 days it opens."

Meat in the freezer will have to wait.

And instead of watching their daughter speak on television Tuesday night at the convention, now the Heaths will be in St. Paul to see her as she moves deeper into the lineup.