As years go 2006 had all the makings of a bad one.
The loss of my mother in April was compounded by an unfortunate event. A brother in the months leading up to mom’s final breath accidentally dredged up what can best be described as a horrific period in my life as a kid.
It got so bad in the days following my mother’s death I almost did not go to her funeral. You learn from the bad things that happen to you in life. But no one has any right dredging them up especially when you were the victim. I had up until then effectively compartmentalized it — as some might say — so it wouldn’t cripple me emotionally.
But there I was in one of the worst periods of my life being intentionally driven down a road of pain I had abandoned long ago.
I went to the funeral. I hadn’t laughed so hard in my life. You’d have to have known my mom and the people she touched. Laughing was a fitting tribute. Person after person got up and told stories about her antics — even ones that I hadn’t even heard.
I guess it’s the Irish in the family. Funerals should be joyous occasions. After all you are celebrating life not dreading the inevitable. Early on I resolved not to have anything to do with the estate. Mom had already given me the most precious gifts of all — life, values, and a sense of humor. Money and property are meaningless in comparison.
Even so, the sense of loss combined with bad memories continued to throw me off kilter. I started locking doors and tensing up when someone tapped me on the shoulder.
It was ridiculous. I had nothing to fear anymore.
But still, it was pulling me down. By November, it had gotten better but I was still flat-line emotionally. My trust — and faith – in people was not exactly at an all-time high because of something that I thought I had buried so far in my past that I’d never have to deal with it again.
But then a miracle of sorts happened.
Cynthia and I were taking our then 7-year-old granddaughter Katelyn shopping for clothes. She was chattering non-stop. She was talking about everything she could as we drove down Highway 99, shopped in stores, and while we were having lunch. Some of it was funny, some of it was way out there, but all of it was sincere from the heart of a child.
It got me to thinking about Ryan, our grandson who was 10 at the time. The weekend before Ryan successfully convinced me to buy a basketball so we could play hoops. I’m no Steve Curry and I’d much rather jog four miles than go chasing after Ryan’s previous attempts of playing hoops together as he thought every shot should be in the 3-point range even if it meant he missed the backboard by a mile.
We were playing a modified game of HORSE when Ryan said something along the line of, “wow, Papa, you’re good.”
Had retired Lincoln High basketball coach Dale Pence — who happened to be a classmate of retired East Union High athletic director Dino Cunial at Lassen High in Susanville — heard that he’d be rolling on the asphalt doubled up in laughter.
Me? Good? At hoops? Get real.
Then Ryan started doing something that surprised me. He was patiently trying the short shots to imitate me. All of a sudden he was hitting shots.
“You’re right, Papa, if I keep doing it over and over I can get better.”
When I dropped Katelyn back home that Sunday, I cut a deal with Ryan. He could hang with me two hours each Sunday — then Katelyn for an hour — on one condition. He gets the extra hour because we were going to study or read together so he can get his grades back up. I told him I’d keep up my end of the deal if he does.
He said he would. He was serious.
I had made a classic mistake. I forgot the power of believing. Years before I was a big brother of sorts to Brian McClain who was some 12 years younger. His mom would repeatedly tell me how much Brian got from our bicycling trips. I told her it was the other way around. I got more from them than Brian did as he gave me a fresh perspective on things.
We don’t need to be reminded how important it is for kids to have adults believe in them.
But we forget that it’s equally important to have kids believe in you. Katelyn and Ryan believe. They deserve the best I can give for they‘ve given me a great gift — reaffirmation that all is right with the world.
After all, it wasn’t just one child that was brought into the world to open ours eyes and hearts.