A few times he taught me how to dig that old Volkswagen out of a mud hole. It didn’t seem like much fun at the time, but those are pretty priceless memories now.
He taught me about being there. He is a small man in stature, and while I outgrew him by the ninth grade, it wasn’t by much.
I played high school football in the mid-‘70s at a time when a kid my size had no business getting to play. He went to every game. Sat in the stands pulling for my team whether I played or not. He never really said so, but he was proud of me for just trying. He knew how much I wanted to play, and somehow I knew how much he pulled for me. I didn’t always win or get the playing time I felt I deserved, but he taught me to make the best out of what I did get.
He still sits in the stands most Friday nights to watch my old high school team play. I know it is because he loves the game, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he has the occasional flashback to a little kid who wore No. 75 and was the center of his attention.
That same spirit followed me throughout my career as an educator. He always pulled for me to get the big break, receive the best job, or earn the next promotion.
I left my hometown to chase those dreams when his grandsons were in single digits. That broke my mother’s heart in a way from which I am not sure she truly recovered. He was the one person who understood and encouraged me in spite of the pressure to settle.
I got my first summer job when I was 14. I’ve had a job every year since. He taught me to work hard, be loyal, and save for the future — all from a man we jokingly credit with having appeared on the high school graduation roster of at least four classes in the mid-1950s.