There were two Toms on my freshmen high school basketball team. I was number 9 still growing with not much body hairand he was number 32 fully grown with a five o’clock shadow. Last week my mom called and told me he was dead prompting me to pull out my annual.
We weren’t that close and I never even thought nor really consideredhislifestyle at all. I liked him even though he laid me on the hardwood floor with a punch after I “inadvertently” elbowed him in the groin. It was an accident I swear to this day. He was taller than me at the time and I was trying to block him out. Basketball was all about basics in them thar days.
As a frosh,at times Icould be quite a short term thinker, often more worried about who would date me and how to get tickets to see the rock group, Steppenwolf thansome nebulous distant future. As far as the team went, I was mostly concerned aboutTom’s ability to rebound against the Knoxville teams that always kicked our butts and ifhe would consistently sinkhisfavorite shot, a fade away from the baseline. He was good…damn good in his day. My only real claim to fame was palming the ball because God had given me big hands andmaking top of the key hook shots to impressmy buddies duringpre-game warm-ups.
Still I felt the impact of his passing.It wasn’t why it happened or how. It was just the fact that it did. That it would continue to happen.
I remembered that we had a shared mutual friend who died from cancer and as I saidTom was a nice guy and he visited our friend as often as he could in his last days in the Fall of 1972.We were pall bearers together and I only sawTom one other timethat I remember since high school. I had stopped in the Last Chance, an oldlocal haunt on the edge of town when I had passed through on a business trip over a decade ago.
I played some pinball and sipped a Little Kings Ale for old times sake and saw that he was alone sitting on the end stool, but he looked happy enough unaware of what awaited him..or maybe not. We shook hands and exchanged pleasantries and then I left. Perhaps he was thinking about those games that hehelped win. His glory days. He certainly got better asour high school years went on and I lost interest in team sports. I liked to ride my motorcycle very fast. I am amazed that I made it through those dangerous years.
For reasons that I can not explain,old number 9 is still in the game and number 32 is out. He got raw talent and I caught a bug called wanderlust. I closed my eyes yesterday and asked the Lord to be with Tom and in my mind, I heard that old buzzer that sounded in theLCHS gym when play was stopped.It sounded like a sick goose. That got a smile out of me. I recall that Quentin, the team manager, would hand the tired sweaty players comingout of the game a fresh towel and a water bottle so he could get his wind.
As the Good Book says, “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth.”
As I watch Florence coming on the heels of Ernesto on the Weather Channel, in this real and for me metaphorical “windy” hurricane season;there’s just a lot of “coming and going” going on. So long 32. I’m glad I was here on thisold third rock from the sun with you for a while doing important stuff like throwing a striped orange ball through a hoop with a net on the bottom. carpe diem.
Nothing much really impresses me anymore except love and forgiveness. I’m a better man for it.
Ol’ Number 9