A HEAVENLY HAPPY BIRTHDAY

I wrote this as a postscript to the short story “A Lesson in Physics” from the book WINNING WAS NEVER THE ONLY THING…. I wrote it when I found out Jeff Gully had left us to join former teammates Mike Douty, Heath Benedict and Tim Bright. Today is his birthday and once again I find myself missing the “crazy little @#$%” along with Mike, Heath, and Tim. I know I have shared this excerpt before and my guess is I will probably share it again. Happy Heavenly Birthday JEFF.

I found myself sitting in stunned silence when I learned that Jeff Gully had passed away. For the last few weeks, he has not been far from my thoughts no matter how much I tried to push him out of my mind. In true Jeff Gully fashion, he remains an itch that I can’t quite scratch. I have sat in front of my computer staring into space as I attempted to put my feelings into print. The ability to describe them seems to escape me. In true Gully form, Jeff has once again left me speechless.

I can see the young Jeff Gully so well and it is the Jeff Gully that I choose to see. He is in his baseball uniform playing catch as we warmed up for practice, laughing at his wise-cracking with whomever he is warming up with. Words like spontaneous, free-spirited, impulsive, and devil-may-care come to mind when I try to describe him to myself. I have these very clear mental pictures of him bursting into my classroom, just a little late, with a smile on his face that lit up the dreariest of days. His personality could generate enough energy to power the entire eastern seaboard. As irreverent as he could be on occasion, words like caring, big hearted, bigger than life, and compassionate also come to mind when I think about Jeff. There was no truer friend.

Teammate Carolus “Boo” Bennett posted a picture of himself and Jeff when they were teammates during their Northwood years. It was a great testament to their friendship which lasted through high school. My favorite mental picture is of the four seniors, Jeff, Boo, Brian Bridges and Jason Nasiatka walking arm and arm from the field at Georgetown. I so wish I could have bottled those feelings and sent them to Jeff to be used when he was feeling low.

I attended his memorial and as I suspected, it was an overflow crowd. As I get older I fully expect to be attending more and more of these affairs but not for young men that are half my age. Despite the minister’s assertion that all questions will be answered in time, I am troubled by many questions. If there is a positive to be garnered from his memorial, it is getting to see so many people that meant so much to me over the years. I just wish it had been better circumstances.

I had many conversations with Jeff that began by Jeff asking either “Coach Miller are you pissed at me?” or “Do you still hate me?” Fortunately, most of those conversations ended with “Coach Miller I am sorry!” Many of those conversations also ended in amusement if not total laughter. Jeff, I am sorry too. I was never really pissed at you for any length of time and I never hated you, ever. I wish that I had told you this over the years you have been away from me. The truth be known, I am probably a little envious. While your life was shorter than anyone would have wanted and had its share of demons, it was filled with joy too. It was filled with the joy that you created for your family and friends and the joy that they created for you. I also hope that in Heaven you have found comfort and peace as well as Douty, Bright and Benedict. I am sure you could not wait to yell at them “Hey y’all watch this!”

Like those particles in an electron cloud, Heisenberg tells us that you can’t know both the exact location and the exact velocity of a subatomic particle. Jeff, I am sure you will always be somewhere near, continually bursting into our thoughts at light speed.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY…TO ME

I used to get excited…not so much anymore. The road “past” is much longer than the road “future” and when dealing with my own life, I try to stay “in the now.” At my unstated age, I find it more comfortable remembering the past rather than pondering the future. People much brighter than me have suggested that “you can’t live in the past.” I agree but would suggest, “I can remember the past and wonder”…just don’t live there…too much. Which brings me to today, the day before the anniversary of my birth.

It was an Easter Sunday with all the jokes about the Easter Bunny delivering me to my parents rather than the traditional stork. Bright blue skies and crisp I was told. My father had revolted at the idea of rising early for the traditional Sunrise Service. I understand he was forced to get up even earlier than he would have wished.

A colorized picture of a one year old. A tow-headed child gazing sweetly into a camera makes me wonder why the blond hair turned brown before turning gray. Unfortunately, it has also turned loose. At some point I wonder if my sink will have more hair in it than my head has on it…or already does. I also wonder what kind of cake was smeared all over my smooth baby face, a face I no longer recognize in the mirror…with or without cake.

Somewhere in the past, a fourteen-year-old with darker blond hair, got excited about his birthday until he was presented with a brand new red Toro lawnmower instead of the red Mustang convertible he was wishing for. My dad, always the practical one…but then I was only fourteen. The mower wasn’t even a rider or self-propelled. I didn’t get the Mustang at age sixteen or eighteen either. I did get a green Mustang for my beloved when I was forty-six…I don’t even like green and it wasn’t for me…or my birthday.

I remember a “sweet sixteen” birthday party, painstakingly planned by my mother and held at the fire house just down the road from our house. All my friends and classmates were there dancing to forty-fives, eating cake and drinking punch. I never told her how embarrassed I was for all the commotion…and for the fact I was “sweet sixteen and had never been kissed” before the party…or for a while after it.

For some reason, there are no outstanding birthday memories from sixteen to fifty…or I need something to trigger the memory I’m not having. A gathering at a local restaurant on my fiftieth netted me a four-disc boxed set of Jimmy Buffet’s greatest hits, from a friend I daily worry about. Because my six-disc changer is loaded with all four of my Buffet disc’s, there is a great chance I’m going to be reminded of my friend anytime I get into my car. I am also reminded of the battle I fear he is losing to his addiction. I think I’m going to call him on my birthday and remind him of the joy he brought me.

On my fifty-sixth we gathered with family at the same restaurant as my fiftieth, this time after church on a bright and warm Sunday afternoon. I had a great time but felt physically ill as I drove the winding road home. Queasy, I contributed it to the garlicy pasta I had consumed along with the copious amounts of birthday cheer in the form of birthday cake. It wasn’t until I got home that I considered a heart attack. The elephant suddenly sitting on my chest fueled my suspicion.

The attack may have been the greatest gift I could have ever received…even better than a red Mustang convertible. I survived and became a better steward of the health my creator granted me. Eleven more years with my beloved, seeing my daughter graduate from college, marry and start a family of her own…beginning her THIRD vocation while seven month’s pregnant. Miller Kate and Nolan the grandbabies. An epic Sixtieth in Atlanta with “too good” a friends attending a James Taylor concert. Front row seats within touching distance and a limo ride to and from. Madeline Roo and Matilda Sue, two Australian blue heelers who have made us their own, worming their way into my heart for the past twelve years.

Just to be clear, Linda Gail has already stated, “We are not going to celebrate your birthday on this Sunday.” Superstitious or just not willing to tempt fate? I had not thought about it…guess she does love me just a little. Well…Happy Birthday to me.

Visit Don’s author’s page at https://goo.gl/pL9bp or pick up a copy or download his new book, Musings of a Mad Southerner, at https://goo.gl/zxZHWO.

MY BROTHER…ON HIS BIRTHDAY

My life was great…until sixty-two years ago. I don’t have the minutes and seconds but know I was four years, eleven months and six days’ old, the center of everyone’s attention and the universe, when my mother brought home a curly, red-headed, not that little, bouncing baby pain in the a$$. My brother. I don’t know when I was told I was going to have a little brother but until our adult years, had I known then…I probably would have sat outside on my doorstep waiting for the stork to show up and blown him out of the sky before the dirty bird dropped his bundle. BOOM! Just so we all know, he has grown up to be a bouncing adult pain in the a$$…not really…maybe.

He WAS SOOOOOOOO FREAKING CUTE. Born with long ringlets of dark red hair, the ringlets did nothing but get longer until there was an open argument over, “The kid needs a haircut.” This argument was not settled until a well-meaning woman expressed, “Oh what a cute little girl.” Snip, snip, buzz, buzz. My mother cried! I wonder what she would think now?

Some nine months into his life, Little Stevie began to irritate the LIFE out of me, first putting himself to sleep by rocking his crib across the floor, creating a sound like boxcars on a railroad track…KA-THUMP, KA-THUMP, KA-THUMP. Once he learned to stand he would shake the slats of his crib or playpen while yelling in baby-ese, “Let me out!” Stevie has always been about making noise. I didn’t let him out but instead, punched him in the nose. It didn’t shut him up but instead added to the den as I made squealing noises from my grandmother switched my legs.

Later Stevie would continue to get me in trouble, this time with his “Cro-Magnon” forehead. Having said something to incur my wrath, he ran for his life CAUSING ME to peg him in the middle of the forehead with a piece of driveway gravel as he looked back over his shoulder singing, “Na, Na, Na, Na, Na.” “Dad, no, no, it was an accident. I threw right at him, there is no way I should have hit him.” Those of you who have taken batting practice from me KNOW my statement is truth! A huge, bloody, red mark became a huge “puff” knot of Biblical proportions, a knot he richly deserved for running into that poor rock like he did.

Stevie continued to put his face into harm’s way, whether it was the line drive I hit off his nose during a pick-up baseball game or the glancing blow a player hit off his sizeable eyebrow during the first batting practice of a season when he helped me coach. Both shots may have been the best delivered by me or our player and a broken nose bridge and multiple stiches wreaked havoc on his dashing good looks. After the second, damage inflicting blast, the emergency room doctor informed me “The X-ray of his head showed nothing.” I pointed out he had wasted his time, I already knew that would be the case. “There’s nothing in his head to see.”

Now let’s understand, my little brother was not incapable of defending himself. My ribcage still aches during cold weather due to a sneak attack involving Stevie’s rocking chair hammering into my back as I bent over to retrieve a toy from our closet.

Showing economic savvy beyond his years, I cannot tally the number of quarters I gave him to get him to leave me alone while I attempted to spark with my girlfriend. To make things worse he told our next-door cousins and I had to pay them too. That little bit of “sugar” sure was expensive.

During my high school years, I mostly ignored my little brother but after our parent’s deaths we did grow closer, even rooming together on a couple of occasions. Our time together on the corner of Towns Street and Orange is remembered with the fondness associated with both the area and the people who resided…or at least lurked there. There was a problem with a girl who swore I was Steve. She had called several times and was sure Steve was trying to avoid her…pretending to be me. He was attempting to avoid her, but it didn’t stop her from showing up at my front door before realizing I was not him. One of many interesting evenings involving the “Orange Street Mashers Association.”

A decade ago, on my fifty-sixth birthday, Steve gave me a card with the grim reaper visible from a rearview mirror of a car. Its caption read, “Beware, objects may be closer than they appear.” That afternoon I had a heart attack…
”GOTCHA!” I received the same card the following year. “GOT ME!”

We are both officially in the autumn of our years now…late summer? I feel the need to apologize for not being the brother I should have been…probably needed to be…especially during his formative years. But then I was an immature young man myself and might have just made things worse. Steve has turned out quite well without my input…which he rarely listened to anyway. A business owner and pillar of the human race despite his disdain for social convention, a man who walks the walk even with an unbridled and sarcastic tongue, a solid husband to a lovely woman who must have been a masochist to marry him.

Provided we stay away from politics, and we are closer in belief than either of us wishes to admit, along North Carolina athletics, we generally find common ground. So, I congratulate your on surviving this long, especially with your sarcastic tongue and propensity for running into hard objects travelling at high velocities. There were times I really had my doubts. HAPPY BIRTHDAY
BRO! I LOVE YOU!

For unique life stories by Don Miller visit his author’s page at http://goo.gl/lomuQf