I do not much like having my photograph taken, but there is one picture of me I have always liked. In it, I am standing near the road between my old apartment and the park across the street. In the crook of my right arm, I am holding my nephew, Adam, who is 3-years-old. I am wearing my favorite shirt, a gray R.E.M. T shirt, and it is a beautiful day. Adam is squinting, and I am smiling broadly, as if to say, “This is MY nephew!”
My sister, Lisa, was the first of us to have children, and Adam was her firstborn. As soon as he was old enough, I took him to see professional wrestling matches, the Harlem Globetrotters, even the Charlotte Hornets when they used to hold their preseason training camp in Boone, back in the days when I was a sportswriter for the Watauga Democrat. Adam was pretty dazzled to be able to get that close to the players, even if it was just practice.
One day after practice, I tried to get Rex Chapman to give him an autograph, but Chapman snubbed us, leaving Adam standing there at the door to the locker room holding his unsigned Hornets basketball. I was so peeved that I wrote a nasty column the very next day about pampered athletes, as well as placing a private hex on Chapman, which in turn caused him to have a terrible season.
Now, the Hornets are in New Orleans, I’m in Waynesville, and Adam is on the verge of being in Iraq.
I went back to Sparta over Labor Day weekend to see him. He had come down to visit for a few days before shipping off in just a couple more weeks. I wanted to spend as much time as I could with him, bumping fists, talking about music, watching his kids play with my kids, who are only slightly older than his. On Saturday night, we somehow got involved in watching a segment of my mother’s favorite movie of all time, “The Sound Of Music,” picking it up right around the time that Captain Von Trapp realizes that the Baroness is not really the girl for him, after all.
As we watched the family Von Trapp basically sing its way out of the clutches of the Nazis, as we watched them climb that mountain and out of harm’s way, propelled upward by the soaring music of Rodgers and Hammerstein, I wondered what Adam must be thinking. He is, after all, heading back down the mountain, toward the fray, where matters these days are a good deal less black and white.
Near one end of the couch, his girls, who are 4 and 2, got involved in some type of minor dispute that quickly escalated into accusations, followed by tears. He handled this the way he always handles his children, with a calm, soft, but firm touch that miraculously settled the issue almost as quickly as it began. He is a single dad who dotes on his girls without spoiling them. I have never seen him get remotely upset with them, not even once. He tells them what to do, and they do it.
Later on in the evening, we watched sports highlights and just talked about whatever came up. His girls were laid out on the couch next to him, fast asleep, one with her head in his lap. I can’t imagine how hard it is going to be on him to leave them behind, but that is not one of the subjects we talked about. It was just easier to talk about the Bruce Springsteen show I am going to see this week, or the Tool show he is planning to see. It is easier for me to tease him about the mean imitation he used to do of Michael Jackson, moonwalking across this very same living room floor not so very many years ago.
Now he is a grown man, a father. Now he jumps out of airplanes. Now he is a member of the US Airborne Infantry.
The next morning, we all had breakfast together, and it was time for us to go back home. My kids had missed their mom, who had to stay behind and work, and I needed to get caught up on some work back at home. His kids hugged my kids, and I hugged Adam.
He promised to keep in touch via Facebook, and I told him I would look for him there. And I will. But I will also probably dig out that photograph of the two of us, just standing there in the road. What’s that Van Morrison song? “We were born before the wind, also younger than the sun.” I love that picture.