Gut Rumbles

June 21, 2004

the death of a child

I don't know why I'm in such a morbid mood today. Quinton came to see me yesterday and Jack came to visit today, so I've gotten to visit with my two favorite boys in back-to-back days. Jack watched a movie with me and helped me finish off the last of the boiled peanuts I cooked yesterday. We had a good time.

After he left, I remembered a day from my past that I really didn't want to revisit.

When I was a junior in high school, I went out with a bunch of my teammates from the Jenkins football squad on a Friday night to watch the Benedictine Cadets play Savannah High School at Memorial Stadium. We had a bye weekend, but we were scheduled to play BC the next Saturday and SHS the week after that. We wanted to check out our opponents.

I don't remember who won that game, but I remember what happened later that night. Several friends of mine wrapped a hot-rod GTO around that big oak tree on Dead Man's Curve on LaRoache Avenue. Anybody from Savannah can name numerous people killed on that spot, by that same tree, but that one really hit home to me.

I was asked to go riding with them that night, but I slipped off to neck with a new girlfriend instead. Five people got into that car. One died and the other four were in the hospital for months with severe injuries.

My father was reading the newspaper when I walked into the kitchen on Saturday morning. "You play ball with these guys, don't you?" he asked as he slid the paper my way. I read the story and my jaw dropped. I had seen every one of them about eight hours earlier. I was invited to go riding with them. Now, one was dead and the other four were fighting for life. Holy Bejus!

The phone rang shortly thereafter and it was Coach Atwood calling everybody on the team that he could reach to set up an "honor guard" for our fallen teammate. We met in the Jenkins gym and drew numbers to decide who would spend one hour, starting at 8:00 the next morning, down at Goethe's Funeral Home, and watching people grieve over a closed coffin. I drew #2, which put me on the first shift, along with a guy named Billy Holland.

I spent the longest hour of my life standing by that coffin in my red Jenkins blazer that day. He's been dead for over 30 years now, so I'll go ahead and use the name of the fallen comrade. He was Tommy Spellman, and his father was Athletic Director of the Chatham County Public Schools. Tommy played offensive tackle and kicked field goals and extra points. He was a large, husky fellow.

His father was a big, rough-looking man who appeared to be carved hapazardly from an irregular piece of granite rock. Everybody knew MR. SPELLMAN, and he impressed every schoolboy ballplayer I ever knew. If you were around him for five minutes, you decided that you wanted to grow up to be as tough as he was.

I watched tears roll down that man's face that day. Mr. Spellman, the toughest of the tough, cried like a baby at his son's funeral. At the time, I was disappointed in him. I expected more stoic behavior from "The Rock." But I didn't have children of my own at the time.

Today, I cannot imagine a worse experience than seeing one of your children die young, when their life is still an open highway, filled with opportunity and good times never to be realized. That's got to be totally heartbreaking. I realize now why Mr. Spellman cried that day.

I would, too. I hope only that I never have to.


Me too. And especially not for something as stupid as speeding.

Posted by: Seppo on June 21, 2004 07:47 PM

I would rather have my head slashed off by (name your dirtbag here), than see my son or daughter die. I might just cry forever

Nothing could be worse.

Posted by: wesley J. on June 21, 2004 08:44 PM

I know what you mean, Rob. It's funny how parenthood changes us. My greatest wish these days is to watch both my children grow up to be healthy, happy adults; to see them fall in love with the right person (yes, even my little girl); and to see them start families of their own.

Posted by: Robert on June 21, 2004 09:54 PM

Ayuh, brother.

Posted by: Velociman on June 21, 2004 09:57 PM

This past week we lost a home town boy/man age 22.
He used played ball a year or two with my son. Went to school with most my kids.
Speeding and drinking, I'm told.
Worse wreck you could imagine.
IT's so sad.

Posted by: Treasa on June 22, 2004 12:27 AM

Dear Rob - I know what you mean. I lost my son to colon cancer 10 years ago at age 27 and I still tear up from time to time. You never get over it. I'm glad you got yo see your two favorite boys on consecutive days. Keep 'em close and love them. All the best, Terry

Posted by: Terry Reynolds on June 22, 2004 09:54 AM

Absolute worst nightmare...what Wesley said.

Posted by: Key on June 22, 2004 10:42 AM

My dear departed & I lost my step-daughter in '93. A lot of the fight went out of my woman, who was a survivor of hard times. She passed unexpectedly in '99. Grief was an important factor. Seldom did a day go by in those 6 years when i didn't see tearful eyes or hear her say, "I miss my girl."

I hope none of you ever have to go through the loss of a child.

Posted by: Larry on June 23, 2004 10:45 AM
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