She picked up the phone on the second ring, as she almost always does. (My mom is the only person I know who doesn’t check her calls at all. If she calls, she answers.) But last Tuesday, something just didn’t seem right.
“What’s up mom?” I asked. “You sound funny.”
“Well, I feel funny,” she said. “I’m overwhelmed.”
A long pause.
“What’s going on mom?” I asked as I braced myself for the worst.
Another long pause. Finally she began to speak tentatively.
“Well, I just got off the phone with Bill Blossom. He told me he was bringing a team of 10 men here on Saturday and that at least 10 other men, Bearcats, were coming to help fix up our yard and everything. There are currently 21 grown men planning to come to our house and work in our yard on Saturdays. It’s just too much. I do not know what to say.”
Some background to help you make sense of all this.
- My parents live in a log house on a small farm in Forrest, Mississippi, the town where they grew up. They are good at growing things. Over the years they have grown and given away countless tomatoes, blueberries, muscads, cucumbers, beans and more.
- Bill Blossom is a local artist. He builds and restores amazing things in and around the town where I grew up, including the old railroad depot that still has the Forest sign on it.
- My father was a football coach at Forest for years. (Actually, Blossom was on the first team my dad helped coach in 1968.)
- The team was and still is called the Bearcats.
- Over the years, my parents have shown the Bearcats a lot of love in their hometown and beyond.
This week my friends and I have been talking about the love my parents have been sharing all these years. We agree that a team of 21 people is unlikely to show up to take care of our overgrown yard when we are old and infirm. But for my parents, all that love comes back to them. I’d say it’s been there all along, but now that my dad is sick (he’s 81, has multiple myeloma and several other complicating factors), the love that comes to them is overwhelming, just ask my mom.
Four days after the phone call (in which my mother sounded funny), Blossom, a resident of the forest, and his crew, along with a strong representation of the Bearcats, as my mother called them, showed up. Some worked all morning. Many of them stayed until late afternoon. They took care of the flower beds. They fixed the plumbing problem that my mother was trying to get someone to come look at amid my father’s hospitalizations. They cut down the trees. They cleaned the gazebo with muscades.
Keep in mind that the Bearcats, who emerged on Saturday, July 4, under the Mississippi sun, are not spring chickens per se. Most of them are now 70 years old. They were seniors when I was in first grade. I’ve known their names since I was six years old, but I don’t know them—and they don’t know me.
However, I wanted to speak to some of them to thank them and ask why they did this huge thing for my parents.
“Well, why has he done all the things for us that he’s done over the years?” Forrest resident Jimmy May said. “It’s a close-knit thing. It was like we were back on the team — pulling together. Everyone who was there was a senior in 1970, the year we went undefeated and won the championship.”
May explained that Blossom had organized everything.
“Now that we’re 70 years old, we realize there were certain men who made us the people we are,” Blossom said, his voice breaking.
He paused to collect himself.
“We did it because we love it. We appreciate what he did for us when he didn’t have to,” Blossom said. “It was the right time and everyone agreed it was the right thing to do.”
Dr. Bill Pace, who drove up from Ocean Springs, agreed and shared the credit with the men who trained with my father.
“Basically, your dad and (the other coaches) put their lives on hold for us. They shouldn’t have done what they did,” Pace said. “It had an effect on me throughout my life – that I had to do better and give back to others”
Love is a boomerang.