My dad had a rather backwards way of expressing respect for someone. Whenever someone was worthy of his props, he would say, “I take his hat off to him.”
I tried telling him that expressing gratitude did not require becoming that person’s butler, even a part-time one, but my sweet guy never could get that line right. It was always him getting someone de-chapeau-ed as a way of saying thank you. What’s ironic is that for the last 20 years of his life, my dad wore a baseball cap almost anywhere he went. He could even have written crib notes under the bill, in journalistic shorthand “Tak MY ht, not his ht off 2 him,” but no.
Anyway, you probably know where this is headed. I know I owe you guys a pile of thank-yous for everything you did for my family during this past month, but before I start collecting sombreros, turbans and yarmulkes, I wanna share with you a few of the things people did for my boy and my family during this time. Keep in mind that none of these things was my idea. People just did it out of a desire to help out.
So let me take the hats off the entire team of Cashmere soccer girls, coach and coach’s wife included, who showed up one afternoon and raked all the leaves in our front yard.
Let me take the hats off the girls’ cross country team, who gave their annual Sportsmanship award to a guy in crutches who can run distances as well as a tranquilized turtle.
Off go the hats of hundreds, and I do mean hundreds of people, who –coincidentally perhaps– passed the hat for us, a day after the accident, at the Cashmere-Medical Lake football game.
Off goes the hat (but only until it starts getting really cold) of 102-year-old Sophrona Pusel, who won a stuffed bear at her weekly bingo game, and decided to give it to my Matias, whom she had –and has– never met.
Hatless time for the members of the Wacoka Kiwanis, whom this morning, when rewarding the most improved students of the month -also known as the Terrific Kids– of the elementary school, decided to name my boy an honorary Terrific Kid.
Hatless time for Rex Pittsinger and Casey Ruether and the entire football team of Cashmere High, who showed up at my house hours after the Medical Lake game, a day after the accident and handed me my first-ever game ball, autographed by the entire team.
Helmetless time (but only ’till the sirens start blaring) to Chuck Dronen, Dave Dronen, Shane Rinker and the rest of the Cashmere Fire Department. Special embarrassed mention goes to the dad of my friend Mollie Newberry, whom I called “Mr. Kenoyer,” when I first saw him arrive with the rest of the crew. In my defense, I was still a little bit out of it. But still, Kenoyer? Jeez.
Hatless time to my friend Kameon Smith, who showed up with a stuffed dog for my son, a day or two after the accident. My son was miserable when he arrived from Harborview and the stuffed puppy was the reason for the first laugh I got out of him.
Let me get the hat of the members of the Cashmere School Board, the superintendent Glenn Johnson, coach Blomquist and the great Bob Wildfang from the school foundation, who kept me fed while my wife was in Seattle with our boy. Yes, I know, I took freebie sandwiches and pizza from sources, I broke my own rule, I stink as a reporter, I ate my credibility, etc., etc., etc. All very true, but also, very yummy.
And these people are but a fraction of all the wonderful warmth that has inundated us during these past four weeks. The list is long, as in hundreds-of-names long, and I will not forget a single one of them, but I am not going to transcribe it here. All of them, I take their hats any time.
I am a big, weepy powderpuff so sometimes it’s really hard to keep it together when people you have never even met tell you how happy they are that you are still around. And if to that you add the fact that your profession entails criticizing and scrutinizing the same people, for good or bad, such expression of love have a much deeper impact.
And speaking of impact…
The fella had hit us and I was on the ground, watching as Mr. Rinker and the rest of the crew tried to revive my son. They had assured me he was alive, but he would not wake up, so I turned to my most powerful friend and I offered him a deal. A rotten deal as a matter of fact.
“God,” I said. “If my son wakes up, I’ll never drink again.”
Pretty powerful statement, of course, if the person making it actually happens to be a drinker, which I am if you consider ONE glass of beer a year and some champagne on New Year’s Eve as being “a drinker.”
Later, with my son in pain, but awake and alert, I took measure of the bottle of snake oil I had offered my Maker. “Never drink again? Wow, what a sacrifice, Chilean. Why didn’t you offer to stop practicing law and retire from coaching the Packers while you were at it?”
Seriously, though, moments like those really help you find out who you are. I never for a second thought I was going to die, not even when I was rolling on the pavement, wondering if I would ever stop. I did wonder if my son was going to make it, especially when I found him unconscious on the ground, but when I heard him cry, I stopped wondering that, and started wondering how I could have ever let something like that happen to him. But then my wife showed up and I stopped worrying about that for a while–, because that’s when I found out who I was…
My wife tried to keep it together, and I tried to reassure her that he would be fine. She still looked shocked –and who wouldn’t, looking at the two of us on the ground of Pioneer Avenue, clothes torn, shoes gone, and her boys in trouble, the big one bleeding and the small one crying. And then, the police officer turned to her and asked, “Are you OK, ma’am?” and my wife immediately replied, looking at Matias, “If he’s OK, I’m OK.”
And I thought, ‘of all the people I could have ended up with, I had to pick her.’
And I started getting better right then and there, because then I knew who I was.
I was lucky.
Until next time…and once again, thank you.