CHARLOTTE, NC, January 16, 2018.: Sometimes surprising things happen that are so overwhelming it is impossible to put them in words. Among the true blessings of my affliction with ALS have been the numerous random acts of kindness that have come from every source imaginable.
Monday, January 15, 2018 was one of those days, and it is a story that has to be told.
When it comes time to say goodbye
I have made it known to my family that when the time comes I do not want everyone hovering around my bed to watch me say “goodbye.” If ever there was an indication that the end is near and it is time to pay the ferryman, it has to be looking up from your pillow to see all those silhouettes peering down at you.
In some ways, but to a far lesser degree, I have come to know that when my family shows up at the house in mid-afternoon on a weekday, that something is up. Something beyond the kindness of their time.
Having learned that my ultra-verbose family forgets how to make phone calls when my wife goes out of town, I now know all to well that “silence is golden” when I am alone.
Though I wasn’t sure just what it was, I knew something was brewing when everyone dropped by on Monday afternoon.
A surprising Monday
As the ALS has progressed, several volunteers from our church come by on Thursday night to sit with me so my wife, Jane can go to choir practice without additional apprehension. The process provides more relief for Jane than me because I am content to sit quietly and watch television or doze off for a cat nap.
The ALS Foundation also provides a professional caregiver twice each week for three hours per session. This allows Jane a chance for some precious free time, again without fear of an emergency at home.
Among those who stop by on Thursdays are people with a wide variety of interests. Conversations are, therefore, always fascinating and insightful ranging from pop culture to religion, travel and everything in between.
A visit from Tar Heel mega sports fan Joe
One of my “sitters” is an avid sports fan. Anyone who lives in North Carolina is either a voracious college basketball fan who either loves the Tar Heels or hates them. In this case, Joe Taylor (no relation) is in the “He loves me” category.
Though I had never met Joe until the night he first came by, he brought with him a four-inch thick scrapbook filled with trading cards from North Carolina basketball teams throughout their history.
Joe is the ultimate “fan” who enjoys all sports and follows each season with a passion.
So his Tar Heel collection is just one of many sources of memorabilia.
As the evening wore on, Joe asked me about my baseball days in St. Louis Cardinals organization where I was fortunate enough to play for two seasons of minor league professional baseball for Hall of Fame manager George “Sparky” Anderson.
My tenure with Anderson occurred before he became known only as “Sparky” after guiding Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine” into the baseball limelight in the early 1970s.
“So what was that like?” asked Joe with curious enthusiasm.
“He was the most competitive person I ever met,” I answered. “During a road trip to Cocoa Beach in the Florida State League, I remember teaching Sparky the basics of playing Bridge. Two days later he had mastered the strategy of the game and nobody could beat him.
“Nobody I ever knew hated to lose more. Sparky understood the nuances of baseball better than anyone and that’s why players would run through brick walls for him.
“Outsmart Sparky and beat him at his own game and you earned his respect for life. Win by a fluke when you had no idea what you were doing would send him into a rage. And yet, he was always the ultimate gentleman,” I replied.
Boys and baseball cards
Then Joe asked a familiar question. “Did you have a baseball card?” he asked.
“Actually I had two bubble gum card contracts. One with Fleer and one with Topps,” I answered. “The way it worked was that you had to make it to the major leagues to get a card. There were also bat contracts with Louisville Slugger. Professional player had their names stamped on the bat, but a big leaguer would get his signature imprinted instead of block letters.”
Joe and I talked sports for the rest of the night until Jane returned. That was before Christmas and our paths had not crossed since…until yesterday.
When Joe walked in late in the afternoon, I thought he was bringing his Tar Heel scrapbook back for me to share with my morning breakfast buddies.
Instead, he had another surprise.
“I did some research and contacted Topps after we met last year,” said Joe.
Then he reached into a bag he brought with him and pulled out a Topps baseball card with my picture, name and stats from my days with the Cardinals!
Now, fifty-plus years after my playing days are over, ALS has reminded me that in a small way, I am immortal; I now have my own official Topps baseball card.
It is a beautiful personal final tribute to the game that has been so much a part of my life.
The impact of this Random act of Kindness
Another truly “random act of kindness” had exceeded my wildest expectations from someone who shares my love of sports and competition, yet someone I barely know.
I am keenly aware that a million “Taylor cards” still won’t be an even swap for a Ted Williams or Mickey Mantle rookie card, but it doesn’t matter because I now have my own personal “Taylor Made” baseball card.
Time to Say Goodbye:
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award-winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime
Read more of Bob’s journeys with ALS and his travels around the world
Editors Note: Support Bob’s GoFundMe to give him a hand up