Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Passing Friend

Almost a month ago a childhood friend, who I hadn't seen nor talked to since teenage years, passed away. I was fortunate to have been in contact with him twice in the past year through Facebook, at which time I shared with him a picture of our mothers together in a group photo taken in the late 40's or early 50's.

His name was Gregory W. Oliver, but we all called him Chubby. His nickname carried the classic case of being labeled with a name fitting his attributes as a child and having that name stay throughout life, no matter its relevance. You see, Chubby might've been round and plump as an infant, but by the time he reached middle school he was a good six foot three with long strong limbs and little if any body fat.

In sports he was one player to have on your team. As pre-teenagers you'd slide one foot together with those of others to form a circle and someone would singsong count eenie, meenie, mynie, mo while touching each sneaker tip in a clockwise, or in some superstitious cases, counter-clockwise circle. You hoped to fall on the team that Chubb's big size eleven had been picked to.

(eenie, meenie, mynie, mo, catch a piggy by the toe, if he hollers let him go, eenie, meenie, mynie, mo) - our rhythmic street version is too long to document here.

(my mother and your mother were hanging up clothes, my mother punched your mother right in the nose, what color was the blood? (answer Red) R E D spells red and out you surely shall go)

There's one word to describe Chubb's style of playing sports; Tenacious. On defense he harassed and on offense he attacked. He had that tough, never let up attitude and it spilled over to those on his team.

Funny how Chubb would compete with a show of what looked like anger on his face, but when the competition was over the smile would blossom out and the love of competition talked about. When I first saw an interview with Michael Jordan way back before he'd won anything, something about him reminded me of Chubb. Maybe it was that serious look of commitment toward winning. They also had that same type of smile, almost like they didn't want to but couldn't help themselves.

When you think of childhood you automatically think of play. We in our neighborhood played all sorts of street games, from tag games like "rat tag," "catch'em kiss'em" and "flashlight tag" to "turkey bowls" "snow bowls" and "stick ball". We didn't have computers, cell phones or iPods so our time was spent creating fun activities within our small community. Some bored kid genius had even come up with a game while just sitting on porch steps. The old "which hand is the rock hidden in" game. If you chose correctly you moved up a step, if not you stayed put while watching others move up. First to go up and back won. Life lessons I tell you. Playing that game on Chubbs steps was unheard of, too many steps for impatient or attention deficit kids.  Again, life lessons.

During football season, we, the Cliff Street Crew, traveled to other neighborhoods in our town competing against kids just like ourselves; poor and lower middle class. I remember games on beacon st., hudson ave., beekman st. church yard, south ave. school, conway place one time, but Wampy and his crew were a no show and the game was forfeited. Now there's a nickname for you, "Wampy." 

Wamp lived around the corner from conway place on south avenue, but he was all conway; scrappy. Even the dogs on conway were tough. Back then you were more likely to get bit or chased by a neighborhood dog than attacked or jacked by anyone. Unless the neighborhood wars were going on, but that's another story. I love remembering my childhood with all its colorful highlights. 

I'm sure that my friend Chubb took something from those street football game encounters where our unity as one fighting unit allowed us to compete and usually overcome odds in our opponent's favor. Chubb was one of those silent leaders who led more by example than by words. When he suggested a play or strategy against an opponent it was with command and strong conviction. He was a trustworthy leader when he chose to lead. I believe Chubb took on boxing as a high schooler and did quite well, no surprise.

I guess I'm writing this a bit out of selfishness, for my childhood among friends like Chubb was the grandest time of my life. What seemed to make it a special time was not only the innocence of childhood but the togetherness we all shared as friends. There have been blockbuster movies made about such a time in a young man's life. Movies like Sandlot, Stand By Me and even The Little Rascals, all touch on the magic of that stage of growth.

Chubb will always be remembered as a part of that magical childhood I was blessed with. A childhood full of love, creativity, loyalty, honor, respect and sheer joy. We did so much together that our crew of friends were just as close, if not closer, than brothers. Now I must begin contacting those I've lost touch with to let them know how appreciative I am today for being a part of that special time growing up with them. Even in passing, Chubb continues to influence those like myself who saw by his example how life's battles are meant to be fought; Tenaciously!

Gregory W. Oliver
Jan. 4, 1960 - April 16, 2011

Rest Well Chubb

As written on Chubb's obituary page by a pastor:

April 18, 2011
Never has a man stood so tall as when he stooped to help a child. Truly, this is the manner in which I will remember Coach Oliver.
Although I did not know him personally, I am blessed to have known of his commitment. In this day and time, we must learn that not all heros make millions or hold highly esteemed positions. No, some of our best heros and role models are those whom we have the opportunity to rub elbows with.
Mrs. Oliver, take care in knowing that this entire community benefitted from the sacrifice that you made in giving your husband to be a father to so many. His legacy will live thru the many people he touched. I know it is hard, but God ordained a better place for Coach. He is now on the sideline in Heaven doing what he loved....Coaching Angels.
May God Bless and keep your entire family and remember to look to the hills from whence cometh our help. Our help truly comes from the Lord.
Pastor Timothy M. Sheppard and the Central Missionary Baptist Church of Thunderbolt.

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