Death — death comes to us all. It is the one thing that no one can help us with. On that day, we stand with our God and no one else. It matters not what religion you believe in, it is our faith that sustains us through the hardship of losing a cherished loved one. It is the one promise that life, in time, does honor.
People will tell you that time heals all wounds, I cannot tell you this is the truth. I can only tell you that time does have the ability to cloud our memory. With those memories faded, it does appear that we — in time — find peace with our thoughts and memories of lost loved ones.
The greatest loss in life is for a parent to lose a child to death in any form. As a parent, you never think that you will outlive your children. It is something that just cannot take place, we think, but in reality, it’s all too common an occurrence.
In my life, death has been a very frequent unwanted visitor.
My experiences with death started at a very young age. I was but 5 years old when death came the first time to haunt my young life.
My best friend and my only friend at that time was my cousin Ricky; we were basically raised together. My memories of this child go back to the late ’50s. We were always together at out grandmother’s house. As very small children, the grandmother looked after us while our parents were at work.
I have memories of both of us, but most of those memories were of our last summer together.
This story is not about Ricky and myself, it’s about all of us and the loss that some of us have experienced as children. It might not have been the death of a child, but most of you will have memories that will be so very close in nature.
That last summer is packed full of memories of the two of us, from playing together to fighting each other and fighting total strangers.
One such memory was of the two of us being taken to a local baseball game. It would be the first and last game for us together. We were riding in the back of an old open pickup truck, but we were not alone. We were with some of our team’s players.
We were big boys — or so we thought. That night has stayed with me in my memories for well over half a century. It was the first time we ever had store-bought ice cream in a cone. I now know that Ricky’s face was a mirror of my own face and the delight of that ice cream cone.
As we got to the ball park, the team members jumped off and ran onto the field. Ricky and I also jumped off, only to be told by my father to stay near the truck. We were allowed to walk around but did not go far from the area.
We were barefoot — as it was summer, we had no shoes. As we walked around, we saw a boy a bit older than us, from the other team. He was dressed up just like the other ball players, only in miniature. We walked up to him only to be told that his father was the pitcher for the other team and that we needed to leave. Before we could turn and leave, he stomped Ricky’s foot with steel cleat shoes. The top of Ricky’s foot was ripped open. Blood was everywhere.
Then and now, you don’t hurt my friends and get away with it. Before that night, I had never used my left fist, in a fight — until then it was just pushing and that was about it.
When I saw Ricky’s foot bleeding, I busted the other boy’s nose and blood shot onto his jersey.
The boy ran away but came back with his dad. My dad told me to get in the truck and stay there. I paid a price for what I did, but I did it for Ricky.
That year, we started the first grade together and he did not ride the bus with me. His dad worked close to the school, so he got dropped off. As it was not a big school , we were lucky enough to be in the same class. He sat in the third row and I sat in the fourth about two seats back.
We played at school and ate lunch together — as usual, we were always together. It was just like being at home, but we had to be quiet and pay attention to the teacher and try to learn. This was hard for the both of us, but we weren’t alone. In time, it all got better for the teacher, I cannot say it was better for the two of us, because we were just as wild as young bucks.
Later in the fall, something happened, I know it was a Friday. The reason I say this is because I did not go to school for the next two days. I had no idea what had happened, but I knew the adults in our family seemed to be sad and that there was no laughing or joking. I did not understand, as nothing was said to me.
As I sit here today to write these words, more than 50 summers have come and gone. As I write, I cry for my Ricky and the what-ifs.
When Monday came and it was time to go back to school, something was not right. I did not know what, the other kids just looked at me and said nothing as I got on the school bus. That bothered me and I did not know at that moment why. The bus that was always loud was not. The kids sat in their own seats and were quiet.
I got off the bus and ran to the classroom to see Ricky. He had not been in school on Friday, I did not see him over the weekend, and I just wanted to see my friend. I sat there with the other kids, they were also very quiet. I keep on looking at the seat in front of me. My eyes went from the seat to the door, and then back again, over and over until the teacher came in. Ricky’s seat was empty and it was to stay that way.
I would never see Ricky again in life or death.
My teacher asked me to come up to her desk. She then walked me out into the hallway where both of my parents were. My mother was in tears and said nothing, my father just held his head low. My parents were just like the other folks in our valley — good, hardworking people with no true education.
At that moment, I found out what death was and the pain that death had brought to my valley and our family.
For the first time, my Ricky had been taken to the bus stop on his road. It was across from the lake. You see, it was the past weekend when we were taught how to skip rocks off the water by our grandpa.
Ricky had picked up some rocks, he went across the road and skipped the rocks off the water. He saw the bus coming and ran back across the road, but he did not see the truck. He was hit and killed by a lady who could do nothing to stop it. It all happened too fast.
My parents did the best they could that day. Now, some of you would say that it was up to my parents to tell me, and that’s easy enough for you to say. The pain of that child’s death was so overwhelming for the entire family that no one wanted to hurt me with what had happened.
Even today with these words put to print, all these many years latter, I cry for my Ricky. I know not what type of life he would have had, I only know that he did not have a life, as he died as a baby of just 5 years old. He would be the first of my aunt’s sons to be killed.
My aunt would bury Jackie at 18, he was killed in early February 1968 during the Tet Offensive at Hue. In late May, she would bury Sammie, who was just shy of being 20 years old. He was killed at Khe Sanh.
So, for those of you who have had a long, prosperous life, cry not for yourselves and the burdens that life has put upon you. Be not saddened by your lot in life, as you have had a life that was not cut short. You live your life to the best of your ability and give back to life for those who never had a chance.
My words are written for those of us who have had such a loss; never will we understand it in total.
Our faith in our God and of the better days in our afterlife are the only comfort we have in life and on this earth.
Robert Lee is a concerned citizen and former U.S. Marine who owns and operates Rockingham Guns and Ammo.