It was almost five years ago now when I first met him. I was knee-deep in basketball tryouts at Sparkman Middle. Twenty-two teenage boys and me in that little gym. To call it a Jr. High gym by today’s standards was generous, extremely generous. It’s hard to believe that a high school game was ever played in there.
He wandered in the west entrance that goes directly into the parking lot. He looked a little rough, but mostly just out of place. He was older, much older. Old enough it seemed to be a great-grandfather to the kids in the gym with me. He had a long white beard and shoulder length hair, white as his beard. I would later find out he’s been known to play Santa at community Christmas events. I would later find out a lot more than that. As for now, he stood in the doorway in a pair of shorts and his Alabama t-shirt. I was extremely suspicious.
I wandered over to introduce myself. Turns out he does have a grandson in the gym. He’s just a sixth-grader. I had just met him. One of the best athletes I have ever seen at that age. Granddad and I meet briefly. He watches, waits, and takes his grandson home that day.
He and I would get to know each other pretty well over the next few years of me coaching his grandson. They don’t have much. They live in a very small little house, that probably takes a large part of their even smaller income. Four grandkids raised in that home. At times five. At times, people sleeping in the living room. The children always sharing a bedroom.
I don’t really have much of an idea what seventy will look like for me and Jennifer. When I think about it, I don’t see four grandchildren living with us in a 1,500 square foot house, making ends meet somehow. That isn’t the picture I have in mind. I’m sure it wasn’t his either.
But, I have watched this family closely for five years. I have stood in their living room a number of times. I have sat down with them in my office at school. I laughed with them, cried with them, prayed with them. I have been there when their grandson wandered during prodigal seasons and I’ve been there when the water heater has gone out. I have known this family enough to know their granddaughter loves Little Debbie Christmas Tree Cakes, grandmother prays without ceasing, and those grandkids are well-loved...extremely well-loved.
Over all those years of watching and listening, I observed Grandpa stand in that same SMS doorway time and time again. I’ve watched him high five, fist bump, hug, and tell every one of those boys how awesome they were. He was their biggest fan and it brought him so much joy. It brought them so much joy. I’ve watched his grandson lead his team to victory and come out of the locker room crying because his mom didn’t show up again. Grandpa was always the one there to walk out of that gym with an arm around that boy.
He would always talk to me about watching the kids at the ballfield and at the rec center. He loves ball and he loves kids. And he would do anything within his power for any of them.
I guess it should come as no surprise when I passed by the school lunchroom yesterday on the first day of our free meal summer program, there he sat with a table full of kids. Adults aren’t able to eat in this program, it’s only for children. But he sat right there in the middle of them, laughing and joking and enjoying himself every bit as much as they were. Yes, I’m not surprised at all.
I walked over to speak with him for a minute, shake his hand, ask him about the kids. He tells me, beaming with pride, his grandson is about to be a senior. “We’ll have two graduated and two more to go. You’d be so proud of him,” he says.
I bet I would. And I bet his success has a whole lot to do with how proud of him grandpa is.
“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law” (Romans 13:8).