When the news came, I was shocked – just as you most likely were. He was a legend in Western Pennsylvania. Still is. His unexpected death has not changed anyone’s opinion of this man’s accomplishments on, and off, fields of play and business. He is Franco … the only black and gold #32 most of us ever knew. The one we will never carve out of our childhood memories, or forget meeting during a chance encounter.
I never met him. Since his passing, though, I have become aware some of my friends met him in the past. Pictures of happy embraces grace my feed. In some instances, proud autographs are displayed. Just through those secondary seconds in time, I can imagine wonderful conversations. He must have been a gentleman.
There may be no other way for me to hug the moment – that is, to eulogize a man I only knew through little pieces of 2-dimensional cardboard – than to say: He must have been a gentle man.
This. From a musician far removed from any gridiron grit … who spent his time watching the sport mainly through colorful picture cards with posing players who never opposed anyone while in their inanimate state. This was my Franco, Terry, Lynn, and Rocky experience. Nolan, Roberto, and Mr. Yount became frequent visitors to my afternoon bungalows as time whisked away in imaginary playfields with my sister … and possibly a few friends who happened to stop by.
The real magic happened if a sickness (especially on a school day) happened to march into my sinus dugout. Up to bat came Mom to pinch hit with fresh wax packs of marvelous cards to open. Yah, know – to assist me in the “healing process” … I’m not sure if this was ever Dr. approved, but Mom always knew how to lift my spirits. Of course she did. Mom’s know. She was a gentle lady.
Yes, she was.
This Christmas will be the 10th without her. This is a hard holiday. Hard – not because she’s not in the kitchen baking cookies, or we’re not playing piano duets. Hard – not because the pinochle deck isn’t spread out all over the table beside a few unfinished puzzles of hers. Hard – not because we can’t talk and be goofy together.
Hard because of that gentleman, Franco Harris. Hard because I can’t ever give Mom anything back in return for what she gave me: love, respect, kindness, compassion, caring, and humor.
You see, the card above is the very last present I opened from Mom. It was randomly inserted in a pack of cards she bought, unopened, from a local hobby shop. She knew I love sports cards. Of course, she knew.
She was so sick. With only a few months to live, this was her gift. This pack – containing no guarantee of anything – was purchased and wrapped. Weeks later, opened by a very grateful son.
Decades earlier, I was sick. Fast forward. There I was feeling equally grateful to receive a pack of cards from my Mom – now, she was sick. Difference being, I would get better in a few days.
She died a few months later.
I’ve looked at this card every Christmas. The weird thing about all this is the serial number:
“It’s a Christmas miracle, Mom”, I whisper to myself every time this card appears before my teared up eyes. #12/25 could not have happened without the love and respect Mom and I had for each other throughout our lives.
Things like that happen because they have to. The piano connection was, almost, too easy. She needed a more clever way to stay in touch with me.
Yesterday was a Franco, Mom, and me day for sure.
Sunday will be a day to remember Mom, again, as her Christmas absence will be felt. That 2011 Certified Fabric of the Game relic card sits in a special place to be pulled out and cherished for a few minutes as usual. This year, I will pause an extra minute or so to honor Franco Harris as well.
He is the man I never met, but feel I’ve known my whole life. Through it all … he’s been with me in 2-dimensional form, however, has made a 3-dimensional difference in my life thanks to Mom.
She is hard to miss now, but was easy to love.
Merry Christmas, once again, Mom. Franco sends his best your way.