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And a Little Child Shall Lead…

by Tom Paré

The boy came into the world ... and the uncle came back to the world at the same time.

His number was 12. Not his age, because he never lived that long. It was his uni-
form number. Just like the one his uncle wore when the old guy played hockey and baseball back in Windsor, Canada.

The little boy would answer the phone very proudly, because it was one of the few things he could do without over-exerting himself. He had an inoperable heart condition, which in those days, and perhaps even now, dictated an early death.

”Hello!” he would say. “This is Number 12 speaking.” And if it were the uncle who was calling, the boy would chuckle to himself. Or if the uncle called and spoke to the boy’s dad, he would ask to say hello to Number 12. And then that little voice would say just what the uncle wanted him to say.

”Hello! This is 12. That’s the same number you wore, isn’t it, uncle?”

And the uncle would laugh out loud, while smiling to himself, because he was very proud to share that number with the little boy, who meant so much to him, and was, in a big way, responsible for the well-being of the old Number 12.

Both 12’s were born on the same day back in 1977 – December 16th. The boy came into the world on that day and the uncle came back to the world at the same time. On that day, the uncle was in an alcoholic hospital after many half-hearted attempts to sober up or at least temporarily appease those around him. He really had no hope of ever being like those others who had started a recovery process because he thought he was too far gone, too unique, too old, and more than that, he didn’t even feel that he had a problem. The problems in his life were those who didn’t understand him. For thirty years, he lived the camouflaged, phony world of self-acclaimed grandiosity. Perhaps, he thought, this trip into the institution might teach those others what life was all about – what he was all about.

Little Todd died in 1984 at the age of six,
and in [his uncle’s] hall of fame,
his number 12 has been retired.

The phone call came on December 17th. A young boy was born the day before. His name was Todd and he was the man’s new nephew. And he had some very serious medical problems. Both the boy and the uncle spent Christmas in the hospital, the younger fighting for his life, and the older wondering if it was even worth it to fight anymore, after all his failures. Fifteen years before, he had even failed a suicide attempt.

A month or so later, the uncle was released from the alcoholic hospital, still not really sure what lay ahead for him. And the boy was being shifted back and forth to and from Detroit’s Children’s Hospital to undergo tests, surgeries, and new diagnoses, while his parents spent their nights sleeping fitfully at the Ronald MacDonald House, awaiting doctor’s reports.

The worst news came within a year. The little boy would not survive. It was devastating to all except Todd. The little guy never knew anything other than that he had a great and loving family. He would try to walk across a room or perhaps a bit farther and then he would raise his arms up to his mom or dad and say, “I’m tired now.” And they would cradle him just for a while. And then he’d try again. And again. And again.

The uncle watched these things and saw that the boy fought to do things they said that he couldn’t do, while the man was fighting to do things that he shouldn’t do.

Each December 16th, the uncle made it a point to call the boy’s house and each time he did, the boy would say in the same laughing voice, “This is 12 speaking.”

One year, the boy sent a card that his dad picked out and it included this message: ”Uncle, my mom says I can’t play baseball yet because I’m not strong enough and I can’t run. But you know what? I think that I will only wait a year or two and then I will play ball and I’ll hit only home runs, and then I won’t have to run.”

The boy’s dad wrote a postscript to the little boy’s card, and it said:

”Dear Tom, the above reminds me of both you and Todd. He is such a fighter and so are you. I want you to know that you will always be my #1 big brother whom I’ve always looked up to and respected, and I am very proud of you. Both of you have taught me so many things. Thank you for that, and for being such a great uncle and good friend to Todd and a great brother to me.”

Little Todd died in 1984 at the age of six, and in this hall of fame, his number 12 has been retired. In his short life, Todd was an inspiration to many people; not only to the family, but also to all who watched him live a life that he thought was a fine one. He didn’t know that he was incapable of doing some things. And his uncle didn’t know that he himself was capable of doing normal things.

Little Number 12 changed the uncle’s thinking. Todd, through his spirit and charm and overall innocent goodness was one of the main factors in his uncle’s recovery.

For the past 25 years, each Christmas season brings back the memory of that December 16th in 1977, when a brand new baby started to lead an old uncle up a new path. Todd led the way, and because of him, the old man thinks of Number 12’s birth and death as a wonderful celebration of two lives.

Merry Christmas to you, Number 12.
One of these days I hope to play on
the same team with you, just like
we talked about.


 

 

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