Tuesday, May 4, 2021

May the Fourth

 May 4th has been an important day for me long before the Star Wars film brand was ever imagined. And oddly enough, it does have to do with a force, but not of the Jedi nature.

In 1969, I was a young nine-year-old boy, 5th child of my parents, the youngest, and do not remember having a care in the world. I was living life from my Monroe Avenue vantage point, on the west side of Birmingham. Little League baseball had just begun. Fair Park might as well have been Fenway Park. Those dim incandescents way up on a pole seemed as bright as any MBL park in the country. We had just finished opening day on this Saturday, May 3, 1969.

My middle brother, Tim, had caught a high and tight pitch with his nose. After surgery to repair his now deviated septum, was in West End Baptist Hospital, where my mom worked as a nurse's aide at night. I was at my sister's house, preparing to go with her and her husband to visit his family in Mississippi. She was expecting her first child; the first grandchild of my parents. Knowing what I now know about grandchildren, I'm sure there was much excitement in the house.

May 4, 1969, fell on a Sunday. Instead of the "normal" routine of preparing for church, we were loading up to go to Amory. Tim was struggling to breath through the gauze packed in his nose. Not sure where Wayne and Danny were.

Then, the phone rang at my sister's house. I immediately knew it was not good. I don't know why. She answered. After a few seconds I heard the phone drop and Kay crying. The news hit my nine-year-old ears with a thud: Dad had been shot.

I know I've written most, if not all, of this before; but never in light of May the Fourth Be With You. This day, there was a disturbance in the force. A true hero, my dad, father of five, husband of one wife, soon-to-be grandfather, little league umpire, Boy Scout leader, Cub Scout leader, sergeant in the Army Reserves, deacon at our church, and member of the Birmingham Police Department, was taken down.

No sagas were written and produced about his life. No published memoirs of his heroic acts while fighting crime in our city, or serving in Germany on active duty in the Army. No grand legacy to be recited from podiums throughout the ages. Just six people left to pick up the fragments of their lives and try to make some sense out of tomorrow. Just a widow with four boys at home wondering where the food will come from to feed them. Just a granddaughter to be born seven months later with no grandfather.

There was no tiny green man that showed up to help guide me through the tumultuous years which followed. No magical light-sword to help me fight the battles I would face in the coming days and weeks; decades even.

But, there were some pretty special people that made difference where they could. My Sunday School teacher, Harry Collins, took time to talk to me when I needed a man's voice. My fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Meridith, was kind to me when she saw my tears. Scout leaders like Yeager, Price, Wilburn, Abernathy, and others showed me what being a man was all about. Teachers like Tom Cheatham. Pastors like Mike Harrison and Doc Shell showed me how to seek after God for my answers instead of man. My siblings: Kay, Wayne, Tim, and Danny, who did who knows what that I never saw or heard to take care of me, mom, and each other, as we clawed our way back to normal.

I don't know that I ever reached normal. I wonder, often, what it would have been like to grow up with a father. I'll never know. I wonder what it would have been like for my children to grow up with a grandfather. They will never know.

Please don't pity me, or them. We survived. We live good lives. I adore my granddaughters. I love my wife of 40+ years. My children are amazing, and have married amazing people. I'm blessed. 

So when May the Fourth rolls around each year I do not think of Star Wars. I remember a true hero who died way too young. I remember my dad, Azell Leroy Harris.


KHDuckworth said...

Thank you. I've often wondered how different our lives would have been with daddy here.

KerrieW said...

This was good! Got me in my feelings a little. I have always wondered what he would have been like. I know he would have been a very special part of my life.

Roy H said...

Thank you for sharing these thoughts! Every account I hear of him and these events sheds a little more light on who he was and the impact his life had on so many others.