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Death stirs a flood of great memories

How does one capture a lifetime of memories in a split second. What nudges them to the surface. Do we possess the ability to call upon them at any given moment or do they come to visit only when they choose? Are they dormant in our mind until we need them or are they deep inside us just available upon request?

These were questions buzzing around in my mind recently as I drove home from a funeral home visitation. There is nothing like the death of a close family friend to conjure up some memories, especially when you have known the person almost all of your life!

Years add up more quickly than we can calculate. Time passes us without even saying “Excuse me.” Before you know it, you are not a little child any more and you have been ushered into the role your parents once played. The other night, however, I became a little boy again — if only for an hour or so.

Ann and Tommy McNorrill were like second parents to me. I spent just about as much time at their home as I did my own. My bike knew the exact way to their house without the aid of any GPS. I usually left its wheels still spinning as I hopped off and ran into the McNorrills’ back door. To say the McNorrills were close family friends somehow doesn’t even begin to explain it. My mother and daddy loved them dearly and the McNorrills gave back their love equally and unselfishly to my parents. They shared the same interests in music, food and fun. Their friendship encompassed a lifetime! And, believe me, we have the fading photographs to prove it.

There were many meals shared around a table and just as many laughs as calories followed them. Fun was the name of the game and a good time was always had by all. These were good, honest and caring people who knew how to enjoy life without much money. In fact, the times they shared could not be purchased today for any amount of gold!

The McNorrills had three daughters — Terri, Jan and Wendy. Terri was my age and, though most people don’t know this, my very first girlfriend. Jan was her younger sister and we all know how back then a few years could make a big difference in how we felt about someone. To us, to associate with her would have been an un-cool thing to do, but I still loved her.

Wendy came later and brought with her a special and unique situation. She was a miracle child who was born with an open spine. She wasn’t expected to live, but she proved everyone wrong by living into her 30s. It was only a few years ago that she died. She blessed so many people in her lifetime. She couldn’t have been given to better parents than Ann and Tommy. They gave her not only love but also constant care. She had surgery after surgery and more procedures than most people can even begin to imagine. Year after year, her needs changed but her constant care never stopped.

As I walked into the funeral home the other night for Tommy’s visitation, it was very difficult for me. Having lost both of my parents years ago, it’s always wonderful yet bittersweet to see many of their former contemporaries alive and well. I was greeted by an old friend here and a special person there as I inched my way up to the family. Fragments of memories from another time bounced around in my head like an out of control ball. I immediately became a little boy again who looked and looked around the room but couldn’t find his parents.

I went to the funeral home that night with a big responsibility resting heavily on my shoulders. I was elected to represent to the grieving family all the love and sympathy my parents were not there to personally display. What do you say to a family whose husband and father just died? I didn’t know. Instead, I approached them as the same little boy I was when I first met them and simply smiled and gave them a hug. Was it enough? I’m sure it wasn’t. How can a single hug transmit a lifetime of feelings?

We reminisced about the good times refusing to wake up the bad ones. Times have changed and so have we! Terri is now a doctor, but to me she is still a little smiling girl. Jan reminded me of craft projects that she still remembers doing at my house.

“Even back then,” she said, “you were doing the same type of things you do today!”

Before I left, I felt compelled to once again go back over to Ann. I hugged her tightly and whispered in her ear how much I loved her. I also told her that my parents felt exactly the same way. As tears welled up in both of our eyes, she told me that went without saying.

Maybe we do have the ability to summon long forgotten memories after all. I remembered that during this week we would have celebrated my daddy’s 83rd birthday. After I did the math, it was hard to believe. “Where did all the time go?” I asked myself. Then it occurred to me. Time becomes memories that are carefully captured and stored deep in our hearts so that every so often we can invite them out to enjoy!

MORE FROM MARK

Ÿ Check out Mark’s recently updated Web site, www.markballard.com, for current projects, recipes and lots of other fun stuff for these last few days of summer!

Ÿ Mark is on www.macon.com 24 hours a day. Videos, columns and articles are featured.

Ÿ Mark has a big announcement coming soon that you won’t want to miss. “Mark” your calendars for the evening of Sept. 24 and then stay tuned!

Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208 or fax them to (478) 474-4930 or call (478) 757-6877.

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