To end this series of articles, I want to take it back to a beginning.
For those of you reading this that are wrestling fans, do you remember when you first discovered the happiness that can be found through losing yourself in the magic of professional wrestling?
I remember when I did. Let’s both pause for a moment of recollection and see if we can put ourselves back in that moment through imagination and memory.
I remember flipping through the channels while I had control of my grandfather’s remote while he took one of his signature extended retreats to the bathroom. I landed on a wrestling match that caught my attention because of a raucous crowd’s “U-S-A”ing. At that point in my young life (sixth grade), I had mostly been opposed to professional wrestling on the grounds of wanting desperately to be cool and understanding that wrestling was not cool. In fact: it was fake! Or so I had heard. What I was not opposed to, though, was being a proud American. I loved the USA Men’s Olympic Basketball Team, and the idea of following in my father’s bootprints by becoming a soldier in the US Army. Before I had hit the first milestone of manhood called puberty, I was ready to kill and die for my country. So, when Whatever American Tag Team was losing a fight against Whatever Foreign Tag Team (no memory of the actual teams), I felt compelled, as a patriot, to cheer on my fellow countrymen, with my fellow countrymen and (significantly less) countrywomen. Somehow, the American wrestler, who had been getting pummeled, seemed to draw energy from the cheers and began to fight back. The cheers got louder, his fight grew stronger, then: BOOM the crowd screams joyously as he makes a much needed tag to his partner, who proceeds to kick disrespectful outsider ass! Losing all sense of uncool, I was jumping up and down, cheering, as my huge-smiling grandfather returned from his Garfield trade paperback reading session.
That was a Saturday. The preceding Monday, I would tune into WCW Monday Nitro and never be a non-wrestling-fan, again.
Jump cut to wrestling in a small, converted-store-front wrestling arena, in my home town, and, as I was living out the early days of the dream that began in their living room: there was my biggest supporters - Shirley Walker and her husband, Reverend Paul, who was bouncing up and down up and down in his chair, cheering, with a familiar huge smile.
Flash back to a pre-teen me seeing a black-ink-on-yellow-paper, low budget flyer at the local liquor store. Across the top, in bold all-caps was my favorite combination of two words in the English language, at that time: PRO WRESTLING.
My dad, who, to this day, has never shown any interest in watching any wrestling match, agreed to spend his one day a week where he wasn’t hundreds of feet under the Earth, covered in coal dust, also spending the money he earned through that hardship on a form of entertainment that he considered on the same level as reading Little Golden Books with missing pages.
There he was, though, standing in line behind twenty other front-row-hopefuls, checking his watch and huffing, only to gently fake a smile when he sees me noticing him doing it.
There he was, though, sitting in an uncomfortable chair, in an uncomfortable-for-him place, staring at the ring, but drifting off into inner-space, only to have himself jarred back into the present moment by his oldest son screaming like an only daughter, because a grown man in spandex was winning a play-fight. And there he was: looking at me with an unforced smile, as I met his eyes and witnessed my first glimpse at sympathetic-joy. Here was my oft-grumpy, from spending much of his life working incredibly tough jobs, for a family who couldn’t really understand the nature of his sacrifice well enough to truly appreciate it, father seemly subconsciously sending me signals that, despite the fact that he has every right to be unhappy in that moment, he was happy, solely, because I was happy.
If I was intellectually developed enough to reason it out, the following lesson would have been stingingly obvious already, but I remember thinking, “Huh. I think my dad...loves me. … … … Wow. Yeah. My. Dad. Loves. Me.”
Jump cut to a teenage me unwrapping a box that I found awaiting me under a plastic and steel faux evergreen tree that would humble the Vegas Strip, and discovering my first pair of wrestling boots; paid for with I-live-a-hard-life-so-y’all-don’t-have-to money, with I-don’t get-it-but-go-get-it money, with I-hope-you-grow-to-understand-how-much-I-love-you money. I examined the boots with can’t-believe-it awe. Then, when I finally tore my gaze away from my patent leather dreams-coming-to-fruition, I looked up at my father and there was that same smile I had first noticed in a drafty old armory, six, or so, long kid-years before that. I remember thinking, “I understand, dad. Of course, I still had much more growing up to do, before I really did, though. Maybe I still do.
Flashback to explaining to my mother the payment plan for my pro wrestling training.
“It’s a $250 down payment. $20 a week after that. It can be my birthday and Christmas present! Pleeeeaaase!” I asked my mom, knowing that, even at seventeen years into our relationship, that pretty-please voice was hard for my mom to resist.
“I reckon.” She said with a sigh. “You better not get hurt, though, because I ain’t dragging your ass to the hospital.”
And with those sweet words, I began my wrestling journey. On Tuesdays and Thursdays my mom would drive me to two different venues in her thistle colored, full size, Dodge Ram van. One venue was a remodeled half-burned-down skating rink, the other was an automotive service garage. Dropping me off only to return about six hours later to pick me up.
The second week of training, I asked my mom for the aforementioned twenty bucks for the weekly training fee.
“What? I thought you meant they were going to pay you twenty dollars a week.” My mom told me.
I covered my face with both hands.
“No. I don’t know when I’ll even start having matches, let alone get paid, but it probably won’t be for a while. Can I pleeeaaase have twenty dollars?!” I asked desperately.
“I reckon, but you’re going to work for it, or your ass is gonna get a job!” My mom threatened.
“Okay. Okay. Okay. Okay. Thank you, mommy!” I said both genuinely-gratefully and full-of-it-saccharinely.
“Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.” Said mommy.
And so, week after week, I presented Scotty McKeever with a check, from Cindy Kincaid, with the “To:” left blank, for twenty dollars. Scotty would, in turn (I later learned), hand it off to TJ Phillips for doing my hands-on training. TJ would, in turn, cash it for gas money on the way home.
Back then, I couldn’t really place a value on the amount of kind service my mother was providing me. I mean, she’s my mom, right? She’s supposed to do nice stuff for me.
Flash forward to me writing this, now, and I’m amazed by the level of dedication my mom had to helping me realize a dream. The amount of understanding she would show, when I would leave for weeks at a time and not even call, only to show back up and beg for food, is inspiring. Without her selfless service, I can easily imagine my life taking a much darker path. So, when I have the opportunity to go out of my way to help someone else get a little closer to following their dream(s), and I want to cop out and be lazy, or say “they need to pay their dues their damn selves”, I think about my mom, who had no desire to stop everything she was doing, to drive many miles away, twice a day, two times a week, for many months, writing eighty dollars worth of checks a month (which was quite a chunk of money to my family, at the time), cooking late night meals, screaming at me to wake up for school after late nights…, and I stop acting like a scared kitten and start acting like a mom. Which, of course, is about as tough as any man could ever hope to act.
Flashback to my paternal grandmother’s kitchen, my cousin Adam and I are begging “Granny Joyce” for apple butter sandwiches. Granny, who was never one to deny us a meal as sweet as she was, said, “Alright. Get the butter out the fridge.”
Adam and I opened the fridge as a single-digit-aged double-personed-person. Examining the contents of the fridge, in search of mashed apple-y goodness, Adam came across some old, withered-up carrots. “Gross!” He lamented.
“Yeah, gross!” I agreed, pinching my nose closed, for effect, despite not smelling anything foul.
“What’re y’all youngin’s on about, anyway?” Granny asked, as she opened the refrigerator door wider and looked inside.
Adam and I pointed in unison, as if accusing some perpetrator of an unspeakably wicked crime.
Granny laughed her jolly-granny laugh, then examined us with unmistakingly loving eyes.
She picked up the slightly decaying carrots and sat them on her kitchen table.
“C’mere, youngin’s.” She beckoned us to the table. “I wanna show you somethin’.”
Adam and I hesitantly approached the table and leaned against one another in anxious, fidgety wait of what was to be shown.
Granny washed away our anxiety with a fountain spring smile and gently laid her right hand, palm down, on the table beside the “gross” carrots.
Adam and I stared at our grandmother expectantly.
Granny looked at us, then down at her own hand, inviting us to follow her gaze.
Adam and I glanced at the table display of hand and carrots, then studied each other, looking for kid-understanding. We shrugged our shoulders, and shook our heads, in unison.
Granny laughed, again, then asked, “Y’all think those carrots are gross?”
We nodded our heads violently.
“Well, what about my hands? Are they gross?” Granny asked, placing her left beside her right.
We both examined our grandmother’s hands. They were as withered as the carrots, veiny, and wrinkled. But, but, they were different! Those were our beloved Granny’s gentle hands! Those hands crafted meals of unparalleled deliciousness! Those hands made pain disappear with a caring rub! Those hands patted your head and made you feel that, no matter what occured in life, you were an eternal being seemingly made of pure-loving-light, perfectly in tune with the Heartbeat of the Universe! (I mean, of course, we didn’t know that, at the time, it just kinda, you know, felt nice.)
We shook our heads like were were trying to snap our own necks.
Granny hmmm’d and smiled a cloud to us.
“Them carrots ain’t gross, babies. They’re just old and wrinkled; like your granny. One day, y’all will be old and wrinkled like we are. It’s not gross. It’s natural and beautiful. My granny had hands like these.” She said, holding out her hands and examining them reverently. “Wasn’t too long ago, I had hands like those.” She continued, as she took one of my delicate hands into both of her softest-touching ones. “These old, wrinkled up hands’a’mine, remind your Granny that she ain’t gonna be around forever, so she pays attention to what really matters in this life.” She paused to look at us both like we were each the one person in the history of time that she loved the most, before lighting up and ending her lesson with the sing-song words, “So, how abouts some apple butter sandwiches!”
My younger cousin lit up, himself, and cheered, “Yeah!”
I stood there, frozen-in-transfixed-wonder at my first realized-contact with wisdom.
Flash forward to my niece losing her grip on her birthday balloon and starting to wail in angry sadness.
“Hey! Check it out!” I exclaimed with amazement in my voice.
“What?” She said, her tears stopping in shock at my enthusiasm.
“Look at that balloon go!” I yelled.
“I want it back!” She pouted and raged.
“I don’t! I want to watch it fly away, and get smaller, and imagine where it will go!” I said in a superhero-speech voice.
“But-” She started.
“Where do you think it will go?” I interrupted to ask. “I think it will bump into a seagull’s butt and surprize him so bad that he’ll fall out of the sky, all the way till he almost hits the ground and, then, suddenly, he’ll swoop back up into the air, and be so mad that he’ll want to fight the balloon, but be too scared because it looks like a monster to him.”
She laughed, seemingly forgetting to be sad or bad, and said, “Maybe it will fall down to the Earth and someone else will get it.”
“Yeah, that would be so cool! It would be almost like you gave them a present for your birthday!” I said in emphatic amazement.
“Omigosh! It’s soooo far away! Uncle Jason, will you pick me up, so I can see it better?” She asked, in the voice I imagine a thoughtful chinchilla to possess.
“Of course, darling.” I said in a semi-forced, kind-crocodile way.
As she sat silently, on my shoulders, legs dangling across my chest, her delicate hands resting on my not-as-tough-as-it-once-was head, we both watched the balloon shrinking to the limits of our eye’s reach, the evening sun seaming to fade away with it, and I reflected on my passed-on granny reflecting on her passed-on granny.
Suddenly, but easefully, my ever-growing-too-old-for-moments-like-these niece said, “Uncle Jason, I’m glad I let go of that balloon.”
“Me, too, darlin’. Me, too.” I said just loud enough to be heard over the breeze.
I don’t know if Dezi will remember me teaching her how to turn seemingly leaden moments into unmistakably golden ones, or how letting go of something unimportant can help you get a better grip on the things that are, but, as long as my memories persist, I’ll remember my grandpa and grandma Walker’s gift of teaching me the value of showing caring, supportive presence for the ones you love, and my Dad’s gift of teaching me the value of sacrificing his own comfort for the joys of others, and my mother’s gift of teaching me the value of selfless-heart-over-stingy-mind motivation for devoted action, and my Granny’s gift of teaching me the value of finding deep peace in deep understanding.
So, if I ever seem like I have a “gift” for anything, please, realize that I’m under the influence of many gifts from many givers, and I bet if you have looked not-so-hard-at-all you will have seen that you are, too.
*Smiles, closes laptop, looks at the back of hands, and smiles, again.*