My parents hadn’t given up on me, even though by all accounts they probably should have. I hated them, for no good reason, other than the fact I was in my early 20s and they weren’t.
They tried to reach out to me. I refused, time and again.
Then someone reached out to them, they graciously accepted the offer and I was fortunately too young and dumb to realize I was being parented by proxy. I’m not sure when Norman Watson called my mom, telling her he’d talk to me, try to make me be less angry, less sullen, less bratty, less negative.
I’m just glad he did.
Norman would spend hours talking to me, sometimes at Rose’s Beauty Shop in Stanton, sometimes in his office at the Lexington Herald-Leader, sometimes through the computer in email after email. Even though he was about my dad’s age, I never viewed Normal through the negative lenses we can put on when viewing our own parents. My parents, Doc and Rose, weren’t cool or hip. Norman, though, was the epitome of cool, a little Fonzie, to borrow from our beloved Pulp Fiction.
I can’t imagine my dad ever watching a Tarantino movie, let alone discussing it with me. Norman and I, however, analyzed every detail, from music to dialogue, even acting out various scenes (primarily the “Are you gonna bark all day, little doggy, or are you gonna bite” and the Mr. Blonde dance scenes from Reservoir Dogs). If we were, in fact, those reservoir dogs, I was definitely Mr. Blonde to his Mr. Pink.
It suited us both.
One year, I gave him a Mr. Blonde action figure, complete with detachable straight-edge razors and ears, as a sign of my affection toward our friendship. It was kitschy, sure, but I figured he’d enjoy it in his work space for a bit before putting it in a box somewhere.
On the Friday after Thanksgiving in 1998, Norman, along with his wife, Darlene, finally made a breakthrough with me. I’d volunteered to work the post-holiday shift at the Herald-Leader, where I was interning, and he invited me to his office for lunch. Darlene had packed two huge plates of Thanksgiving leftovers for us both, and we feasted at his desk.
I guess that’s when I had an “aha” moment, as it hit me that people really did care about me, even people who were, gasp, about the same age as my parents. It didn’t happen overnight, but the road to healing with my parents started, and now I’m pleased to say I’m able to view both of them with respect and love, knowing they’ve made their mistakes, as have I, but in the end, they’re still my parents and I’m their son.
Norman and I never talked about that phone call he made to my mom, but I know for certain he was fully aware of the difference he made. This was not a man who let details go unnoticed. Every gesture meant something to him.
Take that Mr. Blonde toy, for instance. It didn’t end up dust-covered, tucked away forgotten in some attic or basement. Norman died last summer from cancer, and at his funeral, I finally met his grandson Joplin, and upon our introduction, his eyes lit up as he made an internal connection.
“He used to put notes on gifts, with the name of who gave it to him and the date,” Joplin said. As Norman prepared for his death, he began the process of giving things of meaning to those who meant the most to him.
Joplin got a Mr. Blonde doll.
Our love is all of God’s money
Everyone is a burning sun.”
— “Jesus, Etc.” by Wilco
I tell that story to share the generosity of some of my friends.
On May 7, I took part in the Powell County Kiwanis Club 5K at Natural Bridge, and I used the run as a way to raise money for the May 27 PC Relay for Life in memory of Norman Watson. I posted a few blogs and Facebook messages asking for donations, and I remain shocked at the outpouring of support.
They gave $405, all of which will be given to help fund cancer research in Norman’s name. I have written quite a bit about Norman over the past year, and I still haven’t scratched the surface as to what he meant to me (and to others). His spirit lives on in us, and thanks to those who donated, his memory will be honored through the donation.
I can’t say enough kind words to the following people, other than to say please read about Norman and help spread that kind of love in the world. Thank you, all:
Teresa Revlett, Jessica DuMaurier, Katie Beard, Jennifer Holbert, Lucinda Ward, Debbie Rose, Rusti-Lea Neal, Karina Hopkins, Kama Buckles, Tosha Tipton, Stephanie Diaj, Darlene Watson, Doc Hall and Bonnie Reed.
I ran in the 5K, and now I’ll walk in the Relay. I’ll walk with each of you at my back and Norman in my heart.
“Well, now the years have gone, and I’ve grown
From that seed you’ve sown
But I didn’t think there’d be so many steps
I’d have to learn on my own
Well, I was young and I didn’t know what to do
When I saw your best steps stolen away from you
Now I’ll do what I can
I’ll walk like a man
And I’ll keep walkin’.”
— “Walk Like a Man” by Bruce Springsteen.