"I was just noticing your rings. One of them looks like a championship ring. You played sports?"
"Oh naw, these rings ain't come from me, although I did play sports growing up."
"What did you play?"
"Oh Lord, child, I played everythang. Tha's 'fore we had tv to watch and video games and all that stuff. When I was coming up, after you did your chores, you got out there and just played. Anythang, ev'rythang.."
I remembered that he was over eighty years old and brought up in South Georgia. The likelihood of someone giving out sports rings during his hey day was pretty low.
"That's awesome," I said as I leaned my chin into my palm, "I mean, really great." I couldnt resist getting the story behind his hand adornments. He was wearing them so proudly--I just had to ask."So then . . . . .where'd the rings come from?"
His kids? Hmmmmm.
Earlier in the visit, I'd already asked him if he had any children, and I was pretty sure he'd said no. Maybe I heard him wrong.
"Oh, I'm sorry, I thought you told me that you didn't have any children."
The second the last word of that sentence came out, I froze. . . .realizing that an eighty-something year old Grady elder could very well have survived his kids. I immediately felt like a loser.
"None biologic, but several in my neighborhood been like they was my own."
"I coached 'em, helped 'em with they running and all that. Several of 'em didn't have no daddies around and I jest always felt God was calling me to step in and help where I could."
"Yep. Then one of 'em gave me this rang here when they won the states, and another gave me this one here after he graduated cawse up 'til right before he didn't think he would. But he did, and you know he went to college, too?"
Here we go.
I felt that familiar sting in the whites of my eyes. Man! What is it about the Grady elders that always sends me to the tippy-tip edge of crying? I thought of something distant and emotionless for a few seconds to keep me from doing what instinctively I knew I would if I wasn't careful.
"That's beautiful, sir." I sighed and stared at his hands. I placed my hand on his and smiled. "Just beautiful. . . . ." I paused and then added, "I bet you had a lot to do with him going to college."
He smiled wide and proud, the crow's feet in the corners of his eyes exploding like fireworks. He cocked his head sideways as if he was thinking for a moment and then looked back at me while nodding slowly.
"You know, doc. . . . they say, 'It take a village'. I like knowin' I was part of somebody's village."
Part of somebody's village?
Little did he know that today he was a part of mine, too.