By DON McCORMACK - email@example.com
SAYBROOK TOWNSHIP —
The young man, a barrell-chested 10-year-old wearing a suit, looks up to me in tear-filled eyes.
“Thank you for writing those stories about my Papa,” he says. “Thank you.”
Garrett Demshar was on hand last night at Gateway Church for the calling hours for his grandfather, Paul Demshar, who died May 15.
As I knelt down and took Garrett’s hand, you could see his Papa in his face, especially the dynamic cheeks.
“Your Papa was one of the best people I’ve ever known,” Garrett,” I said. “I’m sure he’s looking down on you from heaven right now and he’s so very proud of you.”
Garrett Demshar was there in the beautiful, softly lit church last night because his Papa gave his life to save him from a rip current in the Atlantic Ocean off Jacksonville last Wednesday. Both had gotten caught in the current and the final act of Paul’s 62 years was pushing his grandson toward shore.
After I told Garrett how proud his Papa is of him for being so strong, he replied by looking down at his feet and softly said, “thank you.”
Before I left the line — which included Paul’s beautiful wife, Jennifer, and daughter, Rebekah and her husband, Joe Zelenka, son Matt and his lovely wife, Lisa — and headed toward Paul’s casket, I shared another minute or so with Garrett.
“Know how you can make your Papa the most proud?” I said. “Do what he did. Spend your life being good to people.
“That’s the best way for him to live on... through you.”
Not wanting to overwhelm the young man, I moved on. His father, Matt, Paul’s son, looked toward me, tears streaming down his face, and mouthed, “thank you.”
And the thought immediately struck me — Matt has it backward.
On the way to Paul’s calling hours, I stopped at a convenience store.
The clerk, noting I was not in my usual garb — either jeans and a sweatshirt or my coaching jersey — said to me, “you’re all snazzed up.”
When I told her I was heading to a dear friend’s calling hours before making my way to the office, she said to me, “if he was your friend, he was everybody’s friend.”
She nailed it, of course. If there ever was an apt description of Paul Demshar, that’s it — he was, indeed, everybody’s friend.
As I paid for my purchases, a group of youngsters came up in line behind me. There were five or six of them and I could hear them counting out their pennies, nickels and dimes.
I smiled... for I suddenly felt Paul’s presence.
I handed the clerk a $20 bill, then asked her to wait until I hit the door, then to tell the youngsters behind me not only was their bill taken care of, but they could have the change to buy whatever they wanted.
I made it to my chariot, then looked up in time for the expressions on the youngsters’ faces change from shock to utter glee, then saw them sprint to various parts of the store in search of their bounty.
Though saddened that I was headed to say my final goodbyes to a dear friend, knowing I had done something Paul did — and on a routine basis — gave me the push I needed to head west.
When I arrived at the beautiful Gateway Church, I was flying solo. I entered the doorway, head down, alone with my thoughts about a man who a few years ago, literally changed my life.
For that day, we had sat down to talk about the story I wrote that was eventually published on Christmas Day, 2009, titled, “The greatest story... never told.”
Our “chat” lasted almost 12 hours. It was inspirational, emotional... you name it, we both felt it.
It was almost as if we were brought together by a higher power.
Now, I have no doubt.
Walking through the doors of the church, I passed on the offer of Paul’s favorite snack, root beer and pretzels, and made my way toward the massive line, which was serpentining its way through the church.
A nice lady asked me if I wanted to sign the guest book, which I did, of course.
I made my way to the end of the line, then heard a familiar voice.
“Hey, Donnie,” the pretty woman said with a smile.
“Fancy meeting you here,” the handsome young man said through a like smile.
Though the line had to number in the hundreds already, in but the first hour of services scheduled for five, I found myself next in line between two familiar faces, with whom I would spend the next two and half hours:
My sister, Jodie (Fetters), and my nephew, Cody.
I looked up, tears forming in my eyes, and said, “you never cease to amaze me... thank you, Mr. Demshar.”
McCormack is the sports editor of the Star Beacon. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.