Thursday, March 30, 2017

Twin Sons of Different Mothers

A sad bit of business, which is attached to this date, popped up in my "Facebook WABAC Machine" the past couple of days.  It served as a reminder that as fine a family as I have ever known, the Stouts, has now spent four years mourning the death of their son and brother, David.  At some point subsequent to David's death, I was looking through an old high school yearbook and happened upon this simply extraordinary photograph, which John Penvenne (Class of '81, towhead on the left) and David (Class of '82, towhead on the right) had placed in the 1983 Yearbook as part of an advertisement the pair had purchased.   

I wish I knew what it was either was contemplating as he sat with his eyes fixed straight ahead.  I wonder if all these years later, John remembers.  Truth be told, all these years later, it probably matters not at all. 

Often, I write because I simply do not know what else to do when something affects me and my day-to-day.  It was for that reason that on this date four years ago I wrote what appears here again this morning.  


At Home in the Mist-Covered Mountains....

I learned Thursday evening that David Stout - a man who I had known since I was a very small boy - had died.  I know nothing of the circumstances.  I know simply that a man in whose footsteps I followed when we were both kids had died.  He was not yet fifty years old. 

Although Kara, Jill and I did not become students at Wardlaw-Hartridge until year two of the hyphenated school's common experience (Dad - who helped run the joint - had been nothing more than cautiously optimistic that it would survive its first year in its newly created state and wanted to make sure that it had before sending his own children there), David was a kid who I came to know long before I enrolled at W-H.  He was one of the regular participants in Dad's "Saturday Play Group."  In hindsight, my father's weekly recreation program for the (then) Wardlaw kids probably should have been given a name that more readily evoked thoughts of kids having fun than thoughts of kids sentenced to a term of indeterminate length in a treatment facility.  Maybe in the next lifetime we can correct that error.  

Regardless of the unwieldy and admittedly somewhat creepy name, Saturday Play Group was a fixed, enjoyable part of my routine from the time I was a small boy right up through the time of Dad's death in May, 1981.  Each and every Saturday during the school year we would head to Wardlaw at dawn's ass crack and await the arrival of kids of various ages, whose parents would leave them in Dad's care for the day to play sports.  And play sports we did. Touch football, softball, dodgeball, basketball, soccer and floor hockey seemed to be on the docket every Saturday.  When I was a very little boy and Wardlaw was still Wardlaw with its lower school campus on Central Avenue in Plainfield, it was on Central Avenue that the Saturday gang assembled.  Upon Wardlaw's merger with Hartridge, the Saturday base camp became the new lower school campus on Plainfield Avenue, which had been Hartridge's locale pre-merger.  

David was one of Dad's guys.  He was a regular attendee at Play Group.  He was also an effortless, natural athlete.  He glided across the soccer field.  When floor hockey was played - as it was usually as the day's final activity in the mid-afternoon - he flew around the gym floor.  He was one of the leaders of his group of friends, which included Greg Blatz, Kirk Lattimore, Scott Rupp, Dwight Warren and Jay Dugenio among others.  

My big brother Kelly was - in those days - Dad's #1 Indentured Servant at Play Group.  He served as the Sergeant-at-Arms.  Kelly was several years older than David and his gang and those guys viewed Kel with equal parts admiration, respect and fear.  To promote a competitive spirit among the participants - and to keep little kids from getting pulverized by bigger kids - Dad and Kelly broke the Play Groupies into "little guys" and "big guys".  As a general rule, we swam in two different ponds.  

The exception to that rule was floor hockey.  I loved to play it and as a result of the time Kelly devoted to playing it and/or street hockey with me when I was a mere mite, I was quite good at it.  Good enough in fact to get bumped out of the "little guy" gang at Play Group and bumped up to play with the "big guys".   So, for the last year or two that David attended Play Group I had the great joy of getting to play floor hockey with him and his cadre.  He took a liking to me and knew I could play better than most of his friends.  Kelly usually named David as one of the captains for floor hockey and as a captain he was responsible for picking his team.  Far more often than not, he chose me to play on his team, which meant I got to play alongside him.  It is a memory so good and so positive that I am smiling as I write this.  

When I was a freshman at W-H and playing J.V. soccer, after having played football in 7th/8th grade, David was the Varsity Captain.  During our two-a-day summer practices, all of us practiced together.  He and Tom  Kopidakis would lead us through our pre-practice stretching each morning and afternoon.  One of the stretches we did was "the butterfly".  While seated on the ground, you bend your legs in an effort to have the soles of your feet touching one another.  If done properly, it effectively stretches the groin muscle.  If done properly, it also produces a fair level of discomfort.  I remember being damn proud of myself as a fourteen-year-old high school freshman that my legs were sufficiently limber so as to permit me to have the bottoms of my feet touching each other from tip of my toes to my heels....until I saw David not only replicate what I had done but lift his body off of the ground and balance himself above his feet while in the butterfly position.  Thirty-plus years later that remains one of the most extraordinary things I have ever seen an athlete do.  And he did it every day.  

David graduated from W-H in 1982 - right between Kara and Jill.  He is one of five Stout siblings who graduated from Wardlaw, Hartridge and/or Wardlaw-Hartridge.  He was preceded through our Alma mater's hallowed halls by his brother Robert and his sisters Leslie and Susan.  His sister Laura graduated  in 1988 - three years after I did.  In the long history of our Alma mater there has never been a family better than the Stouts.  This quintet earned more awards and honors during their collective time on campus than could be recounted here with any accuracy.  Leslie and Laura and both members of the W-H Athletic Hall of Fame.  For years, Mrs. Stout was one-half of the dynamic duo that ran the Mother's Store (alongside Mrs. Childers), which was a place on campus you could go buy needed supplies on a moment's notice or - as importantly - pop in for a cookie or a hug depending on the day you were having.  A few years ago, Jill and I saw Mr. and Mrs. Stout at W-H.  They had come to celebrate Laura's enshrinement into the Athletic Hall-of-Fame.  Neither of us had seen Mrs. Stout in a lifetime.  Yet she greeted both of us with a big smile and a hug.  

Having not seen David or heard from him or about him in close to three decades, I was very happy to have run into him at W-H several times during the course of the past few years.  He made a few trips up to New Jersey from wherever he was living - most recently North Carolina - for Homecoming/Fall Fair in October.  He always looked good although he perhaps had a touch more sadness in his eyes than I remembered from my youth.  Then again, who doesn't?   

A good family has suffered a terrible loss.  Sad, terrible stuff.  If you are - as I am - someone whose life has been made better through simply knowing the Stouts (and if you have ever met a single one of them you fall into this category), keep them in your thoughts.  Keep David in your thoughts too....

Now the sun's gone to hell
And the moon's riding high
Let me bid you farewell
Every man has to die
But it's written in the starlight
And every line on your palm
We're fools to make war


No comments: