The Magic in a Memory. A story about my Dad and the Harlem Globetrotters

My parents didn't have a lot of extra money.  Their budget was managed down to the last single penny so they didn't have much leftover to put in the miscellaneous column.  When a special event like a concert, game or circus came to town, buying tickets for it was rare.  So rare, that it almost never happened.

 Fred "Curly" Neal #22 of the Harlem Globetrotters

Fred "Curly" Neal #22 of the Harlem Globetrotters

In the early 80s, the world famous Harlem Globetrotters came to my hometown.  As soon as I heard the iconic whistle theme song *Sweet Georgia Brown* coming from the television, I begged my dad to go.  I had to go.  It was my once in a lifetime opportunity.  I'd never seen the Globetrotters in person and I had to go.  I had to see Number 22 - Fred "Curly" Neal.  *THE* Curly Neal from The Popcorn Machine on Saturday mornings!  He was and still is, my favorite Globetrotter.  He won my devotion before I was a teenager.

Curly was the Globetrotter sensation known for his shaved head and nicknamed after Curly Howard from the Three Stooges.  He was Harlem Globetrotter's basketball icon because his personality was gregarious.  He was the basketball class clown, the funny guy, the trouble maker and one of their best ball handlers.  Curly made the exhibition worth seeing.  He captivated fans with his moves, tricks and entertaining court presence.

As soon as the game started, I felt sure, even from our seats; that I could find Curly in his famous Harlem Globetrotters red white and blue uniform.  When the team ran onto the court, I searched for my beloved Curly.  I might not have blinked because I didn't want to miss a thing. I scanned the players, looked hard for the right one and Curly was no where to be found.

"Dad - what if he's sick today?"

"Dad - what if he's not here today?"

"Dad - what if you paid all this money for tickets and Curly is not here?"

"Dad - what if he's in another city?"

"Dad - where is Curly?"

My questions went on and on. 

My dad patted my knee and smiled.  "Just you wait.  You'll see.  He'll be here."

And then, he was. 

One of the other players ripped the ridiculous looking wig from Curly's head and then I could see him.  I was so relieved, though I felt silly not recognizing that the whole thing was a joke to fool all the kids who couldn't wait to see him.

My dad and I had the best time that day.  Laughing at the trick shots and stunts and single finger spinning basketballs.  We were watching false points on a scoreboard and booing at a rehearsed opposing team.  It was one of those memories I locked into my heart rather than my head because it was so special.  Thinking back, I realize what a precious that memory that was and I am grateful for how vivid it still is.  My dad was the greatest man and I miss him dearly but I remember every moment of going to this event with him.  Now that I'm a parent, I realize the sacrifice that he and mom probably made.  I wonder what they did without that week, so that I could go.

About a month ago, my kids asked to go to see the Harlem Globetrotters.  It was the same commercials, same Sweet Georgia Brown music, same familiar whistle, and the same brightly colored basketball spinning on a single fingertip.  We had to go.  Our family four pack had tickets to the Harlem Globetrotters nearly 30 years later than when I went with my dad. As we pulled into the parking deck, the slightest blue funk crawled into my spirit like a fog.  I wasn't really *sad* but I was a little bluesy.  Melancholy, even.  I was reminiscing about the good times I had with my dad and I wanted my children to have their own fond memories.  The mom in me had to burn off the fog with a sunny smile and make the trek to the coliseum.

 Fred "Curly" Neal #22 of the Harlem Globetrotters

Fred "Curly" Neal #22 of the Harlem Globetrotters

I thought how much my dad would have loved going with his grandkids and relive the excitement of the basketball game through them.  I was missing my dad as I slid on my coat and shrugged my purse on my shoulder.  The tightness in my throat made me swallow hard and the familiar burning sensation in my eyes stung with hot tears which challenged my resistance.  I looked at my husband and he knew.  His lips formed a tight smile and his eyes blinked back telling me in our own morse code that "it's going to be okay."  He knows my Curly story and he knows almost every single one of my Dad stories. I shook my head confidently, gulped in a big breath, shut the car door and headed toward the parking deck's flight of stairs.  I was only sixteen steps into my walk when I found the brightest, shiniest, prettiest penny on the second level concrete floor.

My dad was there.  He was saying hello.  It was a sign from heaven.  Pennies were his thing.  He collected them and made YEAR penny books for every one of his grandchildren.  That penny was meant for me to find and Dad was letting me know he was there.  I could hear him whistling the Globetrotter's song.  I picked it up and spun around to my family.  I held it between my thumb and index finger like the cherished token it was.  I was 12 years old again.  "Dad's here!  Look!"  I was freezing on the parking deck outside of the arena but on the inside I was full of warmth and good feelings.   My dad and I were going to the Globetrotters again.  It was magic.

 Seeds to Share:

Philippians 1:3 - I thank my God in all my remembrance of you.