2009.03.04 It was just a bottle of pop

By DAVID GREEN

Driving home from the regional wrestling tournament Saturday, I went past Jasper Food & Fuel and recalled an incident that comes to mind every now and then when I pass by.

It must have been at least 15 years ago. My son, Ben, went with me to some sporting event or another. I think it was a basketball game at Madison. He was probably in middle school at the time and he wanted to stop at the store in Jasper on the way home and buy something, probably a soft drink.

I thought it was too late at night. I didn’t want to do it. We drove on past and I felt like a mean father.

That’s it. The entire memory. End of story.

But it’s stuck in my head and every now and then I still feel bad about driving by without stopping for something, even though it was getting on toward his bedtime.

There was a similar incident that makes me feel even worse. It might have been a year or two earlier. Morenci’s basketball season wasn’t so good that year and the volleyball team finished early, too.

But it was a great year for nearby Waldron and I decided to cover their big game. The Spartans won their district tournament and advanced to the regional finals against one of those parochial schools from the northeast. I think it was Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard.

The game was at the Spring Arbor University field house. It was a wonderful place to take photographs due to the wide open spaces on the end, and it was a great place for Ben to mess around while I took photos. I could see him down at the other end of the court climbing around on some wrestling mats or something.

Gabriel Richard drew students from throughout the Ann Arbor region—a population base of well over 100,000 people. Waldron, on the other hand, was forced to stay within the sparsely populated confines of the district’s borders. That factor always made the wins so much more satisfying and the losses so much more frustrating, punctuated by a feeling of injustice. It just wasn’t fair. Waldron played an excellent game, but of course the big city school won.

We left the field house when it was over and got on I-94 for the trip home. Young Ben wanted to stop for a treat and I figured we could pull off at the exit where there’s a Meijer store and some fast food outlets.

I don’t know what happened. Maybe I got stuck in the wrong lane. Maybe I just forgot about it until it was too late. Whatever the case, we didn’t get off and I wasn’t about to go back. It was late and we had a long way to go.

Ben never did much complaining or arguing. He just accepted the predicament and on we went.

It’s been 16 or 17 years since that night, but when I think of it even now, I can feel tears start to well up in my eyes. How ridiculous. It was just a bottle of pop.

I wonder if all parents carry these old regrets year after year. Just can’t shake them, no matter how many years have passed by.

There’s one more that comes to mind from time to time regarding Ben. I consider it the worst thing I ever said to him.

His age? I don’t know, probably 12 or 13. He didn’t have too many friends at the time, apparently, and he spent a lot of time with his parents. We did a lot of things together. We played together frequently. It was wonderful.

But this one day arrived when he wanted me to go out and do something or other and I was busy with other distractions—the Observer, most likely.

I said something like this: “Ben, you can’t always depend on us to do everything with you. You need some other friends.”

How could I be so stupid, so thoughtless? Ben is 26 years old now. It seems as though I could just shove that one off to the side. Dig a hole and bury it. Or at least decide that maybe it wasn’t that big of a deal after all.

After I drove through Jasper yesterday, I sent an e-mail to Ben and asked if he remembered the time we went to the Spring Arbor field house for Waldron’s regional finals basketball game.

His answer: “No, not really.”

I decided to let it go at that. No more questions.

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