Today, a pillar of the community died. He was 92 years old. He did a lot of things, and most of them involved giving back to the community in which he lived. His list of accomplishments and generosity is long.
But, for all the things he did, his legacy--in my eyes, is how many children's lives he touched with the simple act of giving them the circus.
When I was a child, a right of passage always occurred at the end of the sixth grade school year. The date for the field trip to Pittsburgh to see the Shrine Circus was announced. Every sixth grader in the school district was invited to attend; it was a gift to us, celebrating our graduation from grade school (as we called it then) and moving on to the big Jr.Sr. High School the following autumn. Reldon and his wife, Hattie, saw to it--that we each got to experience the big top. And none of us spent a dime to do it.
Somehow, it was so appropriate...marking the end of one stage of childhood--where we'd still enjoy the circus. By the end of the following year, we'd all be teenagers and far too mature for anything so childish.
It was May of 1972. Big yellow school buses lined up in front of the school on a Saturday morning. The number of students attending numbered nearly 300.
The day was a really big deal. A HUGE deal in fact. I can't really recall a lot of the circus details. But I vividly remember seeing the tall buildings of Pittsburgh come into view as we neared the northside.
That was pretty exciting to me, and no doubt, exciting to many of the other sixth graders.
Our school district, 40 years ago, was still mainly a farming community. What wasn't farms was rural anyhow, save for the small town up the street from the school, and one area a bit more affluent on the western edge of the district.
The day came and went, and the thrill with it. Years came and went, relegating my circus memories to somewhere far in the back reaches of my mind. Still, I never forgot.
When my younger son was in middle school, he and Reldon's grandson became the best of friends. I knew it was the kind of friendship that would endure for a lifetime.
The group of friends spent so much time together, it was inevitable that I would cross paths with Reldon. It happened when he was well past 80 years old. He didn't know me from Adam, but the day presented an opportunity for me to strike up a conversation with him.
I thanked him for the trip to the circus. He seemed briefly confused. I delved into greater detail about the sixth grade, the buses, seeing Pittsburgh, how grateful I was, and that I had never forgotten it, and "Thanks for the circus."
He seemed taken aback. He had given so much to so many, it must have been hard to keep track of it all--or maybe, he just wasn't the kind of person who even tried to keep track. He just gave for the simple act of giving. I suspect the latter.
But, a little bit later, I heard him talking to his daughter, mother of my son's friend. He said, "You see that girl over there?" I saw him point my way. "She thanked me for the circus."
The image of his smile when he spoke to his daughter is imprinted in my mind. It's a lesson I never want to forget.
Reldon didn't give us the circus for the recognition, or even for the thank-yous. But, when a thank you came his way, and even though it took decades for him to have it said to him, it touched his heart. That moment in time, the joy he had so generously given to others, came back and revisited him.
Remember little kindnesses...even if it's years later. If you feel gratitude, voice it.
Rest in peace, Reldon.