There once was a man who was larger than life, and was at times more like an imagined character from a movie. Around his house Larry was referred to as “Sugar Bear”. He had a thick head of wavy white hair, and a roundness to him which made him much like a burly bear. There were barely believable stories he could tell about adventures at the courthouse, interesting cases he’d heard, or some time from his wilder teenage days driving fast cars on the streets of Shelby.
He announced Friday night football games with a muffled, deep voice that seemed a bit congested, but charismatic none the less. His laugh was raspy from years of smoking. Mistys were frequently his cigarette of choice, creating the humorous scene with his large hands holding a dainty “lady” cigarette. Chuckles of laughter mingled with his words when he spoke. “It’s a Golden Lion first down.” There was a smile behind that voice, and every listening ear in the stadium could hear it. Why was he so happy? He was announcing the games, his wife always by his side, there helping him spot in the press box. His oldest son down on the sidelines coaching, or in early years he was “up top” calling plays over the headset. His younger son dressed out ready to go in for a play. It was a family affair. I sat in the stands half-way watching the games, catching up with friends, and sneaking a cigarette in the parking lot during half time.
When I began dating The Coach he took me one night to meet his parents. This was “The Night of a Thousand Questions”. Larry, being the magistrate he was, grilled me. I held up, but it wasn’t easy. He wanted to know who my daddy was, and where I had come from. He wanted to know my future plans, and who my friends were. He asked me whether or not I knew certain people. Community and connections were important to him. He passed that love of community along to his family. He passed many parts of himself along to us.
The Coach loved his dad even though they often times would butt heads and argue over decisions. I butted heads with Larry even worse than The Coach did. Larry always had a strong sense of what should happen, and how it should happen. He would let you know what he thought, even if you didn’t ask. “You know what you should do Cat?” He would say to me. No. I didn’t want to know what he thought I should do. I was as stubborn as they come, and sometimes I still am. I have softened a little bit over the years with lessons I’ve learned the hard way.
Even though he frustrated me at times, I would go to him for advice when I sincerely needed a wise opinion. He never steered me wrong. He knew I had a mind of my own, and I think he respected me for speaking up and not simply going along, or taking things at face value. Sometimes I’m not sure how I ever made it into the inner circle of the Ware family. I’m not so much like them, but Larry came to love me anyway. He truly loved people, and wanted to help them make good decisions. The Coach would call his dad daily to tell him all of the good things that were happening, and to ask him how he should handle difficult people or situations. I see Larry each time The Coach works with a player, assistant coach, or a parent to help them, or when he meets with players or parents to talk about predicaments or future decisions. He has such a way with people, and that came directly from his father.
I see Larry everyday. Certainly not the way I would physically see him when he was here with us, but I see his character. My oldest son has a great understanding of sports, and has done some announcing of games for the city park. He takes after Larry, who he called Papa Shug, in that way. My middle child is charismatic and charming. He loves fast cars, and much like Larry he can persuade and talk his way into and out of things with ease. My little girl is so much like Larry that we often joke that he sent her to us. She loves people and the kind of social situations that fueled him. She smiles and laughs with her giggles mingled into words just like he used to do. She has a true love for life. The Coach reminds me more and more of his father with every passing year. Don’t get me wrong, he is his own man, but we often laugh at how he will try to tell me what I “should do” on a regular basis. He drags me to hear beach music at every opportunity. The same beach music Sugar Bear would be listening to each evening as he sat on his stool at their kitchen bar. The Coach loves people, he loves our community, and he is always ready for a social event. Through all these things, Larry is alive with us, and carried with us.
He left us on July 9th of 2009. I remember the doctor coming to the waiting room to tell us that he didn’t make it through the surgery. I was shaking and my teeth chattered. I wanted to cry and laugh all at the same time. It was like being smothered by every emotion simultaneously. Jolts of pain for those of us left behind, and promises of hope for Larry to be carried on wings to heaven. “Be Free!”, the words echoed in my mind over and over, “Be Free”. That was all I could think. His body had imprisoned his spirit those final years.
I think of him always in July. It is an interesting time for a football family, because it’s the start of a new season. It’s as if he knew this, and went just at the time when we would need to be reminded every year of new beginnings and feel hopeful for the upcoming season. We would be busy with football. Too busy and occupied to feel sorry for ourselves for very long, because Larry would never want us to feel sad. He would want us to have a fresh start, a new adventure, and to love life just the way he did.
After he died I had a dream of him driving up in a race car that had number 57 painted on the side. The window was rolled down and he looked great, younger than I had ever seen him, fresh, with a big bright smile. His handsome thick, white hair was combed back and blowing gently in the breeze. He wasn’t sick. In the dream I looked at him and said, ” I thought 56 was your number.” He laughed that same laugh that I had known when he was alive. The carefree kind of laugh that he had, even though his life should have been full of cares. He looked at me and said, “No, that’s Linda’s number on her race car.” That was terribly funny to me, and I laughed as he drove off and out of my dream. In my heart I believe it was him. Speaking to me from the other side of that thin veil that separates this life from the next.