THE SERIOUS CHEERLEADER

Published December 7, 2009

  It was drizzling, but just barely, when I left the house.

  The back of my skull was pounding, and I’ve learned that a long walk often helps to tame that sort of headache.

  I was half a mile from home when the rain and wind started to pick up. Since I was wet already — and sure to get wetter, regardless of my route — I forged on: past the recently-abandoned car dealership and the seemingly forgotten citrus grove. As I neared a large public storage building, I noticed a snapshot lying in the grass between the sidewalk and the road:

  The Serious Cheerleader.

  Despite my headache and the stinging rain, I had to smile; It was a wonderfully unconventional image, catching a tiny moment of — let’s call it “less-than-rah-rah-rah” emotion — in the life of a total stranger.

  As I picked it up, I spotted another photo a few feet away. Then another, and another. Did the photos belong to someone who was similarly caught by the wind and rain, while attempting to warehouse treasured belongings? I gathered up all the photos I could find and headed home.

  Most of the rescued images were flecked with dirt, and several were badly damaged. I cleaned them off as well as I could and began to examine them for clues.

  The Serious Cheerleader showed up in several other photos. In a sepia-toned souvenir portrait, she appeared to be posing frontier-style with her twin. (She was the one on the left, my wife and I guessed.) There also were a handful of early-Sixties snapshots of a mother and child, a Polaroid of a young girl at the beach, and two Olan Mills photos of a pleasant-looking man wearing white pants and sporting a pinkish-red tie, with a nearly-matching jacket slung over his shoulder. The Serious Cheerleader’s father, perhaps?

  Although some first names had been penciled onto the back of a few photos, the only last name belonged to the man with the pinkish-red tie. With that information and little else, I turned to the Web — and found, on my very first search, a reference to a Life Group leader at a church less than three miles from my home.

  It was mid-morning on a Sunday, so I took a chance and drove to the church to find out whether anyone there might be able to identify the mother with the baby, or the young girl at the beach, or the man in the pinkish-red tie, or The Serious Cheerleader.

  The worship service had just started. Before I had a chance to talk with the handful of parishioners who were chatting quietly in the main entry, I noticed a wall plaque that included photographs of the church elders — and immediately recognized a somewhat older version of the man in the pinkish-red tie.

  Within seconds, he came through the doors of the chapel, and — after catching a glimpse of the rescued photos — gently touched my arm and told me his prayers had been answered.

  A few days earlier, he and his wife had driven to a nearby town for a family gathering. They loaded up a plastic tub with photo albums, baby books and other mementos, in order to share them with relatives. Upon returning home, they somehow forgot to remove the tub from the back of their pickup — inadvertently leaving the tailgate down, as well.

  After a later trip to Wal-mart, they realized that the tub was missing. They found the lid near the turn lane into the store, but not the tub itself. No baby books, no albums, not a single photograph.

  The spot where The Serious Cheerleader caught my eye was about a block away from the entrance to Wal-mart, and on the opposite side of the road. I returned to the scene and, before the Sunday service had ended, tracked down several dozen additional photos and family records.

  Even though most of the tub’s contents haven’t been recovered, the family considers it a blessing that anything at all was returned to them.

  I never would refer to my actions as “the answer to a prayer.” But that’s how the church elder and his wife see things — along with their granddaughter, who was photographed as a young girl at the beach. And her mother, The Serious Cheerleader.

  And that’s fine with me.

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2 Responses to THE SERIOUS CHEERLEADER

  1. Karen C. Morgan says:

    Good afternoon Greg,
    I am the returning serious cheerleader! I am Karen (Stevens). My mom and dad told me about this story and I wanted to contact you to thank you for all your research. I don’t know what will come of it, but my family feels this what meant to happen and you are a part of our journey. I never cared for cheerleading actually, I just wanted to be close to the action on the field, so I figured this was the best way and my twin, Sharon always wanted us to try out together. I still love sports to this day and on that particular day, I was not happy with the way the game was going or the calls! It seemed I was always reprimanded by the cheerleading coach for not having a “cheery smile” on my face and paid to much attention to the game! Can you believe that? A cheerleader actually knowing how the game of football is played! My dad taught us all about football on Sundays after church watching our beloved Dolphins. My extended family have all been going through old photos to help share with me and my sibilings who have lost our childhood memories. This story will be passed down for generations and we will never forget our roots. I know the frown on my face in the picture has extended to my adult life, but it’s hard…this life, ya know? Depression almost made me exit this world if not for the support of this incredible family I have. They help me outta the darkness and I hope for a future of smiles and laughter, just as in the photos we lost.

    The Serious Cheerleader,
    Karen C. Morgan (Stevens)

  2. Teishalyn Intravichit says:

    As a friend of “The Serious Cheerleader”, I would have to say that your actions sir are most definitely the answer to a prayer! I have a large and extended family of my own and know that photos are one of those irreplaceable things that tie one generation to another.

    In a world where the good things that people do are rarely lauded, I would like to be one of the first voices to do just that. You and your wife are a blessing to a family you do not even know.

    You have made my Christmas! Many Thanks and Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and your family!!

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