Monday, January 7, 2013

The Shadow of Superman

Larry Heaton conquers Savage Mountain in Orlando, Florida - August 2011
As long as I can remember, every year my family traveled up to Virginia for Thanksgiving to visit our cousins, uncles, and grandparents. It was always a big celebration lasting 4 or 5 days, with no one wanting to go home at the end. Our family is tight. From the oldest cousin to the youngest, we are a band of brothers. When all the ten male cousins were younger we would play a big game of tackle football which we called the Gravy Bowl. It was the highlight of the year. I dreaded the plays where Larry, my uncle, got the ball. His 6'7'' 245lb frame would barrel down the field and my only hope to stop the touchdown was to jump on his back and dangle from his neck until the ground rumbled with his fall. Sure, he could have carried me with his free arm while hurdling the other eager cousins if he wanted to, but he played along and gifted me the glory instead.

Larry always did that. He loved letting other people shine and even when he wasn't extending any uncommon courtesies, it just felt good to be around him. I looked forward to our fireside chats every year. He would recount his latest adventure in humble tones, passing off such mountainous hurdles like summiting Mt Rainier or whittling away at the Appalachien Trail while carrying large rocks in his pack, as if they were mere tasks on a to-do list. There's a wall in the Heaton house that is littered with medals and artifacts of his adventures and when old enough, his sons, Daniel and Matt came with him.

At 55 years old, this past November, my uncle Larry had just completed an ultramarathon. He ran 55 miles from 8:00 in the morning until 1:30 the next morning, only resting for twenty minutes. When I asked him what kept him going, he said that for each mile, he recalled each year of his life and relived the miles of memories with his high school sweetheart Betty, his sons, work, and friends. His commanding presence and brick build were secondary only to his fortitude as a person.

Larry's motto in both personal and business life was simple: "Leave on a good one." Don't walk out of the room, come off the mountain, or turn the light off before knowing you had given the day your best.

Only two weeks after we all held hands and said a blessing for the future of family over Thanksgiving, Larry died in a car accident. Hundreds attended his funeral; so many that they had to set up televisions in the basement of the church he helped build so other friends could watch the service. People traveled from all over the country to pay their respects.

I realize now, that as I grew up, my childish adoration and reverence for Larry never really matured. I always felt physically and emotionally adolescent next to him, but in a way that made me want to push harder, so I too would have something to talk about when we sat by the fire.

I will forever remember him as the mountain who conquered mountains and the Superman who proved to the world that a body is merely a vehicle for great things.

Larry with family Daniel, Betty, and Matt Heaton at Thanksgiving in Collinsville, VA - November 2012

13 comments:

  1. What an awesome tribute. Larry obviously lives on in so many of you! God be with you all!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. As I was reading this, in my minds eye, I could see Larry accomplishing each milestone you described. What a wonder tribute to a wonderful man and family.

    Doris Hale

    ReplyDelete
  3. This is absolutely wonderful. He never forgot anyone and he always gave his all.

    Peka Wade

    ReplyDelete
  4. Larry was a wonderful man who always had time to share his multitude of gifts and talents with everyone with whom he came into contact. This is a beautiful tribute to a great man!

    Myrna Ferguson

    ReplyDelete
  5. A wonderful and deserving tribute. I think of Larry's passing, not so much as a loss, but what a gift to all of us, all that came in contact with him were blessed. Thanks to Betty, Daniel and Matt for sharing such a wonderful man with us! Sam and Janeise Collins

    ReplyDelete
  6. Jennifer Huddle EdwardsJanuary 8, 2013 at 8:51 PM

    Amazing..........

    ReplyDelete
  7. Well written. My prayers are with the entire family!

    ReplyDelete
  8. I think we all need to live by Larry's Moto! I know I will be. Such a wonderful and touching tribute for the whole family. Prayers are still with the family everyday.

    ReplyDelete
  9. What a wonderful tribute for a wonderful friend, Dad, Husband. Larry made us all want to be a better version of ourselves. Prayers will continue to be lifted Betty, Daniel and Matt.

    Love,
    Lesley Cornett

    ReplyDelete
  10. Your power of the word is a beautiful tribute to your uncle. The amazing man that he was has made an indelible impression on many. Your entire extended family is forever blessed by his presence in your lives. May the passage of time allow those loving memories to be kept alive. Peace and blessings from Gainesville, Florida

    ReplyDelete
  11. Thank you everyone for the wonderful words.

    ReplyDelete