“The Story of O,” column for Feb. 16, 2016

It’s a gift to bear witness to a miracle, to believe in a child’s future and watch it unfold. Even if you drive five hours and sit in the nosebleed seats to watch it.

I love basketball. I was a player once, for about 30 seconds. It was eighth grade, my rookie debut. I deflected a pass with my nose. After that, I became a scorekeeper. Years later, I married a high school coach and kept score for his games, until I had babies. Then I became just a fan. The babies cut their teeth on the bleachers and sat in players’ laps on the bus to away games. (Laps were legal child safety restraints back then.) All three grew up playing the game, and all three still are fans.

One of the best things about basketball is it gave me Virginia Jackson. She was a nurse’s aide at the hospital. When I showed up in labor, she’d make sure I got the finest care, because she loved the Coach.

She sent him some of his best players _ first her sons, then her grandsons that she raised as her own. She loved them all, but was especially proud of Orlando Johnson and his two older brothers. I first met “O” at his mother’s funeral. He was a toddler hanging on the hem of his grandmother’s dress.

When he was 3, Virginia let O stay with me one weekend. He and Coach went out back to the hoop and taught each other some moves. O might not remember it, but I do.

Anyone who spends their “golden years” raising a houseful of grandchildren is a saint, but Virginia redefined sainthood. In her lifetime, she suffered more tragedies than most of us will ever face: Her husband died after years of illness; a son and a daughter were murdered; a fire destroyed her home and took the lives of her mother, a daughter and two small grandchildren; and she lost others in her family to drugs or prison. Loss for any cause is still a loss. Gone is gone.

Time and again, despite every tragedy that brought her to her knees, she rose. Her faith in God and devotion to her family lifted her up and gave her strength to keep doing all she needed to do.

She taught me to believe that with enough faith and love, any one of us can change the world _ especially the world of a child.

Years later, when she heard the Coach had died of cancer, Virginia called me in tears.

“Honey,” she said, “I’ve been where you are and I know what you need. I’m sending you a platter of fried chicken.”

When Orlando was 11, his grandmother’s big heart finally failed, and his older brothers took over looking after him. Having grown up without a father, they gave Orlando a team of “dads” _ brothers, uncles and others who’d be there when he needed them to cheer him on or chew him out and teach him to be a pro at basketball and life.

In 2012, after graduating from UC Santa Barbara, Orlando saw a dream come true when he was drafted into the NBA.

Recently, when we heard he was playing for the Phoenix Suns, my husband suggested we drive to Phoenix to see the Suns take on the Warriors. (The fact that we are Warriors fans was a bonus.)

And that’s how I ended up in Talking Stick Resort Arena, watching Virginia Jackson’s grandson guard Steph Curry, the MVP of the NBA.

I wish you could’ve seen him. Maybe you did. The Warriors won, of course. Again. But O had nine points, eight rebounds and three blocks. Not bad.

Some children, like Orlando, are blessed to grow up with a booster club of family and friends, teachers and coaches, who follow them forever.

O’s fans were all there in spirit _ his family in Monterey, his grandmother in heaven, and a great host of others cheering him on, along with my husband and me in the nosebleed seats.

I wonder if O could hear us all pulling for him? I hope so.

I suspect his grandmother made sure he was listening.

Comments

  1. Janet Burrows says:

    I’m just finding you via the internet. However, I sincerely wish the Appeal Democrat in Marysville/Yuba City, California would bring your column back to me in my morning paper. A cup of coffee isn’t the same without you.

  2. Faith says:

    Kudos on sharing the message of faith! It is rare now days yet always Refreshing to read or hear people who aren’t afraid to share the message of faith in God. I am a devoted fan of Stephen Curry and his beautiful family as I admire their commitment to Christ. As a resident of Monterey County, until today I had never heard of Orlando, so thank you for sharing his story. Congratulations to him on overcoming so much hardship.

  3. Jon Nunemaker says:

    What a great article!! Even though I have moved away from Monterey, I played football with his brother at Monterey High. I know Orlando’s story and how great Robbie and Jamel have done in raising a fantastic young man!! He definitely has a family of fans in San Antonio!! I enjoyed reading your articles when I was in school and always looked forward to picking up my schedule from Coach every year!!!

  4. Fran Seymour says:

    I love these columns and Sharon Too. I miss reading heron the papers. Don’t know which one to buy. Would love to know where to find her or how to get her e- mail to read what she writes.

  5. Shannan Damon says:

    Love it, Sharon! You always do such an amazing job! Thanks for another great family article I can save with the others!

  6. Barbara Taylor says:

    Your stories are such an inspiration, Sharon. When the world seems to be in disarray, you remind us of the goodness in people. Now I will remember O in my prayers in memory of his wonderful grandmother.

  7. Sharon,
    It’s a real blessing to have you back. This column is a definite wake-up call for all who read it. At least, it was for me.
    Write on,
    Bruce

  8. I love your stories of REAL life! Praise God for ladies like Virigina! God bless you as you continue to use your God given gift of sharing lives in word! Sharon you are such a blessing!

  9. Kate Sciacca says:

    I am a baseball mom… Some might call this column a slam dunk…. But I prefer grand slam… Love it! Thanks for putting so much effort into self syndication that we might enjoy you still ?

  10. Jo says:

    Life is good. Your columns are back – always one of the high points of the week. Never miss reading them. You are a very gifted writer.

  11. Shirley Harris says:

    One of my favorites. Sorry our local paper stopped printing her column. I always looked to reading it in The Wooster Daily Record.

  12. Sheila Torres says:

    That was so enjoyable! Love hearing all the snippets of your life. God bless ❤️

  13. Ronda Krasowski says:

    Fried chicken! The practical way to deliver love. As always, great column ?.

  14. Shashi says:

    My heart is full of love for this heroic story ,life is so hard for some to bear such incidents of real losses . Thank u Sharon you wrote such a bold letter /column that grand ma must be happy to know that someone is still praying and taking care of her grandson . I just bought a ticket to see my grandson and grand daughter to let them know that I love them so much . Of course they love me too.

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