A feel-good love story for times as these

Published 5:48 pm Tuesday, April 7, 2020

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We had the privilege of sharing a story with a group of people who do not know much about LaGrange. So, in addition to introducing them to one of the best love stories I’ve ever, I had to provide a little local color regarding our little hometown.

As with every story, you need a hero. Today, ours is a man named Gilbert Holliday.

“That’s ‘Holliday’ with two l’s,” he would say to me, with a laugh, to make sure I got it right for the paper.

For many years, I carried in my wallet a barely legible and brief note scribbled on a tiny piece of paper. I happened onto an impromptu interview with my old friend one day down at the Y in my hometown of LaGrange; so, I quickly grabbed paper and pen so I would not miss even one detail of his story. I listened to every word with admiration. Gil had been playing basketball at noon with the “boys down at the Y” for several decades. The ‘Y,’ as we always called it, is the facility where I played ball almost every day of my life growing up, spending thousands of days and nights at the Y shooting baskets. The Y is a recreational facility in LaGrange owned by a man named Callaway who built half of the town. There’s the Callaway Stadium, the Callaway Auditorium, the Callaway Library, and on and on. His best benevolent contribution, in my mind, though, was the Y.

One section of the Y was a very nice air-conditioned section with glass walls that enclosed a ping-pong room, a TV room, and a dance or exercise room. The other section was not air-conditioned, and it had a weight room, showers, and the gym. You would have thought that my buddies and I would have worn that floor out with all the games we played, but we didn’t.

Being older, they started a noontime league reserved just for older businessmen and workers. It was kind of an “exclusive” club; but since they all knew me either from growing up or from the writings in the paper, they welcomed me and allowed me to join in. It was on one of those trips home where I first met Gil, probably back in the 1980s. It was in 2001, though, that I met him in a different way, because I had never had a really good sit-down talk with him until then.

On that visit, Gil was in a brief ball-playing retirement due to some ailments. He was well into his 80s by this time and moved very slowly up and down the court; but the “boys at the Y,” — as we call them — were always gentle with him. He did not move fast, but he had made a determination to keep on moving for as long as he could breath. Gil inspires me today to try to be playing a little ball when I’m 80.

Even though he was unable to play that day, he still came on over to the Y and took his place on the sideline. It was between games when I sat down by Gill and had one of the best visits down at the Y I ever had. With the ball bouncing in the background, Gil told me his story. I know I missed some important details, but I remember the most important one.

Her name was Julia.

The mere sound of that name was like the singing of angels to Gil Holliday. I could tell by the gleam in his eye when he talked of her.

“When we married,” he said, his eyes shining. “We owned a 1925 T-model Ford.”

Then he added quickly, with a laugh: “Looked gorgeous to me.”

I scribbled that little note down, with a bit of a smile. I chuckled aloud a little when he said it, because I was not sure whether he was talking about Julia or the ’25. I think both.

Julia was his life, but he was pretty crazy about that T-model, too. He got to talking about both of them with such a joy that you were almost there with him as he re-lived the story.

He said that he and Julia were driving along one time — maybe it was on their honeymoon, or maybe they were just courting at the time — and the creek flooded and covered the railroad tracks and stranded the two lovebirds. Of course, it didn’t bother Gil at all to be stranded with his girl. Gil and Julia were married for 57 years, until her death in 1996.

After our visit — cut short for the next game — I reached out to shake his hand with great respect. I was proud of him and of his story; and I thanked him deeply for sharing his life story, a story that could be summed up in that one special name. Through the years, I’ve heard a lot of stories playing ball down at the Y, but I’ve never heard one like that. I never got to see Gil again. I had hoped to see him when I came back home later in the summer. But when I got to the Y he wasn’t there. Immediately I asked my old ball-playing buddy Ken Carter, and Ken told me that Gil died, too, just a few months ago. Then he added,

“I think he kind of grieved ‘til he died.”

I was not surprised at that at all. I knew he would never lose that little gleam in his eye for Julia. Gleams like that don’t go away.

I still think one of the best love stories I’ve ever heard is that of my friend from down at the Y, Gil Holliday.

“That’s ‘Holliday’ with two L’s,” he said to me, with a laugh.

Two “L’s.” Seems fitting.