A few weeks ago, I wandered into a local pizza joint that I had avoided for years, generally because the idea of an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet seemed like a sin.
But on this day, I threw caution to the wind. The wonderful aroma embraced me at the door. This was going to be a good day.
As I approached the cashier, he seemed to stare at me. Was he going to ruin my day? He slowly took my money, then asked, “Do you remember me?”
That’s one of those questions that puts you in a pickle. Obviously, I should know the questioner because that person knows me. He looked like he was in his late 20s or early 30s. Oh Lord, who was this young man? Did I wrong him or his family in some story I wrote many years ago?
“You wrote a column about me and called me ‘the courageous little boy,’” he said.
Well that couldn’t be a bad thing, I thought.
“I’m Brian. Brian Wood. You wrote a column about me,” he announced.
Then I started to remember. My goodness, that had been over 20 years ago, I announced.
“Yeah, it was in 1994,” he said.
I had not seen Brian in at least 15 years. That he remembered me was not surprising. That’s what he can do.
I met Brian when he was 7 years old. He was being honored as the No. 1 popcorn salesman in the Boy Scout pack at Greenbrier Elementary, where my son was a member.
Here are bits and pieces from my December 1994 column:
"For once, Brian was No.1 He was being honored because he sold $1,004 worth of popcorn … Brian’s accomplishment is quite a feat, given the battle he is having with his body. Brian has motor skill difficulties that cause him physical coordination problems — a wicked blow to a child who loves sports ... The second-grade student’s problems are compounded by dyslexia that hampers his ability to read.
"That he can’t be a star athlete 'doesn’t bother me. It’s just sports,' Brian said. Besides, Brian said, he will settle for being a sportscaster.
“Sometimes he gets frustrated when he tries to do some of the things the other boys do and he can’t,” Woods father said. ... One teacher said that he was “a unique little boy. He knows so much about everything, and he has a good sense of humor.'
"When it was announced at the Scout meeting that Brian was the top popcorn seller, he walked proudly up to the front of the room. ... The smile on his face warmed the room.”
About five minutes after I had eaten my way through a stack of pizza, Brian stopped by, and we talked. He told me about his effort to finish high school. I thought graduating from high school was a humongous achievement. But, he went one step further. He had graduated from LSU, too.
I can’t imagine the struggles he overcame.
The thing that came back through our conversation was how Brian talked so specifically about things. I remembered many years ago he would stop me when he saw me in my yard to chat. His cadence and attention to detail made him sound like a news or sports anchor.
He said he graduated from LSU in 2013 with a major in political science. “It was challenging but not difficult,” he said. His goal is to become a communications director at a university or college.
His dream job, he said, would be in sports information. I can certainly see that.
Brian said he has tried to get a job in his field, but seems to strike out. He’s appreciative of his job at the pizza restaurant, but it is frustrating that he can’t seem to latch on to a job in the field that he loves so much. He will continue to look, he said.
But our conversation was no pity party. In about 10 minutes, we talked about politics, sports and everything that crossed our paths. Again, I was struck by his eye for the smallest detail. My goodness, how much does this guy read?
As I was getting ready to leave, Brian began to clean several tables around me. “I hope you have a good day,” he said.
Long ago, a teacher said of Brian, “He’s a courageous little boy.”
And he has grown into a courageous young man.