A piggyback ride down the ‘family run’

A piggyback ride down the ‘family run’

Following is an updated version of a column that first appeared on ButteSports.com on May 14, 2013:

One of the lasting impressions I have of my cousin Jerry D’Arcy is him walking up a ski hill with his skis over his shoulder. He was shaking his head in utter disbelief.

He could not believe that I was just standing on the top of the mountain when the whole purpose of being there was to go down it.

I had reached the first steep section of what they told me was the “family run” at Discovery Ski Area, and I was not going to go any farther.

It was my first time ever on skis, and I was not the bravest boy in town. I wanted to be, but I was not.

That I was on top of that hill in the first place was kind of an upset. I was there mostly because I could not say no to my cousins, who insisted I did not need a few runs on the bunny hill before heading up the chair lift a few of days after Christmas in 1985.

Jerry’s friend Jay Ballenger rode up the lift with me. He helped me get on the chair, and he coached me on how to get off. He was so nice and encouraging. He made it sound so easy.

His advice actually helped me get off the lift. It did not, however, stop me from crash landing and looking like an idiot after I got off the chair.

Then, as Jerry went ahead of us, Jay coached me as we glided to the part of the hill that at the time I thought was steep. Sure, it’s not really much of a hill. Little kids go down it skiing without poles. At the time, though, it felt like I was standing on top of Mount Everest.

The top of that mountain is where I lost every shred of dignity as I balled my eyes out, refusing to go any farther.

After some nice encouragement from Jay — and some not-so-nice encouragement from my brother and other cousins — Jerry decided he was just going to carry me down the hill.

Jerry, who hiked about 100 yards uphill in his ski boots, handed his poles and my skis to Jay. Then he had me climb on his back and we headed down the mountain.

My first ever ski run ended with Jerry and Jay taking turns giving me a piggyback ride down the mountain. Jerry dropped me off at the base of the bunny hill and left me there for the day, one of the most embarrassing and shameful days of my life.

To me, Jerry was as cool as they come. He was smart, funny, quick-witted, too brave for his own good and a little bit crazy. He was everything I wished I could be, and I just acted like an idiot in front of him.

I’ll never forget the time he passed our family car on his motorcycle as we drove on Continental Drive. He was driving on the skinny trail on the side of the road, and he took flight over each dirt rode that intersection the street.

I’ll never forget the time I went on a hunt with Jerry and he took off sprinting after a coyote, just for the heck of it. He held his rifle in one hand as he sprinted and hurdled fallen trees. My 12-year-old legs couldn’t come close to keeping up.

I’ll never forget all the Atari games we’d play on the nights Jerry was charged with “watching” my brothers and me when our parents went out for the night. It was impressive to me then that he would take the time to spend nights with us.

I’ll never forget how tight I hung onto anything I could when rode in the back of his Bronco because, as his driving record would surely attest, Jerry was not big on speed limits.

I’ll never forget first hearing the story about how he outran the police officer, who was about to marry our aunt, on his motorcycle.

I’ll never forget the night that he was having too much time goofing off with his friends that he forgot to make an appearance at his own birthday party.

I’ll never forget that the adults in our family called him “Little Jerry,” even though at about 6-foot-2, he was the tallest of all the cousins.

Some moments are just frozen in time, and for me one that I could never shake is the one on his back at Discovery. Though Jerry never complained and never mentioned the incident ever again, I never felt like a bigger wimp in my life.

I still don’t feel like I have lived that moment down.

At the same time, I never felt more fortunate to have Jerry as my cousin. I knew that, no matter what, he always had my back.

Another moment I will never get over came early on the morning of May 15, 1988, almost two and a half years after my piggyback ride at Discovery.

I was 14 and I was working at the concession stand at Stodden Park, getting ready for a busy Sunday because, like just about every weekend back then, the park was hosting a bar-sponsored softball tournament.

I can still hear the popcorn popping, smell the coffee brewing and see the tears on my uncle Melvin’s face as he walked in the door.

“What’s up, big guy?” I said. My uncle could hardly talk.

“Little Jerry,” he said, “was killed in a crash in the Highlands last night.”

My cousin died when his Bronco rolled as he and a group of friends tried to climb a really steep hill in the Highlands. He was only 20.

The days that followed were the most difficult I remember my family ever going through. They were the toughest days of my life. The two days of the wake and funeral seemed like two weeks. The weeks that followed seemed like years.

One recurring thought seemed to comfort me a bit during that time, and it still does today. As I looked around the church I remember thinking that everyone in the building either has lived or will live longer than Jerry. Nobody, though, will ever outlive him.

Every day Jerry lived was one to remember. He made sure that he was never cheated of one day, and I am so lucky that I was able to be a part of some of them.

Last Friday would have marked Jerry’s 52nd birthday, and it is hard to believe that it has been more than three decades since he left us.

There has hardly been any of the 11,545 days since he left us that I have not closed my eyes at least once and pictured my cousin vividly in my mind.

Usually, I see him walking up that hill at Discovery, shaking his head in utter disbelief.

— Bill Foley, who is still trying to live down those 1985 tears, writes a column that appears Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. Email him at foley@buttesports.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74. Check out his NFL picks every Thursday.

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