By Valenzano, Joseph M., Jr.
The Exceptional Parent , Vol. 41, No. 10
"I guess it is sort of like life coming full circle, but the story of Rock and his family offers some excellent life-messages that I felt belonged in EP because they may help other families faced with the sometimes daunting challenges of caring for a child with special needs., especially a child with autism."
Organized by a life-long friend who lives in Orlando, Florida, Frank Fraga, about twenty men and women, most in their mid to late sixties, came for this event for the express purpose of giving thanks to God for the lives of at least four among us who had battled cancer and won, thanks to the tireless efforts of brilliant physicians but also through incredible persistence, commitment and prayer. All of us grew up together and were members of the 1959 graduating class of Blessed Sacrament Grammar School just off 71st Street and Broadway in New York City. One woman, Francis Espinal flew up from the Dominican Republic to be with us. Others drove great distances from surrounding states to share in this moment of reflection. It is rare indeed to be a part of college and high school reunions ... but grammar school some 52 years ago! Well, that is kind of special indeed!
We shared stories of our families and grandchildren; reminisced about the times we spent together growing up on the streets of New York in what seemed to all of us to be far simpler times. Endless games of stickball in the street; touch football on the avenue and hockey on roller skates using electrician's tape from construction sites. No referees or umpires; just our own integrity and appreciation of competition and fair play. We spoke of dances at St. Matthews and St. Paul's parishes and arguments on the corner of 68th Street and Amsterdam Avenue until 2:00 AM over such important things as who was the greatest center fielder ... Mickey Mantle of the Yankees, Duke Snyder of the Dodgers or Willie Mays of the Giants.... three of the greatest baseball players and teams in America, all housed in one city. We talked of how no one ever locked their doors because there just wasn't any need to do so. And we reminded ourselves that if we saw a woman in the neighborhood walking up the block carrying groceries, we would stop our game and at least two of us would run over, take the packages from her arms and walk up to her apartment three or four stories above and drop the groceries off. No one had to tell us. It is what we were expected to do ... and we heard about it if we didn't.
We told some really funny stories of our classes with the Sisters of Charity and being altar boys for the priests at Blessed Sacrament. Some of the stories are just too embarrassing to repeat, but they brought smiles to the faces of everyone. And we raised a glass or two to absent friends, those in the neighborhood who were no longer with us, remembering their loss also impacted us. Little did we know then that the foundations the nuns and priests were giving us every day about discipline, life and the value of hard work would sustain us and carry us through the difficult times and challenges ahead.
But this is not just a story of reunions or birthday celebrations or giving thanks for God's care. It is a story about one of us, a life-long friend living in Alameda, California and his very special journey. A journey that reflects on all that we had been taught.
Rock Harmon is my friend. A life-long friend. Yet, we were only reacquainted about seven years ago thanks to Admiral Ray Smith, former Commander all Navy SEALS, a member of the EP Board of Directors and a fellow graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy who happened to see Rock at a dinner in San Diego, California just before a Navy-Colorado State football game. You see, I had lost touch with all of my friends from Blessed Sacrament. Life took me down a different path chasing the dream of playing professional baseball, marriage, five sons and well, I just lost touch Were it not for the chance encounter between Admiral Smith and Rock, I might never have seen any of them again. …