Monday, August 11, 2003

What a great day yesterday was! It certainly didn't start off as a great day, unfortunately, but the afternoon's bright spots more than made up for what went on in the morning.

Yesterday was the second Sunday of the month. For those who don't know it, on the second Sunday of every month, I interpret a Mass at the church where I grew up. I've been doing this for almost five years now.

So, off I went to interpret, and the first thing that I noticed when I arrived was that none of the regular Deaf attendees was there yet. That was pretty unusual. There aren't many regulars, but they're very consistent about attending. The elderly Deaf husband and wife normally arrive first, the 60-ish Deaf man and the 40-ish Deaf man (who come to Mass separately) normally arrive closer to the start of the liturgy.

I didn't interpret at my old church on the second Sunday of July, because I was at AADB that day. So I wondered if the elderly couple had decided to visit their daughter in Virginia at some point between the last time I saw them (in June) and now. Finally, a few minutes before Mass began, the 40-ish Deaf man arrived. Soon afterward, the 60-ish man arrived also, and he told me some news that really shook me up. On July 19th, the elderly Deaf wife had passed away suddenly from a heart attack. Her husband was now with his daughter in Virginia, and was contemplating staying down there with her. I was as shocked as I was saddened at this news. How I wish I'd known! I certainly would have attended the funeral if I'd been aware of her passing. As it is, I'm very sorry to think that I won't be seeing that delightful lady any more, and I'll be even sorrier if her equally nice husband chooses to move away from the area.

Actually, let me clarify this. I do believe in the afterlife, and I do believe that we'll all be together Up There someday. But that belief has never stopped me from missing the departed person NOW. If someone has the answer to THAT issue, please feel free to e-mail me with it. Otherwise, I'll keep on knowing that our loved ones who are gone are now in a better place, but I'll keep missing their presence here nonetheless. And I most certainly will be missing that lovely, charming Deaf lady every time I see her unoccupied place in the pew when I go to interpret. Sigh.

While I was still in my "What?!", completely shocked phase after hearing the news, the bell rang, the cantor announced the opening song, and the Mass began. Well, God only knows what in heck I signed during that hymn. I hope to God it made something resembling sense, because I honestly was having a hard time processing ANY form of rational thought for those few minutes.

The priest was no help, because he was in what I call "auctioneer mode", talking 90 miles an hour. I'm going to presume he had some reason for wanting Mass to end early, because it's not like this priest to speed through everything like that. Thank God that most of the Mass consists of prayers I've interpreted countless times. This is combined with some prayers and the scripture readings that change weekly, but which I always look up and practice in advance. The only thing that I can't practice ahead of time is the homily (sermon) after the Gospel. Fortunately this priest gives sermons that are not only good, but also basic in vocabulary, clear in meaning, and not difficult to interpret. Even yesterday, when Father was going through the Evelyn Wood Speed Praying version of Mass, his homily was still nice and straightforward, and not hard for my still-shocked mind to interpret properly.

Somehow I made it through the Mass in one piece and with my composure intact ...did I mention a couple posts back about that deep-rooted "not crying in front of people" barrier I've got installed? Yesterday I was grateful for it. I was also grateful that I had some plans for the afternoon which were 10000% guaranteed to lift my spirits: my favorite Phantom, Neil Little, was making a public appearance and I was planning to go. In fact, Mark and I were planning to stop briefly at home to change into casual clothes right after Mass finished (normally, that happens at noon), and then off we'd go to the King of Prussia Mall. That should give us plenty of time to get there early and get a good seat for this event.

Of course, what we planned and what happened are two different things. While I was getting a snail-mail address for the elderly Deaf man, so that Mark and I could send a Mass card to him, two beginning ASL students came up to me. They wanted me to sign the forms they were carrying for class. I didn't read through it thoroughly, but the heading was something to the effect of Deaf Interaction Experience. When I was taking ASL and Interpreting classes, we had similar forms to the ones I saw yesterday, so I knew what they were for. Then everything started happening at once: the students wanted me to help them talk to the two Deaf men who were at Mass. The woman who'd lectored at Mass, who'd noticed the elderly Deaf couple's absence, wanted me to interpret for her to find out what had happened, and when I told her what I knew she was distressed and wanted me to interpret so she could learn what occurred in more detail. The younger of the two Deaf men wanted to let me know that he'd had a bereavement in his family, too -- a cousin of his had died in a car accident a few weeks before, and his family was quite sad about THAT. All this was going on simultaneously, and for a few minutes there I felt as though I was standing in the middle of a cyclone of words and signs. And why, but WHY, did all this have to happen on the one Sunday when I had plans to go somewhere immediately following Mass? Why couldn't this be one of the zillion weeks where my post-Mass plans consisted of "go home and relax"?

Finally, everything was straightened out. Mark and I had the snail-mail addy so we can send our condolences. The lector had a clearer idea of what had happened (and she was as surprised and saddened as I was to know that the Deaf lady had died). I exchanged contact info with the two ASL students, because in a couple of weeks we're hoping to have the local deaf-blind group of friends go out to dinner, and I think both these students would enjoy coming along. And what do you know -- it was not very long past noon by the time everyone went their separate ways. Maybe it was fortunate that Father had been in Speed Praying mode after all, lol! Mass ended early enough that we could have all those conversations and still be only slightly behind schedule by the time we got on our way to King of Prussia.

We arrived at the Mall with about a half-hour to spare. We found the location of the event, which was something oriented toward young kids. And I do mean YOUNG: the age range of the kids in attendance appeared to be from preschool through about age 5, with a few really tiny tots thrown in for good measure. I still am not sure who the sponsor was, but there were all sorts of toys being demoed and a young lady was conducting a trivia contest about Disney movies.

Mark and I found some good seats, but before long, Mark said he'd take a walk around the mall and be back later. About 10 minutes before 2 o'clock, I looked up and who did I see? Someone carrying the Sony Mavica which I know darn well belongs to the Phantoms. Not only is it in evidence at every Phantoms public event I've been to, but you can even see a pic of Phlex holding it on the Phantoms' website, at the top of the Photo gallery pages. Well, I figured that if the camera was around, Neil must be around, too. Sure enough, there he was, standing off to the side and talking to someone connected to the event.

Ah! Yay! If you're ever in search of a way to cheer me up, having my favorite goalie stand about five feet away from me will most definitely do the job. That goes double if the last time I saw said favorite player was after the last game of the season, when we were at risk of missing the playoffs by one darned point and he KNEW it. The whole team knew. I took pics of a lot of the players after that game, as it was "Shirts off our Backs" night and the guys were presenting their game-worn jerseys to fans who'd won them. But when I got home and looked at the pics on the full-sized computer monitor, I found it hard to bear seeing the sad expressions on the guys' faces. And that was my most recent sight of him from April until yesterday. Ouch.

So anyway, there I was, feeling glad to see my favorite player again, and even more glad to note that he was looking happy and upbeat (in contrast to last April). My "glad" quotient promptly increased several times over, when Neil looked around and picked out the one familiar face in the crowd -- mine. He came over to say hello, and while we were in the process of "good to see you" and "how was your summer", Mark returned from wandering through the mall and Neil greeted him, too. One thing that really impresses me about Neil is that he returns loyalty from fans... when he gets to know a person by sight, he'll be the one who says hello to the FAN first. He has known Mark and me since the two of us went with some other Philly fans in 1999 to see Neil play in Grand Rapids, to which team he'd been loaned out. He's made a point of being friendly to us both from then until now. It's nice to see a pro athlete, especially one who's as immensely popular with the team's fan base as Neil is, who does NOT take fan support for granted. It makes me all the more willing to cheer for a player who's not only talented ON the ice, but good-hearted OFF it.

Mark went back on his walking tour of the mall, and Neil asked me, "Who's sponsoring this event? Is it a card company? What am I supposed to do here?" I said "I know it's something to do with kids, but I'm not sure who's running it. I do know that there's a question-and-answer session, and then a signing".

He looked surprised to hear that there was a Q&A involved. I did my best to keep my amusement off my face, but I did wonder what in HECK our PR office had told the poor guy. Sheesh, I guess we were lucky they managed to convey what time and where they wanted him to report. But one would think they'd have also mentioned what they wanted him to do once he arrived, no?

A few minutes later, Neil got introduced to the crowd. It was about a zillion little kids, their parents, and Hat Trick and me, lol! Shortly after the Q&A began, a fellow Phantoms fan, someone I've known since I started attending games, arrived and took the seat next to mine. Good, now Neil had TWO familiar faces in the crowd, since he's well-acquainted with this other fan also. The questions kept coming from the kids: who's his favorite Phillie (Brandon Duckworth), what other sports does he like (football and golf), does he travel a lot (yes, especially during the season), does he see his teammates or his family more often (during the season, his teammates, and during the summer, his family), what are his hobbies (playing golf and flying a private plane).

Then the host of the event caught me off guard. He pointed me out in the crowd and said, "We can take questions from adults, too. You look like a fan, you seem to be smiling a lot -- do you have a question?"

Holy cow, I wasn't expecting that! So I blurted out the first thing that crossed my mind... which, incidentally, is a question I've wondered about for a while. I asked Neil, "What's your middle name?"

Neil looked a little surprised, too. "That's a trick question. NEIL is my middle name". Then the host called on a little kid for the next question, which I never heard. I was too busy processing the answer I'd just gotten.

I turned to my fellow fan and whispered, "What? Did you know that?", but this was news to her, too. I felt a little better knowing that one of his other mega-fans was as taken aback as I was, lol!

When the questions were done, a table was set up so Neil could sign autographs. I waited for a long line of kids to get their signatures and have a few words (and there's nothing I enjoy more than watching our hockey-playing big kids interacting with tiny fans). Then I headed over to the table myself.

"So... what's your FIRST name?"

Neil laughed. "You mean you don't know?"

I can only guess why he thought I already knew... I suspect it has to do with my having been a poster on a now-defunct hockey board where a college friend of Neil's used to be the moderator. Thanks to Neil's old friend, I got to know not only Neil's college nickname, but its origin. Neil found that out, and I guess he just presumed that his friend had volunteered lots of other stuff, too. Good, let him think I'm either omniscient or psychic, lol! ;o) But rest assured, this first/middle name topic was never broached by his college friend, not on the message board and not any other time.

"No, I don't. But if you don't want me to repeat it, I won't."

Neil laughed again. "Nah, you can repeat it. It's Leslie. I'm named after my father, only he goes by 'Les' and I go by 'Neil' ".

"I didn't know your dad's first name, either. When I met him, I took the stance that his first name is 'Mister'. I feel funny about calling people's parents by their first names. I wasn't brought up that way". I thought of something else. "So that means you're a Junior?"

"Yep, I'm a Junior".

So, there you have it. I finally know my favorite player's first AND middle names, and neither one was what I expected it to be. But I know 'em. :o)

Yesterday afternoon was terrific. Even Hat Trick got into the act! And after the past week's worth of sad news, it was JUST what the doctor ordered. It was an ideal antidote for my case of Hockey Withdrawal Syndrome, and it was just an all-around enjoyable time to get to see and chat with my favorite player again. I really, REALLY needed something like this event, and it did me a world of good.

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