Rocky was a cowboy; he carried his holstered revolvers around the neighborhood; wore his big white, hat low on his head.
He came into my life one fine summer day in 1953. My first reaction was fear, which was understandable. I was no different from other kids my age. When you are a kid, you fear monsters under the bed and hide under the covers.
As children know, with monsters, you hide, barely breathing until the terror goes away. I think parents forget that. They turn off the lights, shut the door; you can hear them walk away.
It took a while to get used to Rocky’s loud and strangeness, his guns and cowboy hat. Rocky showed up when he was 11 or 12. My fearful curiously slowly evolved to admiration for Rocky’s big silver revolvers.
So, the next Christmas I put big, silver revolvers and a cowboy hat in my letter to Santa. I also wanted a knife, one with a big blade; on Christmas morning. I leaped out of bed, ran down the stairs and looked under the tree.
The next time Rocky showed up we had a showdown, blazing away. It was one of many showdowns over the next few years. Rocky went to grade schools with his guns.
In that time, special kids were kept at home. But his parents insisted Rocky be treated as equal. There were no special needs program in our school at the time.
Finally, Rocky went away; he slumbers in his grave in a small cemetery. Somewhere out there, beyond the stars, beyond our desire to know why, he pulls his revolvers from his holster and blazes away.
He forever dreams of being a cowboy and forever is accepted, and that was the way it should always be – accepted. Out there is somewhere we are all accepted. I believe that.
I celebrate Rocky every year in the fall when several thousand people throw a big party, all fun and plenty of games. Special Olympics Family Festival comes to the grounds of Lake Land College.
Saturday was a warm day with the wind sweeping the sounds of Karaoke and laughter and the smell of popcorn. My friend this year goes by the name of Joe. He is a tall, lanky fellow, walks a fast pace and has a lot of friends.
Over the course of the decade and a half, I have been the friend of many Joes. Some are crippled, some are ancient, some exude joy, and some are pushed around in wheelchairs. Some are on the edge of this world.
A large crowd of students at Lake Land College and Eastern Illinois volunteer to be Friends for a Day; they understand the special people in a way only the young can.
They regard me with curiosity when I, wearing my blue Special Olympics T-shirt, stand in line to be paired with an Olympics athlete. Indeed, if it were not for the college students, the special would walk alone.
I remember Rocky, as do many of you. Rocky is a tall, lanky fellow, who walks a fast pace and has a lot of friends.
Joes are the Rocky who never dies. I see him every fall.