By Lisa Yorkgitis Nahach
You can reach me at LisaYorkgitisNahach@gmail.com
My husband, Jim, and I had anticipated this moment for years, and we were anxious. Tim was, too. While waiting for his name to be announced at the first varsity basketball game of the Jefferson City Jays, he leaned forward with his elbows resting on his thighs and his feet bouncing ever so slightly.
“And playing forward,” the announcer said. “No. 53. Six-foot-three junior Tim Nahach.”
Tim stood up, spun in a circle meant to simulate a hurricane, and jogged down a path created by athletes, dancers, and cheerleaders. At the end of the good-will gauntlet, he body-bumped one of his teammates. The crowd roared in approval.
I clapped and cheered as Tim and his teammates marked the first time he started as a varsity player, but the moment was bittersweet, at least for me.
“Oh, how I wish Dad could have been here,” I thought to myself.
My father, Ed Yorkgitis, was Timothy’s biggest supporter, apart from my husband and myself. Like us, he laughed at Tim’s propensity to pick up fouls. Like us, he wondered whether Tim would perfect his jump shot and play anywhere but inside. Even when Parkinson’s Disease robbed Dad of his ability to walk, use a urinal, and regularly feed himself, he usually could rouse himself to ask: “How’s basketball going for Tim?”
Last year, Dad could only attend a few games, but during Tim’s eighth-grade and ninth-grade seasons, he went to almost every home game as well as several away ones. When we drove up to his assisted-living center, he usually was waiting by the door, holding onto his walker. His hazel eyes gleamed with anticipation behind his wire-rim glasses.
At the game, we settled ourselves on the first or second row of bleachers. I helped Dad remove his coat and usually arranged it behind him to try to conceal any potential glimpse of plumber’s backside. Dad’s posture had changed so much with Parkinson’s Disease that even pants with elastic had trouble staying up and a belt could only do so much. (We would have tried suspenders, but he would not have been able to figure them out in the bathroom.) When he stood up, my husband, I or one of our children usually stood behind him, ready to hike up his pants.
Ed was a lifelong sports fan and a one-time nimble athlete. He played football and ran track at Langley High School in the Pittsburgh area and at Penn State University. He walked quickly or jogged everywhere he went. When I was a little girl, he occasionally walked on his hands. As recently as ten years ago, he climbed a ladder to a second-story window when we locked ourselves out of my childhood home in Pittsburgh, and until the last few years of his life, he enjoyed an occasional game of golf.
When my parents moved here in 2007, my father avidly followed many of his grandchildren’s athletic endeavors. Soccer, softball, baseball, basketball — you name it. However, I will admit that he favored Timothy. My daughters accepted that fact long ago. It’s a guy thing. I think that he was reliving his glory years through my son.
One time, a few years ago I arrived at the dining room of his assisted-living center to hear him discussing with the other men a baseball game he was going to watch. Tim was pitching, and from what I could tell, he was building Timothy up as quite the pitcher.
“It’s exciting for a grandfather to have a grandson who plays well,” he told me while we walked down the hall.
Although Ed saw many good baseball and basketball games, Tim’s first basketball game in ninth grade stands out. He dominated the game, playing inside and grabbing one rebound after another and laying the ball up and in again and again. The guards also did a great job of feeding him the ball, and he consistently outmaneuvered the defensive player or players covering him. He scored 26 points.
“That was joyful!” Dad exclaimed at the end of the game.
He saw his last basketball game in late February or early March 2014. By then, Dad was confined to a wheelchair. He had been in and out of the hospital so often with infections, respiratory issues, and/or fluctuating blood pressure that he had been able to attend few games.
Tim played last season on both junior varsity and varsity, so we came early for the JV game. When Dad seemed alert at the end of the JV game, we stayed for the varsity game — a glorious affair complete with cheerleaders, the school band, and a boisterous crowd. I was glad that the nursing home had provided a ham sandwich, a piece of fruit and a few four-ounce cartons of thickened juice.
During the games, I pointed out when Tim entered the games and scored, but looking back, I don’t think Dad needed my help.
At one point in the varsity game, Tim picked up a charge — a defensive move that requires a player to plant himself in the path of an oncoming offensive player and not move, other than to fall down because of the “charge.”
“Tim. Tim. Tim,” the crowd chanted as Tim flopped down.
My heart stopped momentarily, but when I saw that my son was fine, I relaxed and relished the crowd’s approval. “Did you hear that, Dad?” I asked my father. “The students were chanting Tim’s name when he picked up that charge.”
Dad smiled and nodded.
After the post-game powwow, Tim came out of the locker room to meet us.
“Good game, Tim,” Grandad told him.
“Thanks. Thanks for coming, Grandad,” Tim said.
When we left the gym, we found ourselves in an unexpected snowfall. I chided myself for having brought Dad, but I did not know that we were expecting snow. I bundled Ed in his grey gloves, green coat, and grey hat with ear flaps. When my husband pulled up in the car, I grabbed an umbrella to shield Ed. My husband drove home Tim and our younger daughter, Liz, in one car.
I drove home Dad, who stayed amazingly alert considering he had been up for several hours. As he cautioned me to slow down at stop signs and helped look out for cross traffic and slick patches of snow, I felt like I had my father of old back. When we arrived safely at his nursing home, I breathed a sigh of relief, thanked Dad for coming, and helped him get settled for the night.
Little did I know that the game would be one of Dad’s last outings. I’m so glad that I had not known about the potential for snow.