On a screen at the funeral home were pictures of Virgil--back then and later. I heard a guy in front of me say that he'd played ball with Virgil later on--as I've written here before, Virgil had kept playing on various community teams until, well, until he couldn't. It must have been horrible for him, realizing he could never again run out on that court and not stop running until a buzzer or a whistle forced him to.
I met his wife and son. She held in a little wallet some pictures of Virgil, showed them to me. I pointed out one that I was in, as well. His son was quite a bit taller--but definitely the son of Virgil Rowe. Same strong build, firm grip. Look you right in the eye. Virgil probably would have given a lot to have been as tall as his son. We told each other stories; then others arrived with other stories to tell, and it it was time to drive home and think about the Hiram Huskies, 1960-1961, and Virgil Rowe playing the game with the ebullience of a child on a playground.
Here's a picture from the 1961 yearbook. Hiram High School gymnasium. That gym is gone; so is the high school building itself. All that remains--an empty lot in Hiram. You can see Virgil in the far left corner in the middle of a jump shot. You can't see the basket--but I'm telling you right now that ball is going in. Where else could it go?
And one more: Virgil at the junior-senior prom, 1961. Virgil is right in the center of the picture (well, a touch left of center), his bow tie slightly askew, staring right at us, as if to say, Think we could play a little 3 on 3 in the gym after all this nonsense is over?
I will not forget Virgil Rowe--not until I've forgotten most other things. After high school I rarely saw him, but every time I picked up a basketball--or even thought about basketball--I could see him, king of that little gym, ruling the rest of us, ecstatic in the swirl of the game he adored.
I'll end with this Housman poem. In some ways, it doesn't fit: Virgil was not a runner. And when he died, he was not young. But, then again, he was young, wasn't he? And ever will be.
To an Athlete Dying Young
The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.
Today, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.
Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay,
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.
Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears.
Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.
So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.
And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl’s.