The irony struck hard. When I could finally walk far enough away from the cheering of the crowd at the ball park to hear what Nancy Edmond was trying to say, that her middle son Eric had died, it hit me. My old friend Eric Edmond loved playing baseball, and even had scouts from the majors giving him a look back in the day.
Immediately, Teresa knew something was wrong when I arrived back, shaken, to our folding chairs near the dugout where our grandson was playing. How could this be? Eric was four years younger and full of life. I thought back to around 18 months ago, when he and his mother graciously allowed me to interview them about the toughest part of their life together — losing their husband and father Billy Edmond in 1970 when the C-130 Hercules transport plane he was flying in crashed into the sea offshore of Japan.
Since it was near the almost seven-miles deep Mariana Trench, none of the bodies of the men aboard the flight were ever recovered.
Decades ago, Eric and his older brother Charlie were frequent summertime and after-school companions in Westbrook Subdivision. Since our home on Marshall Drive had the biggest side yard, that was our arena for baseball and football. Later, my dad got the Westbrooks to allow him to have a mini-basketball court cleared and poured behind our property. It was sports and more sports, riding bicycles with neighborhood dogs running along with us and camping out in the woods.
Sometimes we’d have an ugliest tennis shoes contest, and one day Charlie won hands-down when he came out wearing a pair held together only by silver duct tape.
As we grew old enough to drive, those camping trips were farther from home. On one of them Charlie and I climbed the radio tower on Dug Gap Mountain, and quickly decided the small platform on top without handrails was no place for two alpha males to wrestle for territory. A fall would have meant certain death. (This was possibly in the days before harmful radiation was emitted from these towers. If not, it explains a lot.)
A female schoolmate of Eric’s from Northwest Whitfield told me, “He will always be my favorite high school basketball player. He could hustle like no one else, especially for his size.”
All the Edmond boys were athletes, evidenced in the story about Billy. Charlie and Eric hit back-to-back home runs on the first and second pitches of a game at their brand-new Air Force duty station, and went home excited to tell their baseball-loving dad — only to hear he would never be coming home again.
Sibling Darrin Edmond, like my brother Brian, was much younger than the rest of us wild neighborhood boys and didn’t tag along on our exploits. An Air Force retiree, Darrin did open up, however, about the father he couldn’t remember; Billy Edmond’s plane went down on the day before Darrin’s fourth birthday, and the usually-happy occasion is perpetually a somber reminder of what he and his brothers missed growing up. Many of us have experienced a broken heart. For some, it seems to last a lifetime.
Eric became emotional talking about his father in 2021 for the Veterans Day story.
“Without a dad, every day is tough,” he began. “You’re standing out on the football field on Fathers and Sons Day, and your dad’s not there … people don’t realize how tough it was; you just try to figure out life. If you don’t have a dad guiding you through your younger years, you kinda get lost. I think about him more the older I get.”
Nancy revealed in the interview that one of her proudest moments was the last Sunday they were all in church together — just days before the plane went down — when she looked over at her husband and their three sons sitting between them.
For some reason, and there is certainly no claim of prescience here, I asked Eric if he was ready for the end of life if anything happened. He said he was, and it was heartfelt. I envision my old friend now throwing pitches with his dad, and sharing all the things that happened in more than a half-century.
Maybe we’ll all get a game going up there one day.
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