TOP OF THE TOWN – Like everybody else I was stunned to hear the news of the death of Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna in a helicopter crash Sunday in California. The sports world – maybe the entire world – was rocked with the 41-year-old Kobe dying when he had so much going for him in the second chapter of a life well-lived on the basketball court. My God, he scored 60 points in his last game for the Los Angeles Lakers, who he played for his entire 20-year-career, winning 18 All-star selections. He scored 81, second only to Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 in NBA history, on Jan. 22, 2006 against Toronto. After retiring, Bryant won in 2018 an Oscar in the animated short category for his “Dear Basketball.” He was also renowned for advocating for women’s basketball. There is going to be many stories in the coming weeks about Kobe and I’m not here to elaborate on him as I am on how his death is certain to affect his family, which includes wife and three other daughters. I know the impact a parent has on family because I was devastated when my mother died when I was just 12 about to turn 13. I had everything going for me, an idyllic childhood in the foothills of the Alleghenies in rural New York State, was following three older brothers who were really good high school athletes and did well academically. They had created a path for me to accomplish as much as they did and maybe more, both in the classroom and in the competitive sports of football, basketball and baseball. Then it all came crashing with a knock on the door of Mr. Scott’s seventh-grade English class. Mr. Scott came over to my desk against the far wall and said I was excused. I got up and my classmates hooted and hollered at me because I was free to go. Little did they know. Me either. Once I got outside the classroom, my dad, my sister, the oldest of five children in the family, and my brother David informed me that Mama had died. Little did I know that would start more  than a decade of what I call my dark years. The day we buried my Mama, we had a reception at our house with many people milling about. I felt uncomfortable and escaped unnoticed out the back door and went up to the top of the dike behind our house that held back the spring waters of the Allegheny. There was an upturned row boat up there and I climbed under it and sat in darkness and silence pondering what had just happened. Once people realized I was missing David was sent to look for me. He shouted my name over and over and climbed up on the dike. He stood next to the row boat, but did not look under it. Some hours later I emerged, damaged goods emotionally. I remember the next morning I started down the stairs to begin my pre-school day and as I descended the stairs I reverted to my instincts and blurted out, “Mama, what is for breakfast?” My sister Minerva had temporally moved in with her young family and was making breakfast. She shouted back, “Mama is not here.” At that same instant I realized for the first time the abnormity of the situation and collapsed on the steps and cried for the first time. A year later my dad, a good man who I never heard a swear word from and who’s recreation was his work, married a younger woman with two young children and at the same time we moved from the East Coast to the West Coast and my world fell apart. I never felt elcomed in the blended family, although my dad was great, and so began my dark years during which I suffered emotionally and physically, fell off in school and athletically, and in hindsight attempted many times to do things that should have killed me. I was a failure at that, too. Who knows what I would have become if my mother had lived?  I do think it would have been different. I’m not alone in this. I believe there are many who have had their world turned upside down by a loved family member dying. Now, it’s Kobe’s family that will be upended. Because of his fame, they may have it easier, although nothing is easy when a loved one dies, especially one like Kobe. His death got me to thinking about all the others that have died as young as or younger than Kobe. One is Hank Williams, considered the best Country-western singer-songwriter in history. Hank died at age 29 On New Year’s day 1953 in the backseat of his Cadillac while going to a gig in Canton, Ohio. I feasted on Williams during my dark years. I had all his recordings and could sing most of them by heart. But we have been slapped upside the head by the deaths of many iconic figures over the years, including George Gershwin, whose Rhapsody in Blue is one of my all-time favorites. Gershwin died at 38. Rock ‘n Roll singers Buddy Holly (age 22), Ritchie Valens (17) and J.P. Richardson, known as the Big Bopper (28) , all died together in a plane crash. Some others who died under the age of 41 that Kobe was includes social activist and rapper Nipsey Hussle, shot dead at 33 last March, actor James Dean (24), rock singers Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain, all who died at 27. Country singer Patsy Cline (30), one of my top country singers, who died in a plane crash with Cowboy Copas (49) and Hawksaw Hawkins (41). Bobby Kennedy was just 42 when he was assassinated, his brother John was four years older when he was gunned down in Dallas. The list of the famous, the legends, iconic figures that died way too soon like Kobe are huge. I always say the good ones die young. Or so it seems. That is why I’m still around. I don’t know how I made it this far considering my troubled dark years. All I know is if I knew I would live this long I would have taken better care of myself, echoing what Mickey Mantle said about himself. The Mick made it to 63. When my sister died 2011(age 81) a friend tried to console me with, “You have all the memories of her.” That was all and good, but it still shook me because she was my anchor after Mama died. Without Minerva, I would have likely been one who never reached 41. Memories, are good I suppose, but it doesn’t bring back to life those you love. Millions, I’m guessing, loved Kobe for being so passionate about not just basketball, but life, and was instilling that passion into his family, friends and anybody else he came in contact with. This kind of person is rare, and to lose him so young is incredibly sad and very, very tragic. May God hug and love him and Gianna.

Be well pal.

Be careful out there.

Have a great day.

You are loved.