OF BASKETBALL SHOES AND TATTOOS (With Music)

             

When we lived in North Carolina, and after we moved to Georgia, Lee had many best friends, Tim, Bryan, Steven, Alex, Jesse, Thad, Ben, Nick, (I am sure I will miss someone so I will stop with the names). But then there was Patrick Spach and Luke Wagner.

Lee and Patrick were together every chance they had. They tried to always be in the same classes at school. They were always together at Church. One Patrick story that I remember was when they both finished confirmation class at Bethesda United Methodist Church. On the scheduled Sunday when all the class was to receive their confirmation and their Bibles, Lee was out of town with us somewhere. Patrick sat out the ceremony just so Lee would not be alone the next Sunday when he received his confirmation and Bible. That’s a friend…….

Patrick and Lee were always playing sports as kids. Soccer, baseball, and basketball were their favorites. Lee enjoyed playing. Patrick strived to be the best athlete on the field. You would think that would create separation between the two friends, but not so here. Lee was proud of what Patrick could do, and Patrick was proud of what Lee could do. Summers during the middle school years found both of them at Wake Forest University at basketball camp. These three or four years were when Dave Odom was the head coach and Tim Duncan, (Yes, the always “All Star” of the San Antonio Spurs, Tim Duncan), was the big man on campus and in basketball camp. Lee was there for the fun and exercise, Patrick was there to hone his skills. And hone them he did, but I will get to that in a minute. When both Patrick and Lee were thinking about high school, both their families were in the process of moving. The Spach’s to Memphis, TN and the Wagner’s to Atlanta, GA. Again that should have finished off the best friends, but not so fast. The next two summers Lee spent time in Memphis and Patrick spent time in Atlanta. Why, because best friends don’t let distance come between, well, best friends. Even today, while playing basketball for Ole Miss in the SEC conference, Patrick takes a Sharpie and writes “Lee” somewhere on his basketball shoes in memory of his best friend. What more tribute can you have than what Patrick displays for his fallen friend?

Luke Wagner was a year or two older than, and twice as big as his cousin Lee. This fact came in handy a time or two when bigger kids would tend to do what bigger kids sometime do. That is to pick on smaller kids. Seems every time this was about to happen to Lee, Luke was somewhere within site and this created a great deterrent and further a strong bond between the two. They hunted together, rode ATV’s, and go-carts, and just about anything else you could do and still stay outside. During the time we lived in North Carolina, when Lee was not with Patrick he was with Luke and when he was not with Luke he was with Patrick.

It’s hard to tell you about Luke without telling you what stock he was carved from. Luke had a grandfather named Leo Wagner, (I just noticed a lot of Wagner’s have a name that begins with the letter “L”). Leo was the best story teller I have ever known, among other things. I remember a time when he and I were helping my sister, Kim, move her horses from North Carolina to Oklahoma. It took us two or three days out and two days back. I do not recall a time during that journey when Leo was not telling stories of a simpler time and I didn’t hear the same story twice. I laughed until I cryed for the entire trip. He was one of the most unique and genuine personalities I will have the pleasure of ever knowing. If you were with Leo there were no dull moments.

I had to go to Milwaukee, WI on business one summer and I decided to drive instead of fly. Lee and Luke went with me. We stopped in St Louis to tour the Gateway Arch one afternoon along the way. Anything of interest would create a reason to stop and we stopped often. We were going to take our time on the return but a call from home to tell us Leo was in the hospital changed our plans and we drive straight through from Wisconsin to North Carolina. Now three guys, in a car, for a long journey, stopping only for fuel and food, is not the ideal way to travel. Let just say the windows were down a lot on that return leg.

Luke had an old red pick up truck. Every time I saw it, Luke was driving, Lee was in the Passenger seat, and Thad was in the back. I ask them one day why Thad was always in the back. They replied “Because he’s Thad”. I don’t think they would have the same reply today. Thad plays college football now and has grown into a giant of young man.

A year of so after Lee died Luke called me saying he had something I needed to see. On a weekend in North Carolina I visited him and he pulled up his sleeve. On his shoulder was a tattooed cross with the letters RLW and CLW. This he explained were the three people that have had the most influence on his life. “GOD, his grandpa Leo, and Lee.”