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English, Foreign Languages and English as a Second Language

Student Showcase

The Son of a Hero

Barry Sparks III

The birth of the first born son was a very exciting event for my family. My father rejoiced because he ran a family business and already had three daughters: Brenda, Linda, and Donna. After my birth, three more children arrived: Patty, Curtis, and Sonya. My dad was a very determined, caring, loving father. My mother was a very caring, loving, spiritual, and giving person. I am honored that my mother chose a man of his character to lead my family, and I feel fortunate to have a dad like him. My parents made sure our family was well-taken care of. They both worked very hard to make sure of that. I was fortunate to grow up in a family business environment. My dad had various businesses at the time of my birth, such as restaurants, a candy store, and a number of dry-cleaning businesses throughout the Albany area. My dad's love for the dry-cleaning business has been very influential in my life and his. It's the family's "bread and !butter." As I began to come closer to my dad, growing up in a business environment, I realized there are a lot of losses and gains of owning a business. Throughout my early childhood, I saw my dad overcome devastating circumstances relating to the dry-cleaning business, and I feel very blessed to have a dad who does not allow circumstances in his life to get the best of him.

Some of my early childhood memories came from being in the cleaners and watching my family run the operation. I was amazed at the large machinery operating to clean and press garments. The main plant was right down the street from where I lived on the corner of Second and Swan Streets in the Arbor Hill area of Albany. From that location, my dad could see anyone coming in and out of the house. If we were grounded and required to play in front of our house, his eyes could see us by looking up the street. I remember many days my dad stood in the front door of the cleaners, raising his arms to signal me to come down to the store. I knew it was something he wanted me to do in the cleaners to help out. Some days I didn't mind. Most days, I wanted toplay with my friends but would be summoned.

The schools I attended were very close to where I lived. My first school was Public School Number Six, located across the street from where I lived. From grades three through nine, I attended St. Joseph's Academy, which was a large, red brick school, located on one of the corners in the Arbor Hill area of Second and Swan Streets. My dad's cleaners, a restaurant, and a record shop made up the rest of the very busy section in Arbor Hill. Along the side of the cleaners was a playground with two basketball hoops. I loved playing basketball with my friends. I spent a lot of time in that area playing ball but was always near by if my father needed me.

I remember being in the cleaners and hearing the pain of my father's cries when he had caught his hand in the chain located within the dry-cleaning machine. I turned around and saw my dad come from behind the machine, his face seething in pain. His hand was cut in various places, and blood ran profusely out of his wounds. I didn't know what to do at first. I said, "Dad, what can I do?" His reaction was so minimal. He said, "Oh, it's just a little cut." My dad always seemed so strong; nothing bothered him. He often said, smiling, "Put a little Vaseline on it."

Another incident at the cleaners was when the steam boiler, which generates the steam for the presses, blew up. I was sweeping the floor at the time and heard a large noise fill the air. White misty vapor filled the whole back area. I was so scared. I hauled out of there, but my dad, my hero, dashed through the stream to hit the switch and cut it off. I said to myself, "Are you crazy?" My dad did what he needed in order to survive or save the business from more damage. Many days in my life I did not know how my dad did the things he did, but he always found a way to patch or fix things up so the business could go on.

The most memorable day in my life came on April 19, 1967. Dad, Brenda, Linda, my Uncle George, and I were working. I was a third grader at St. Joseph's Academy and had just gotten out of school. At this time, I had various little jobs in the cleaners, such as wiping downmachinery, cleaning out lint traps, sweeping floors, and making hangers. I was making hangers this particular day. It really took some good hand coordination to make these hangers complete. I mastered that job and felt happy to be helping out. I'll never forget when my dad came by and picked up a rack of hangers I had finished. I had put together a cardboard and hanger and placed them on the rack, so it would appear full. As he came by, he would grab the rack and lift it off the floor and hangers would fall down. I found out that my dad was a little smarter than I was, and I learned after that lifting the rack myself and filling it up as much as possible was best.

I noticed that particular day seemed gloomy. The clouds were dark, and it looked like it would rain any minute. The winds were very strong and gusty. My dad was very busy as usual, running from the back of the store, where he was spotting and cleaning, to the front of the store where he talked with customers. One time when my dad passed by me a little more quickly than usual, I sensed something was wrong, so I followed him. We went to the rear of the cleaners. We opened a large, wooden gate, and my dad yelled, "Oh my God!" The entire rear of the vacant building next door was on fire. The fire was moving and growing very fast. We ran back into the store and told everyone, "The building next door is on fire!" My dad said, "Grab the money out of the drawer, and get out of here!" The next thing I knew, fire engines were coming from all directions. The black, thick smoke filled the air. Because of th!e wind, the fire quickly spread to the three other corners. After it was over, fifty families were homeless, and some businesses were destroyed. The sadness from loss covered many faces. I'll never forget my dad's face; it was filled with loss and his eyes with tears. After that he pulled out the Vaseline and told my family , "It will be all right," and then he smiled. Shortly after, my dad rebuilt another cleaners across the street.

In spite of his many ups and downs, losses and gains, his circumstances helped me apply that same determined attitude to my life today. I faced some difficult circumstances in my life. One I need to mention ismy addiction to alcohol and drugs. I started using mind-altering substances at the age of eight. Then it seemed so innocent, "just having fun." Through my adulthood, my addiction progressed at a very fast rate. I started doing drugs on the weekend, but soon it was every day. It became a need more than a want. After losing the opportunity to continue operating the family business, the separation from my wife, and total mismanagement of my life, I sought help. After attending short and long term treatment facilities, I realized how important it was not to suppress my feelings but to talk and write about them. By the grace and mercy of God, I know I don't have to drink or use drugs the rest of my life. Not using mind-altering s!ubstances has afforded me the opportunity to look at who I was, who I am, and where I am going. With the help of my God, meetings, family, support groups, and my willingness to change, my life has become so much more fulfilling and loving. Those early childhood memories of how my dad kept going and building in spite of his circumstances have had a major impact on my life today. Today, I make sure I carry my Vaseline and say, "It'll be all right" with a smile, just like my dad.

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