October 30, 1990.
The date has such significance that even the numbers carry extra weight in their mathematical symmetry: 10-30-90.
It is a date inextricably linked to life, and to death.
It was the day my second son was born, around 11 in the morning. A baby brother to the 2-year-old at home. Double trouble of the best kind.
A few hours later, on that beautiful crisp autumn afternoon, I drove home from the hospital to relieve my sister-in-law who was watching my older son. I looked down from the highway toward Syracuse’s Valley section and wondered why so many police and emergency vehicles were gathered in a grocery store parking lot.
A police officer had been shot and killed. An undercover drug buy had gone bad, and a beloved 31-year-old native son, Wallie Howard Jr., was gunned down. Shot in the head. By a 16-year-old.
Such a juxtapositi0n of hope and despair, of joy and grief.
A day of pure elation over the birth of a healthy baby, one who has done so much good in his 25 years, will forever be linked in my mind to the death of another young man who wanted to do good.
In his hometown, Wallie Howard Jr. is remembered every Oct. 30, with newspaper stories and ceremonies.
I think I’ve read every word about his life and death, but had never attended any events. I was always busy on Oct. 30, celebrating a life rather than mourning a senseless tragedy. But the connection was never far from my thoughts.
This year, perhaps because it was the 25th anniversary, I went to the ceremony in a downtown Syracuse park.
As I listened to the police chief, the mayor and others speak, I tried to soak it all in. The tributes were sincere and heartfelt, and as I listened I kept thinking of numbers, of ages, of the passage of time. I wondered what the past 25 years have been like for Wallie Howard Jr.’s two children. He left a four-month-old daughter and a 7-year-old son who, at 32, has lived longer than his father.
I looked around at the rows of police officers in the park and guessed that some weren’t even born when Howard was killed. I wondered how many of them have young kids at home.
And I thought about my son, born on a gorgeous Oct. 30 that had been filled with so much promise.
Twenty-five years ago. One life ends, another begins. 10-30-90.