The Road Well Traveled
by Howard Knight
To have somebody here as a partner and to have somebody to care for. That's the most important… Having things is no big deal. Losing things is no big deal. Having people to share it with is most important. The experiences you get by sharing with other people that know and love you far outweigh anything else. Whether you have a dollar or a million, the experiences that you have are worth more than money.
Chapter 1: The Years of the Bullies
I think the first two chapters of my life would be where everything started. You had to have that tough exterior and yet had to learn to get along with other people because of circumstances. That earliest portion of your life is where you form most of your opinions. And then other things along the way help mold you but the basis is already there. Learning to deal with the bullies and learning to move and not get overly upset about it – it determined most of where I’m at.
On the younger years, grade school, middle school, I call those "Years of the Bullies." I was the oldest of all of us, and I was picked on by the kids in class even though I went to a Catholic school. I was bigger than anyone else. There were two or three of us that got picked on all the time. There was the kid who aged faster than I did, and he ended up in puberty earlier than all of us, and he ended up with that. I was taller than everyone else, so I got it from that end. He and I took most of the brunt. So, you deal with it, you know. I guess that’s where some of my sarcasm comes from: defensive mechanism.
What makes these years most important is really figuring out how to get to know and work with people and adjust to circumstances. It doesn’t determine your political viewpoint but it gives you the opportunity to see people how they are and learn how to deal with them for what they are rather than what you see them as. I mean, as a young a kid, we – I – lived in a neighborhood which was real diverse, which is good. But there was a younger kid on the block who had a brother who was much older, so he had gotten his butt kicked. He had a chip on his shoulder, and he’s the one that started the bullying. The kid was like two years younger than me, and I would be 5 and he would be like 3, almost 4, and he would just come over and start fighting. His brother was like 10 or 11, so it’s not like you could really fight back, because then you would really get your butt kicked. So you learn how to defense well.
From there you learn the lessons – okay, pain is temporary as far as physical pain goes, but it still something that needs to be endured. Dad wasn’t much help in that respect. Defend yourself. You go out and get in a fight and if you don’t win, you’re going to get your butt kicked when you get home. It lends itself to learning how to keep it inside and not let anybody know it. It kind of forms you in a way to have a hard skin and just let things roll off. But it also makes you argumentative at the same time.
Chapter 2: Moving
Those early years showed me somewhat what my father was about, and he was strictly about his own comfort and himself rather than what was good for the whole. We lived in a smaller house; it was a three bedroom and there were five kids, but only four of us were around at the time. There were three of us sleeping in one bedroom. Which, y’know, it was all right. Interesting sleeping on a trundle bed for a while. But it’s all part of growing up. But Dad – Dad wanted to be closer to work, so we moved a mile and a quarter away from his work place, which was 13 miles away from where we used live. This way he could come home and go to lunch, take a nap during lunch. And I was like “Okay, that really doesn’t help my situation any.”
Half way through my junior year of high school, Christmas week, we ended up moving, and I was like, "Okay." It was December 30th that we ended up moving. My brother and I stayed in our house by ourselves. I was 16, he was 15 – we stayed in the house the first night by ourselves and then our parents came and moved the second night the rest of everything in. I mean, it was cool in one sense, but it completely changed the way things were in my life, for the last year and a half that I went to school. Half way through your junior year is not an easy time to move. It totally changed what happened through high school. I had grown up with the rest of these kids, from first grade all the way through half-way through 11th grade. I was totally against it. I wanted to stay where I was at.
I was on track to become class president for our senior year, and with me moving I ended up being the person that nobody knew, so that didn’t happen. And I went from all As and Bs to Cs and Ds because the school was much more advanced than the one I was at, which is a good thing because I learned more but it was just way faster paced. So I ended up in the middle toward the back end rather than right near the front. It just made things a little bit difficult.
We move, and you’re throwing me in a pool that has three times as many kids in the high school. We had maybe five to six hundred kids in the school I was at, and at the new school, my graduating class was a little over 900. The school itself had a little over 4000 kids for four grades. So you’re in a sea and you’re thrown into being nothing from being something. That’s how I see my early years going into young adulthood.
Chapter 3: My Military Career
Those first two chapters definitely influence how I've went about the rest of my life. Our moving in December of that year definitely shaped my feeling, “Okay, I gotta get out of here.” Six months after I got out of high school, I went into the military so that way I could get away from home. I joined the military and I didn’t even tell my parents until after I had joined. My father was upset with me for quite a long time. He thought I’d kind of betrayed him. I thought he had betrayed me far longer before that, because I specifically asked him not to move, because of the time of when things were being done. So I spent a couple of years in the Navy, but that was probably one of the most fun and most exploratory times of my life. I had to spend a lot of time overseas for almost the full two years. I got to visit a lot of places and see a lot of things that most people don’t.
I've also been to a lot of places when history's happening, and that's just due to circumstances. When I was in the military, I was in the Philippines and in Manila the day the Manila Hilton got bombed. I happened to be near the hotel when it happened, and that set of the circumstances. while I was still in the military, the ’80 Olympics was going on. We were sailing in the Sea of Okhotsk the day that the US played the Russians in the Olympics – when they beat the Russians in the Olympics.
Then during umpire school, I was in Florida and about 8 or 10 miles away from the space shuttle Challenger when that blew up. And then six months later, I was working a minor league game in New York, and got to shake hands with President Reagan on the USS Independence or – I think that’s what it was – I don’t even remember the ship anymore. Anyway, in July, for the anniversary of the Statue of Liberty. He was a bigger than life personality. He really was. Very pleasant guy to deal with, always had a smile on his face. Definitely was right for the role he was in. It still puts a smile on my face when I think about it. I’ve also met Jimmy Carter at a book signing, and as old as that guy is, his eyes are still bright. Rosalind was sitting next to him. I still have that copy signed somewhere around here. He was very pleasant as a person as well.
Excerpts from later Chapters, on loss and meaning
From there, coming back home after I was done with my service, I worked a number of jobs and settled working at A&P for about 6 or 7 years, and at the same time – I would work midnights, then I would go umpire baseball games. I umpired for grade school, high school, college, and into the minor leagues, and I went to umpire school in ’86, and I was in the minor leagues for a couple years, and then got injured. I got into a car accident after the season was over and that ended my umpiring career. I ended up spending four or five months in traction. I was good at umpiring, too. I was one of the top three or four umpires in the state for like a three-year period.
But I’ve lost a couple of people along the way that were very difficult. Both my parents are gone now – that goes without saying, but – grandparents were important, but I lost a fiancée right around the time that I got done with umpire school and was umpiring as well. The lady that I was engaged to and her six year old were killed in a car accident. They were coming to pick me up from the airport. After an hour of sitting there and them not there, I called a cab and started going home. I had called her mom, and she hadn’t heard anything. We drove past on the opposite side of the expressway and I saw her car upside down. I asked the cabbie to pull over and got out, and they’d already pulled her out and her daughter out and they had taken them to the hospital. I already knew that they were both gone because the way the car was. In the blink of an eye, I know that they’re gone and pretty much for the five months between the baseball seasons, I basically sat in my room. It was the true, true love in my life. I mean I married my ex-wife and we have a child but I was never really in love with her. I loved her. But I was never in love with her.
Being back in church and doing everything that goes along with that is very rewarding. I’ve been a Knight of Columbus - it’s going to be 10 years in April. It should be like 29 years but it’s not. I was in transition, transition, transition. I was in the church but I didn’t ask to become a Knight. And when I finally did, okay it was 2008. Being a Knights of Columbus member allows you to do a lot as far as charitable works go, and an organization to do it from. It just puts things in perspective. It makes you feel good when you see somebody getting help that wouldn’t have it. I’ve worked with St. Vincent de Paul, and we do the food pantry two times a week, and we have 300 families that get fed just from that. Working with the Knights of Columbus, we do an intellectual disabilities drive, where we raise money intellectual disabled people and help with the Special Olympics. I could go on for probably five or six minutes, but there’s plenty of things that you do for the community at large and raise money for different projects that help people out.
If I could decide today what would happen in one of my future chapters, it probably would be to have somebody here as a partner and have somebody to care for. That’s the most important, I would think. Having things is no big deal. Losing things is no big deal. Having people there to share it with is most important. The experiences that you get by sharing with other people that love and know you far outweigh everything else. Whether you have a dollar or a million, the experiences that you have are worth more than money.
I'm pretty satisfied where I'm at. It definitely allows all the things I've seen, all the things I've done, and people I've met. I probably wouldn’t change anything. I've always said I would go back and relive from 16 on as longs as I had the knowledge I have now. Knowledge always makes things a little bit easier to deal with. Knowing you can get through it and everything will be okay is the main thing.
The Road Well Traveled: Table of Contents
Chapter 1: The Years of the Bullies
In which Howard deals with grade school bullies and learns how to get along with people as they are.
Chapter 2: Moving
In which Howard's father decides to move with his family when Howard is in the middle of his junior year of high school. The moving changed what happened through high school.
Chapter 3: My Military Career
In which Howard spent a couple of years in the Navy. Howard describes those years as one of the funniest and most exploratory times of his life where he had to spend a lot of time overseas. He got to visit a lot of places and see a lot of things that most people don't.
Chapter 4: Umpiring
In which Howard umpired for grade school, high school, college, and minor leagues. After attending umpire school, he was in the minor leagues for a couple of years until he got injured due to a car accident and spent 4 or 5 months in traction. A year before his car accident, the lady that he was engaged to and her six year old daughter were killed in a car accident.
Chapter 5: Chicago
In which Howard went back to Chicago and attended college. He spent five years trying to get his degree in Physical Education and History. This is when he also met his ex-wife.
Chapter 6: Marriage
In which he talks about his 13-year marriage and his son. During this time, he also went back to college a couple of times still trying to get his degree.
Chapter 7: Baseball
In which he started to work for as a vendor at ballparks throughout the Midwest.
About Howard Knight
Howard describes himself as a jack of all trades and "a master of absolutely none." After a promising career in umpiring was cut short by an automobile accident, he worked a variety of jobs, including a stint as a radiology supervisor that had him working in a hospital on 9/11. He remains tied to baseball, and in recent decades has been working as a vendor at stadiums throughout the upper Midwest. He also is a member of the Knights of Columbus, a part of his life he finds especially rewarding: "It makes you feel good when you see somebody getting help that wouldn't have it."