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Goodbyes to old friend made easier with memories

Someone once said - or if they didn't they should have - that the ultimate measure of a man or woman comes from how many lives he or she touches.

If that is the case, then Daniel Christopher Curtis was truly a man of great stature, as was evident by the hundreds who solemnly attended his funeral Monday. It was a sad day for all who knew him well and even for many who did not. Another life was tragically cut far too short, in this case by a car accident.

Even in death, the charismatic 28-year-old with an infectious laugh spoke to something deep inside of those in attendance, just as he did in life. See, the Kentucky native who grew up in the Ashland area had that certain something that just cannot be quantified. As his younger sister wrote in a eulogy, "Chris had that 'it' factor."

And he truly did.

With an almost trademarked sarcastic wit, Chris stayed an individual while growing up in a time in which most youth were looking to conform. He never compromised what he believed in and was quick to tell you what was on his mind - a refreshing kind of honesty that friends truly value.

Of course, Chris wasn't perfect. He possessed many of the same weaknesses and flaws that make us all uniquely human. All that was washed away when God called Chris home.

As my wife and I sat through the service, I waged an internal battle to maintain the stoic face and strength on which I pride myself. His mother and sisters read their final goodbyes that mixed humor and reverence in a way that Chris would have appreciated.

The emotions came rushing forward, bringing with them countless memories. Images long-forgotten flashed into my mind like previews at a movie theater.

I remembered talking trash and watching the late-night west coast NBA basketball games after our girlfriends had long since given up and called it a night. With me pulling for the Los Angeles Lakers and Chris rooting for the Portland Trailblazers, the late 1990s offered up many memorable battles that had us both screaming at the TV. In the end, it was always as much about good times with friends as it was who won or lost.

Next, memories of Chris kicking my butt on the tennis court with his monster serve and vicious slaps of the ball flickered into my mind's eye. "Curtis," as many of his friends called him, was practically a childhood prodigy who could work wonders with a racket. I was just a skinny, poor kid who never had any training or lessons but loved to compete at everything.

Even when his competitive playing days were over, Chris still outclassed me on the courts by a mile. We staged many hard-fought contests in Central Park, but I never managed to steal even a single set. I would fight and fight and fight just to win a couple of games, but he always managed to pull away. But being the sportsman that he was, he always made sure that I felt like I had really won.

As the funeral came to a close, I couldn't help but think that if Chris would have still been with us he would have turned the situation around like he did those tennis matches. I am sure he would have made each of us feel like we hadn't lost anything at all.

He would have been right too. We just postponed the next match for a while.

Michael Caldwell is managing editor at The Ironton Tribune. To reach Mike, call (740) 532-1445 ext. 24 or by e-mail at mike.caldwell@irontontribune.com.