Why Sammy's cap still brings thanks

KEN ROSENTHAL

November 26, 1992|By KEN ROSENTHAL

The first week was the hardest. "Sam was like a pack rat," Tim Hulett says. "He kept everything." So, when the Huletts returned home to Springfield, Ill., at the end of the Orioles' season, they couldn't help but find reminders of the little boy they lost.

Baseball caps with Sammy's name littering the basement. His hockey stick lying on the floor. His bicycle standing in the garage. "You see that stuff around, and you have memories -- most of them good, some of them sad," Tim says. "But those are the things you don't want to get rid of -- the memories."

On this first painful Thanksgiving, the memories won't fade. Sam, 6, died last July 22 after running into the path of a car near the Huletts' summer residence in Cockeysville. Tim, a reserve infielder for the Orioles, says the family is in the middle of "a lifelong adjustment."

Now comes the holiday season, and a heightened sense of loss. The Huletts -- Tim, his wife, Linda, and their sons Tug, 9, Joe, 8 and Jeff 5 -- will spend today at Linda's parents. Tim says 15 grandchildren will be present. He predicts it will be a zoo.

The quiet moments are the most difficult, but on a day when most Americans count their blessings, the Huletts will, too. Now as before, their Christianity is unshaken. If ever a family was testament to the power of religious faith, this is it.

"The family has become stronger because of this," Tim says. "It helps you appreciate your time together. With your day-to-day activities, you kind of glide through life. This helps you keep in focus how special little events are sometimes."

Says Linda: "We have a lot to be thankful for. I'm very thankful for the three boys I have. They've given me reason to get up and get going. It's not like it was my one and only. I'm thankful for the love we have."

Linda says there are good days and bad, "days when it seems like it happened a long time ago, and days when it seems like it was yesterday." The healing process began in Baltimore, where the family stayed through the end of the season. But the return to Springfield was another jolt.

As Tim puts it, "we felt like we were leaving part of Sammy behind." In the past, the two older boys shared one bedroom, the two younger boys another, and a third was kept empty. But after Sammy died, Tim and Linda decided to give each his own room, complete with new water beds.

Sammy's caps, his hockey stick, his bicycle -- all remain. Jeff, the youngest boy, is starting to wear his hand-me-downs. Sometimes, it will strike Tim or Linda that he's dressed in one of Sammy's favorite outfits. The memories again.

All three boys witnessed the accident, yet rarely experience sleepless nights. "We're careful not to act like we don't want to talk about Sam," Tim says. The other day, he and Linda attended a seminar on how to care for grieving children. They learned they were doing fine.

The boys attended the Rock Church Academy in Towson for one month, then returned to the Calvary Academy in Springfield. They just received their mid-semester grades, and even with the disruption in their schooling, Tim says they are "doing exceptionally well."

It sounds as if everything is back to normal, but of course it's not. Linda works occasionally as a substitute teacher, but there are times when neither she nor Tim feels like facing the world. "Nothing will ever be the same," she says.

Take the holidays. Every Christmas, the Huletts buy a live tree, then plant it after Christmas. The children will decide if they want to continue the tradition. The entire family will visit the cemetery annually to lay evergreens on Sammy's grave.

They take comfort in each other. They take comfort in their faith. They take comfort in Baltimore as their second home. Tim, 32, was relieved not to be chosen in the expansion draft. The city responded to Sam's death with an outpouring of emotion. He and Linda will never forget.

"We're looking forward to coming back," Linda says. "The people in Baltimore really ministered to us in a caring way. It was a sincere, heartfelt sympathy. It wasn't lip service. The community was mourning with us. We sensed that. We knew that."

And so the healing continues. At first, the boys were terrified to cross the street, after seeing what had happened to their brother. Joe, the middle son, was especially scared, but as Tim recalls, "he knew he had to conquer that fear."

It took time, but there came a day when Joe turned to his father and said, "I'm getting better at this." Such are the triumphs that sustain the Huletts. Such are the reasons why even with their little boy gone, even at this time of great sadness, they pause with the rest of us to give thanks.

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