Quinny came from behind to win Victory: In many ways, life handed him a lemon. With a big smile, he made lemonade.

April 07, 1996|By Sam Davis

I hadn't seen Quinny for about four or five months and before that it could have been four or five years, but I always marveled whenever I saw him.

I probably hadn't had an extended conversation with him for 10 years.

It's too late now. Quentin Glenn Eades was buried March 29.

He died March 22 at age 30 after a bout with meningitis.

Sitting at his funeral, I realized Quinny's was the first death in our back-alley clan of 20 or so kids. We hailed from the rowhouses on Payson, Pulaski and Presbury streets and Westwood Avenue, in a West Baltimore neighborhood now called Easterwood.

Back when we played every game imaginable on a field of mostly rocks, some glass and very little grass, the neighborhood didn't have a name. We called ourselves the Clay Alley Warriors, a name we derived from the clay-like dirt that was left after the bulldozers tore down an old garage.

It's a rough neighborhood now.

Kids there seem to pride themselves more on getting a police record than a high school diploma. A few weeks ago, an 8-year-old girl was hit by a stray bullet while standing outside the store we used to hang out at on the corner of Westwood and Payson.

Even when we were coming along, the neighborhood wasn't exactly "Leave It to Beaver," but for the most part we're all doing OK. A few of us had brushes with the law, but most of us have settled down with our own families.

Among us are a school teacher, a prison guard, a United Parcel Service supervisor, construction and maintenance workers, and even two ministers. Not many went to college and only a handful lasted long enough to graduate.

In a way, Quinny outdid us all.

He made it to college, though he didn't graduate. If you had asked him about the biggest accomplishment in his life, he would have said his membership in the ROTC at Walbrook High. His mother chose a photo of him in his uniform for his obituary.

I say Quinny's biggest accomplishment was that he lived.

Quinny didn't get an even break. In the rat race called life, we started in the inside lane, but Quinny started on the outside.

Quinny was born with physical and mental differences that set him apart, and as kids we weren't very sensitive about it. Quinny was a slow learner and suffered from a handicap with his arms and hands that made it difficult for him to clap. We made fun of the way he clapped, the way he walked, the way he talked, the way he ran and just about anything else he did. He was an easy target.

It wasn't uncommon to see his mother -- the tallest woman we had ever seen in those days -- step out of her house and across the rocks, glass and grass, to break up a confrontation between Quinny and someone. It was never Quinny's fault -- he was just tired of people making fun of him.

Quinny simply wanted to be one of the crowd. He wanted to play baseball or football or ride a bike with us. But we didn't always want Quinny around. He was bad for our image. If the gang from another part of Payson Street waded into our territory, having to explain Quinny wouldn't be easy. Certainly we'd have to fight to defend him, so it was better if he didn't travel with us too often.

Quinny had an older brother, Nathaniel, who was one of our crew. Nathaniel didn't have an easy time becoming a part of our clique. He didn't have an older brother, as I did, to pave the way. He earned his way in by being a good athlete. Eventually he grew to 6-feet-6 and played basketball for Carver High and the Community College of Baltimore. But even when he was younger, he showed a talent for sports.

Nathaniel did the best he could to pave the way for Quinny, but he had to preserve his status. Defending Quinny was a full-time job, so he tried to keep Quinny out of trouble, often ushering him back into the house. And because of that, Quinny spent a lot of time in front of the television. The television became for Quinny what we should have been -- friends who never questioned why he was different, friends who should have always been there for him.

Quinny learned a lot from TV. When we talked about "Gilligan's Island," we referred to the main character as Gilligan, but Quinny called him by his real name -- Bob Denver. Most of all Quinny was drawn to the educational shows on television for children, like "Romper Room." When he grew older, one of his favorite programs was "Jeopardy."

Quinny was quite observant, too. When my mother was his baby sitter for a while, she would marvel at how he would always notice the slightest change in any room, even if it was just a picture moved from one end of the table to another.

Quinny's experiences with the kids at school weren't very different from what he faced in the neighborhood: He took a lot of abuse. Maybe he should have been in a special-education school, but Quinny persevered and eventually graduated from high school taking the same classes everyone else took. He followed the same path I took, attending CCB and then Coppin State, getting a job and an apartment.

Along the way, Quinny left behind a lot of those kids who made fun of him. He left behind a lot of those kids who had the inside track when the race started.

On the few occasions when I saw Quinny as an adult, he always had a brilliant smile. He loved life. He wasn't asking for money or telling me a sob story like so many I grew up with. He would reach out with a firm handshake to greet me and grin with that same brilliant smile that graces the obituary photo with him in his ROTC uniform. It was a proud grin. Quinny had beaten the odds.

Quinny had lived.

He may have lived only 30 years, but he lived, and that's more than a lot of us expected.

Sam Davis is an assistant sports editor for The Sun.

Pub Date: 4/07/96

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