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Before Larry Mahoney chose to consume alcohol, climb behind the wheel of a pickup truck and drive the wrong way on Interstate 71, a young girl returned to the U.S. from Germany and told her parents she wanted to play softball.
Before a group of children and chaperones from Radcliff First Assembly of God cheerfully prepared for a trip to King’s Island, their hopes and dreams intact, there was a worn ball glove belonging to the girl’s father, its dimensions never quite conforming to her small hand.
Before that pickup truck and the former school bus transporting the church’s youth group home from a day of thrills collided on a fateful Saturday night in a fiery crash that killed 27, injured nearly three dozen more, ripped apart a community and sent Mahoney to prison, there was a father who heeded the words of a coach and bought his little girl a new glove she could use comfortably.
One she maybe wore twice in practice but never used in a game.
She never got the chance.
“It doesn’t seem like 25 years,” said Lee Williams, father of Robin, 10, who was more likely to toss the black glove in the air than she was to watch the hitter.
“She wasn’t a very good softball player,” Williams said with a laugh, his hands passing over the mitt as he grips it in his hands, each touch placing him closer to the little girl he lost too soon.
More than two decades have passed, but the glove looks almost new, preserved by a father who wondered in 1988 if spending so much money on a mitt was worth it. Would she stick with the game? Would she get better?
He took a break from work to pick her up from school. They found the glove at Rose’s department store and he took her to McDonald’s for a Happy Meal. As the trip ended, she turned and told her father, “Daddy, this has been the best day of my life.”
Two practices later, the glove was retired after Robin left for King’s Island with her sister, Kristen, 14, and her mother, Joy. None of them would return.
“It was the last time she ever used it,” he said, still looking at the glove.
At times, he regretted not placing it in Robin’s casket. Twenty-five years later, he knows he made the right decision; the glove grounds him and allows evokes fond memories. Williams gleans nothing but good memories from the treasures he still has of his wife and children, he said.
“Of all the little things I kept, this is my favorite memory of Robin,” he said.
The glove was the last gift he gave her before she left the world. Had she lived, he said, it would be decomposing in a dumpster or sitting on a crate at a yard sale by now, available for a few bucks.
“This is the glove money can’t buy,” he said. “You can’t put a price tag on it. You can’t buy memories.”
Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762 or firstname.lastname@example.org.