Sometimes Life Can Be Like Play-By-Play
By Brian Wheeler
One of the many things I love about play-by-play is the fact that you can prepare as much as you want, and still you can’t be positive about what will unfold in a given game that you’ll be calling. And while I take great pride in the preparation I put in to each Blazers’ broadcast I’m a part of, I’m still excited to see how each one is going to play out. And lately in my own life, I’ve experienced this same thrill.
If you’ve been following “The Continuing Saga of Brian Wheeler”, you may remember in our last episode that our lead character had found the identities of his birth parents. Phone conversations ensued, and the plan was for all interested parties to meet in Illinois, where Brian was born, and where his birth family still lived.
O.K., enough dramatic third person! I made the trek to Rockford, Illinois, to meet my birth mom, dad, sister, nephews and brothers-in-law and all I can say is it’s a weekend I’ll never forget. From the phone conversations with Mom Barbara, I felt very comfortable and fully expected the weekend would be more of the same once I got the chance to meet everyone in person. And that’s exactly the way it was!
As I approached Mom Barbara and Dad Hugh’s house, they surprised me with balloons in Blazers’ colors tied to the porch railings! Such a nice welcome. Clearly, these folks knew how to make a good first impression! When Barbara answered the door, I was warmly greeted by her, Hugh and sister Bridget. Barbara had cooked a nice dinner for all of us, and it gave everyone a chance to get even more comfortable with one another.
We didn’t try to do too much the first night, and I said “good-bye” and went to my nearby hotel to catch up on some sleep after a long day of travel, with a few emotional moments thrown into the mix.
After a good night’s rest, Saturday started off with a ride back to Barbara and Hugh’s house. I jumped in their car, and we made our way to Bridget’s house to pick her up. There, I met my two nephews for the first time, Joe and Zachary. Joe was attending a Homecoming dance that night and needed a tie put together for the suit he was wearing. Even though I’m no slip-knot specialist, I did my best, and I think he was pleased. He also called me “Uncle Brian” for the first time…had a nice ring to it!
The Ulbert family has had some pretty significant personal trauma to deal with over the years. Before Bridget and after me, Barbara and Hugh had another daughter, Bonnie, who tragically passed away in her sleep three years ago. Bonnie and Bridget were very close, born one year and three days apart. Add to that the fact that Bridget and her husband Mark lost their first son, Nicholas, at the age of 15 in a sudden accident that took his life. Mark himself nearly died in a motorcycle accident six months ago, and still isn’t 100% physically.
But I’ll tell you what. This family is as upbeat a group as you’re ever going to meet. Plenty of opportunity to feel sorry for themselves, and yet, they are as optimistic as can be about what the future will bring. Can’t say enough about how impressive that was to me!
Saturday, I got to meet Bridget’s husband Mark, and we had a nice evening looking at photo albums. I brought a bunch, and we looked at all the ones they had as well, trying mostly to see who I looked like the most in the family. And there are a few folks to choose from. Five generations of Ulberts, and quite a few on Barbara’s side as well. Bridget gave me a family tree with everyone’s names on it and the links to all of us. She said I would be quizzed on it later. Thankfully, she was kidding as it will probably take me a while to learn the vast lineage I am now a part of!
Sunday, I got the chance to spend more time with my nephews. Joe got wind of my nickname, and has now asked if it’s O.K. to call me “Uncle Wheels”. I told him that was more than alright! And I met Bonnie’s husband, Scott, another good guy. Barbara cooked us another nice meal, and Bridget even baked me a cake with “Welcome” written on it in icing.
As I said my good-byes to catch my flight back home, Barbara went to hug me first. And I told her, “No, I’m saving you for last!” I hugged everyone else and said what a great time I had meeting all of them. Then I approached Barbara again. I hugged her, gave her a kiss, and said for the first time, “I love you.” And then she responded, “I love you too. This has all been so wonderful!”
And that more than cemented for me that this was all worth it! From the effort to get my original birth certificate in the first place back in August. To commissioning the private investigator to try to find Barbara. To the stroke of good fortune that I not only discovered Barbara, but also my birth father Hugh, my sister Bridget, my nephews Joe and Zachary, and my brothers-in-law, Mark and Scott.
And now it gets even more interesting. Barbara and Hugh are telling everyone else in the family about the news that had been kept under wraps for 50 years. As I write this, I’ve been contacted on Facebook by Hugh’s youngest sister, Donna, who just happens to live in Phoenix, where we’re about to play a pre-season game. Donna is divorced with two kids in their early 20‘s. And so I’ll be getting them all tickets to the game and having the chance to get this weekend off to a great start by meeting even more of the family I’ve just started to learn about.
Really does go to show you that you’re never too old to experience adventure and excitement, even when you may not know they’re coming. I’ve had the pleasure of calling many great Blazers’ victories over the years, and after each one of them, I’ve always hoped that I accurately described how wonderful they were. In the play-by-play of my life, I hope I’ve described this tremendous event properly. Like the start of a new NBA season, it may take me a while to learn all the players on the family roster, but that’ll be the fun part. It’s just nice to know I’m somewhere on that list too!