Remembering Andy

Aug 13, 2021 by Mike Magluilo
I knew Andy Harmon when T-shirts with horizontal stripes were cool, and parents served hot dogs and pop at birthday parties. I have a picture from my eighth birthday party in the summer of 1979. Seven boys sitting around the picnic table in the backyard of my house on Park Road. Looking at the picture you’d think it was Andy’s birthday. He’s in the foreground so the auto-focus on my parents’ camera centered the resolution and color on him. He’s looking right into your eyes with an easy smile that says, “I’m a winner.” 

That positive energy—along with a load of natural talent—made Andy a great athlete. He swung at baseballs with the aggressiveness of a teenager. His basketball shot found the net more often than not, and he could dribble with both hands. During our grade school games at St. Francis Xavier, he’d bring the ball down the court, hold up a finger and call out a play. We didn’t have any plays but that didn’t stop Andy from calling them. 

Andy was equally enthusiastic in the classroom. Our fourth grade teacher made us do these multiplication table face-offs in math class. This was the eighties, back when schools still encouraged bare-knuckle competition. Everyone lined up two-by-two. When you got to the front, Sister Thomas Agnes would call out, “seven times six.” First person to shout the correct answer won and returned to the back of the line. The loser took their seat. This continued until one kid remained. This was the Catholic school version of Darwin’s survival of the fittest theory and Andy’s favorite part of grade school. He’d get to the front of the line in his athletic stance and his whole body would shake as the answer made it from his brain to his mouth. By the time he shouted “F-F-F-Forty…TWO!” he was in Sister Thomas Agnes’ face, and she’d have to dodge his extended finger. 

Andy was unbeatable at Math Face Off.

The only time I saw Andy hesitate was when riding bikes. For some inexplicable reason, he always seemed a bit unsteady on two wheels. On one of our rides to the pool, I led us on a shortcut down an alley. A chain strung between two steel poles blocked the alley to cars, so we had to squeeze between one of the poles and the wall of the building along the alley to pass. Andy didn’t see the barrier and rode right between the poles. Like a Looney Tunes cartoon, the chain stopped him cold and dropped him onto his ass. I looked back at the commotion, but before I could laugh, Andy popped up off the ground, shook it off and got back on his bike. 

Andy remained undefeated. 

In eighth grade I got pretty sick and ended up in the hospital. Andy was the first friend to visit me in the ICU shortly after surgery. I don’t remember much from that day, other than Andy sitting in a chair next to me. Through the tube jammed up my nose, I mumbled for him to move up toward the head of the bed so I could see his face. He looked terrified. I have no idea what we talked about, but ever since that day I felt I owed Andy something. 

When I heard Andy was in the hospital, I found the opportunity to repay my debt. I knew I’d be in LaGrange, so I planned to see Andy during my visit. I called his dad on Monday, and we agreed Friday afternoon would be a good time to visit. I woke up Friday morning wondering what to wear to visit Andy and his parents. All I brought on my trip were shorts and T-shirts, and my supply was dirty. Before coming up with a solution, I checked my email and learned Andy died. 

I never got the chance to pay him back. 

What would Andy and I have talked about? Too much of our lives have passed since grade school to try to catch-up on it all with any sincerity, so I probably would have recalled these same stories. I also would have reminded him of the time he stuck by me when I showed up for one of his ice hockey practices with figure skates. Or the time he and I met Digger Phelps, the legendary Notre Dame basketball coach. It wasn’t as great as it sounds. We almost got kicked out of Digger’s basketball camp in seventh grade for horsing around during his keynote speech. He called the two of us up to the stage, berated us in front of the other campers and counselors, then threatened to send us home on the first bus back to Chicago. We sweated the next twenty minutes in the front corner of the stage as he finished his self-congratulatory speech. He was a jerk, but we deserved what we got. I’ve never forgotten the lesson and wonder how coaches discipline giggling seventh graders these days.

Although I didn’t get a chance to see Andy as planned, I hope sharing these memories with the people that loved him will remind us to pay attention to all the little successes, failures, surprises, laughs and acts of kindness we encounter every day. Because those memories endure, even after we grow apart and leave the people who love us behind. 

Here's two pictures from my eighth birthday party in August 1979. Andy's the big kid up front in the red stripes.