This time next week the majority of the world will be engrossed with the start of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London, watching to see which athletes will come out on top. There have been several memorable moments from the Olympics that I remember watching over the years: when Greg Louganis hit his head on the diving board in 1988, the Nancy Kerrigan-Tonya Harding scandal prior to and during the 1994 winter games, when the USA women’s gymnastics team took home their first ever team gold medal in 1996 and most recently when Michael Phelps broke every record possible, winning eight gold medals in 2008. While each of those sticks out in my mind, they don’t compare to the memories I have when the Olympics took place a mere hour away from home.
I was 12 years old in the summer of 1996 when the world came to Atlanta and I’m glad I was old enough then that I can remember the historical events I was able to witness. The Olympic torch was carried through my hometown of Griffin and my family was there lining the streets with hundreds of others to watch it pass. We even have a picture of my sister and me in matching t-shirts that say “I saw the flame” with a map of where it was carried; and yes we look as dorky in that picture as you would think. Although, we didn’t have tickets to any of the actual games, we did somehow end up getting to go to the Paralympic Closing Ceremonies, which was pretty cool. However, that is not where the majority of my memories from that summer come from.
It all started when my mama decided to buy a few of the commemorative pins for the events, specifically since it was the 100th anniversary of the Olympic Games. You know the type I’m talking about; they are pins made of the different sports, countries or the mascot Izzy and the sponsors for the games. She first became interested when we went shopping one day at JC Penney’s; they were a vendor of the pins and you could buy them there or sale and trade with other collectors. But after talking with a few “veteran” collectors, she soon learned that to find the really valuable pins you had to go to downtown Atlanta.
Thus began our weekly treks into the heart of all the chaos. I will admit, it was fun at first; trying to find the rare limited edition pins before someone else and seeing all the different people from various corners of the world. For a kid who had never traveled much out of the Southeastern United States, it was a sight to see and I loved hearing the Jamaican people talk. In fact, the moment I will remember the most from that summer happened to involve one very nice Jamaican man.
It was nearing the end of August and things were starting to wind down with the Olympics being over and the Paralympics were almost finished. School had started back, but it was still sweltering outside and I wanted nothing more than to spend my Saturday at the Moose Lodge pool, which was down the street from my house. However, Mama had planned that she was going up to Atlanta one last time to see if she could find this one rare UPS truck pin that would complete her collection, and being the good daughter that I am, I said I would tag along so she didn’t have to go by herself. My only condition for going was that we would not be gone all day and would make it back by mid afternoon to go to the pool. Mama agreed to my terms, so off we went.
After searching for several hours (and much later than I had planned to be gone), she finally found it at the stand of the nice Jamaican man I mentioned earlier, but the price was much too high. We stepped to the side to call home and check in with my daddy and sister while mama tried to make up her mind on what to do. I called the house, but no one answered. I just knew they must have gone on to the pool without me and I was not happy. I immediately started bawling my eyes out because I wanted to go so bad and it was then that the man selling the pins came up to me and said “Oh little girl, why you cry?” in his thick Jamaican accent. Before I could open my mouth to say anything, Mama jumped in and said “She’s upset because she really wants that UPS Truck pin, but I just can’t afford it.” The man looked sympathetically at me and all I could do was nod my head and play along. I was speechless. My own mama had sold me out for a pin! I have to give it to her though because her quick thinking worked and he cut the price in half. Finally, her collection was complete and we went home.
Now I can imagine the look of horror on my mama’s face as she is reading this; she hates me telling this story and always tries to defend her actions of selling out her own child, at times she has even denied it. But I know the truth and have no intentions of ever letting her live that day down. Even though Mama’s pin trading got a bit out of hand, all those trips to Atlanta definitely made for an interesting summer and an Olympic experience I will never forget.