Twenty-eight years ago, Bryant Shelley was born in a Savannah hospital. Oxygen deprivation at birth left Allen and Genny with a little boy who had cerebral palsy.
The Shelleys moved to Charleston a short time later, landing in a new Mount Pleasant neighborhood called Point Pleasant. There were eight or nine other young families in the same neighborhood, so they all just started living and loving and learning together.
Though Bryant was challenged both by his speech and mobility, his social skills were beyond compare. He brought life and energy to any room he entered. If families were planning cookouts or parties, every invitation to the Shelleys would include this additional request: Please bring Bryant.
In high school, Bryant got a job as a greeter at Walmart. He never met a stranger, and when Bryant put on his blue vest and said hello when you walked in, the entire store knew about it. Bryant Shelley loved people, and those who took a little time to look beyond his challenges loved Bryant, too.
It wasn’t that he merely said, “How are you?” — it was the excitement with which he said it that made what is normally a perfunctory greeting seem so much more important. To Bryant, it really was.
Families and friendship
As the families in that core group began to grow, they also began to spread out to other neighborhoods in the sprawling communities in Mount Pleasant.
It soon became apparent that Bryant had been paying attention. All this time, he’d been filing away birthdays and anniversaries in his mind.
Without the use of a calendar, computer or Day-Timer, Bryant would remember birthdays of his childhood friends and their parents. In addition, he’d recall special dates for aunts and uncles along with the wedding anniversaries of the friends of his mom and dad.
The number of people’s names and corresponding dates must total more than a hundred at this point. But here’s the payoff. On those special days, Bryant picks up the phone and makes a call to make sure that person gets a “Happy Birthday!” greeting or a “Happy Anniversary!” Typically, the call arrives in the early morning.
Pam Suggs, a friend of Bryant’s mom, says, “It makes your day.” Andy Anderson, another family friend, says, “you look forward to it, and when the phone rings, you know Bryant’s calling.”
The phone calls started almost 15 years ago. They’ve never stopped.
New home, same routine
Bryant now lives in Orangeburg at a facility that allows him to be on his own but with constant supervision. He still loves his Clemson Tigers along with college and pro basketball. His attitude remains upbeat, and though he no longer lives near his childhood friends, he often thinks about them and their families.
Who knows what he would have become had circumstances around his birth been different. It’s difficult to imagine he would have touched more people than he has, though, just by being himself.
Today, Bryant Shelley is 28. On his birthday, you know what he likes to do? He sits by the phone, waiting to see who might call him. Very often, he’ll keep track of the calls with pen and paper. It’s a safe bet, his phone has rung a few times by now. Happy birthday, Bryant, you’ve taught us all that when you give a lot, you get a lot.
Hope your phone rings all day.
Reach Warren Peper at firstname.lastname@example.org