We stood on the sideline of one of the kids' soccer fields at Boots Bush Park, watching a couple of dozen little 3-year-olds dart right, left, fall down, get back up and start all over again.
I looked at my wife and she was smiling, watching every move a particular little girl made.
I was watching, too, and every so often I would discreetly wipe a tear from the corner of one of my eyes. I told my wife it was the wind blowing, causing some sort of irritation or something. But I'm sure Kathy knew that was not the truth.
We were both there as dutiful grandparents, watching little Ella play her first soccer game. In Quincy, that's a rite of springtime passage for youngsters.
But on this particular night, for this particular little girl, it went a lot deeper than corner kicks and throw-ins.
It was a little more than two years ago that Ella was fighting for her life in a hospital in Springfield, severely burned over much of her body after being caught in an early-morning house fire. At that point, we were grateful for every second she was still with us. That's because none of us were sure how much longer we would have Ella on the morning she was airlifted to Springfield in critical condition. It was difficult hearing from doctors in two different cities on the same day they were not sure she would make it until the next dawn.
But those stressful seconds eventually grew into days, then weeks.
Many of those days and weeks were filled with operations, skin grafts and all sorts of unthinkable experiences no toddler should ever have to undergo.
It was during that time Ella became my hero. So being able to see her run back and forth at Boots Bush Park was a special moment. She can't run as fast or as long or as far as the other kids, but at one time there was great concern whether or not she would even be able to walk again. So on this night, each one of those determined strides of hers was a special triumph.
Only twice since the house fire have I mentioned Ella in a public forum such as this, mostly out of respect for Ella's mom and dad, Sarah and Elvis, who have done an incredible job working their little girl back into as normal of a life as possible.
But it dawned on me that evening at Boots Bush Park that this would be tremendous opportunity to share the victory of this little girl who has blue eyes the size of half dollars and a smile that can immediately brighten an entire room.
And a heart the size of ... well, Boots Bush Park.
Not a day goes by when at least several people inquire how Ella is doing. Many feel they are intruding and often apologize. Please don't. Every day of her life is a celebration.
This is a little girl who still requires daily therapy and who often cries at night because she "hurts," the by-product of all she has been through. She is a little girl who will always have scars, she will never have a full head of hair and still has nightmares about the tragedy that she cannot even begin to comprehend.
Yet she will always greet you with that infectious smile. And if you're lucky like I am, you get a hug and a "mooch."
Ella wants to grow up and be a princess. Her favorite color is pink, she likes to wear cowboy boots and knows where I keep all of my snacks in the mancave.
She also loves her brother Grady -- very much. That doesn't mean she doesn't get mad at him or purposely try and irritate him, but make no mistake, Grady will always be her "Bubby."
Some day when Ella is older, she will hear the marvelous story of how her brother tried to save her the morning of the fire.
When that day comes, I'm certain Grady will forever be her hero.
Just like she is mine.