I don’t usually wear things with smiley face emblems attached. Today, I did. And pretty proudly I might add.
This afternoon I accompanied my spouse, reporter Roselee Papandrea, to a memorial for the late Nicholas Weis, a 9-year-old boy from Mebane who died last year after a nearly lifelong battle with brain cancer. The memorial included a procession from Haw River to Alamance Memorial Park in Gibsonville. It was billed as Miles of Smiles, 2011, the start of what will one day be the Nicholas Weis Foundation.
It’s quite a legacy for a small boy who lived so short a time. But his spirit and humor in the face of adversity is what made him a regional celebrity and much, much more. It was obvious watching the hundreds of bikers who turned out Sunday at Lamb’s Chapel Church in Haw River to take part in the procession down Church Street in Burlington, that he meant a great deal to each and every one of them. Nicholas even touched Jake Owen, a country music singer who wrote a song about him. “Green Bananas” is a reminder to live for today, as Nicholas always did. Owen attended the memorial on Sunday and his black tour bus was part of the procession. He rejoins his tour with Keith Urban Tuesday in St. Louis.
Roselee’s work on the story of Nicholas and his parents has been phenomenal. There are links throughout this post to her stories last year, last week and today. This afternoon, I helped her shoot video and also took some photos with my cellphone. Here’s a gallery of sorts of what I came up with. The headline for this post, by the way, is from a tattoo I saw at the gathering. A biker got it after Nicholas died. It means “This is the best day of my life.” It was Nicholas’ ongoing sentiment no matter the situation — and he had some tough situations. “Hodie est Optimus dies of meus vita.”
RIP Nicholas. You’ll always be remembered. Thumbs up. I’ll keep the smiley face button close by.
Riders began to arrive at Lamb’s Chapel before 2 p.m. for the Miles of Smiles.
Business as usual, except for hundreds of motorcyles of all description await the start of the procession.
Born to be mild: Hundreds of bikers touched by Nicholas (whose dad is a biker, too) converged for the ride. As they drove along the streets of Burlington, they gave those who were taking photos or watching the thumbs up Nicholas always offered. Unbelieveable people. Unbelieveable spirituality.
The Miles of Smiles 2011 T-shirts were huge sellers and the sales benefit charities for the Nicholas Weis Foundation. The back of the shirt is an homage to the jokes Nicholas used to tell on a regional morning radio show, which is how the boy became widely known. The Wolf, who hosts the program, was at the memorial on Sunday.
At 3:30 p.m., after a short meeting at the church, the procession left. It included hundreds of bikers, classic cars and the tour bus for country music star Jake Owen.
Hundreds of balloons, with smiley faces on them of course, were released just after the monument was unveiled.
A rock near the memorial has Nicholas’ favorite joke on one side and the last poem he wrote in his journal on the other.
As the crowd disperses on Sunday to share in cake and continue to tell stories about Nicholas Weis, the memorial looms in the background. As a side note, without knowing it I apparently captured Jake Owen in the photo below. He’s the one on the right wiping away a tear. On the flip side of the monument is the story of Nicholas, which he wrote himself prior to his death. It’s a site meant to inspire, not mourn.