Darrell Huckaby: Memorial event helps lighten a sometimes dark world

Darrell Huckaby

Darrell Huckaby

Kate Caruso was a bright light in a world that seems to be growing darker with each passing season. She loved life and she loved people -- and people loved her. She loved her family. She loved music. She loved children. She loved drama and was a major part of the Heritage High School drama department and the Patriot Players -- that incredible group of young thespians from which Heritage drama teacher Michelle Thorne draws miraculous performance after miraculous performance.

Kate Caruso was also a fighter. She fought cancer for years and most of the time -- even when she got to the point that she relied on local firefighters to help her get in and out of her home when she went for treatment -- she fought with a smile on her face and love in her heart and hope in her soul. She continued to emit that special light until the very end.

Kate lost her battle almost two years ago, but her family and her friends are determined that Kate Caruso's light will never be extinguished and that her passion for music theater will create a legacy that will help those who come after for many years.

Last year on the football field at Evans Memorial Stadium, on the campus of Heritage High School, a large crowd gathered to pay homage to Kate's memory, and it was one of the most moving and impressive ceremonies of which I have ever been a part.

In addition to life, people and music, Kate loved animated films -- particularly those of Walt Disney. Who doesn't? One of Kate's favorite Disney films was "Tangled," and her favorite scene in "Tangled" featured a young couple in love, sitting in a boat on a lake, while thousands of glowing Chinese lanterns were launched toward the heavens.

Her parents got the idea that, as a tribute to Kate, they should recreate that scene from "Tangled" in her memory. But they didn't want to just create a stunning visual, no matter how moving or beautiful it might be. They wanted to create something of substance from the memorial and they wanted it to be something that could live on, year after year -- an annual event that would help Kate be remembered, perpetrate her legacy of light and help other people with dreams and ambitions and passions similar to the ones that Kate was never able to realize.

The result was genius. They sold paper lanterns, just like the ones in the movie, with the money from the sale of the lanterns going to a scholarship fund. Each year scholarships would be given in Kate's memory to help other members of the Patriot Players realize their dreams of a college education.

Hundreds of us gathered in the Heritage theater and watched a touching slide show about Kate's far too brief life. Then we somberly made our way to the football field for the lantern launch. The mood did not stay somber long.

I had never seen one of the lanterns in person. They were delicate paper creations -- mostly white, but some colored -- that operated like tissue paper hot air balloons. We would light the small piece of wax at the bottom and the hot air would fill the paper and the lantern would serendipitously float into the skies. I don't know how many lanterns were launched that night, but I know they filled the sky over Evans Stadium with pinpoints of light, and as they floated toward the heavens we couldn't tell where the lanterns left off and the stars began.

It was absolutely beautiful, and the congregation's sorrow turned to delight as we watched the beautiful scene unfold. Kate Caruso was well-remembered and a great deal of money was raised -- money that is already being used to further the education of a number of deserving young people.

Tuesday night, we will light up the heavens on Kate's behalf once again, and the entire public is invited to come and be a part of this spectacular event. Organizers have run into a small hitch as the local fire department has decided that in the absence of a specific ordinance about such lanterns, they have to be treated as aerial fireworks, which are not legal in Georgia. The lanterns have been nixed and the Caruso family understands and respects that decision.

They have not been deterred, however. We will still light up the night with a path of luminaries from the theater to the stadium -- and we will light up the night skies by launching helium balloons containing glow sticks. Kate Caruso's spirit will float skyward with each balloon. The balloons will be sold with the proceeds going to the scholarship fund.

The event starts at 7:30 p.m. Be there. Your heart will be warmed. Let's face it. We need all the light that can be mustered in this dark world, and Kate Caruso is worthy of being remembered.

Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at dhuck08@bellsouth.net. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.