[Nfbmo] Blind & abandoned, the boy with the amazing memory found friend for life
seabreeze.stl at gmail.com
Sat Nov 19 21:33:52 UTC 2016
, jbliss at tennessean.com 3:23 p.m. CDT October 27, 2016
HK Derryberry and Jim Bradford have forged an unlikely friendship for the past 17 years that both hope will last a lifetime. Larry McCormack / The Tennessean
Almost no one in the world has a memory like HK Derryberry.
He can tell you what he had for dinner (spinach Alfredo and noodles) and what he watched on television ("Star Search" on Channel 5) on March 19, 2003.
And he knows exactly what time that night (8:45) that newscasters broke in to say
troops were shooting houses thought to be occupied by Saddam Hussein.
He remembers the score of the Tennessee Titans game five days after Jan. 2, 2001 — the day he went to Jeff Fisher's radio show at Applebee's, sat on the
coach's lap for a photo and got an autograph from tight end Frank Wycheck.
And he can recall specific details from the Season 8 premiere of Everybody Loves Raymond,
which he watched on Sept. 22, 2003. That same day, he notes, a car exploded near the United Nations.
Derryberry has superior autobiographical memory,
also known as hyperthymesia. The 26-year-old Nashvillian — with his buzz-cut brown hair and eyes that squint every time he shows his broad toothy smile
— collects memories like others may collect stamps or coins. He can remember what he has done every day since age 3. Fewer than 100 people in the world
have the same remarkable aptitude.
Though Derryberry has the ability to recall all the particulars of his life, there's one relationship where the details aren't really important. It's the enduring
friendship with the man who has served as his father figure for the past 17 years. Though the man wouldn't know it until well after they first met, Derryberry
has a remarkable and tragic story — one filled with early memories he would rather forget. One the two friends would eventually share.
It all started with a chance encounter at Mrs. Winner's Chicken & Biscuits the morning of Oct. 16, 1999, which — Derryberry will tell you — began as a
chilly, 55-degree Saturday.
Jim Bradford and HK Derryberry share some time together as they wait to be seated at a Waffle House July 2003 that is HK's favorite place to eat. Michelle
Morrow / The Tennessean
Oct. 16, 1999: the friendship that changed everything
Jim Bradford, a silver-haired, gentle-faced Brentwood businessman, started toward Starbucks after playing tennis that morning.
On a whim, he went to Mrs. Winner's instead.
"I really think God was my GPS that morning," Bradford says.
He had eaten at the fast-food joint once or twice. He certainly never remembered going there just for coffee. But inside, he purchased a 25-cent cup of
Maxwell House with his senior discount.
There, he saw a boy — age 9 — sitting alone at a table by the window listening to a beat-up old boombox held together by three strips of duct tape. The
boy wore a white T-shirt stained from breakfast and wrinkled cargo shorts. He had white, plastic braces bound around each lower leg and an awkward bend
in his right arm.
In the past, when Bradford noticed children with special needs, he simply walked away feeling a mixture of sympathy, relief and thankfulness for the health
of his own family.
This time, though, Bradford asked about the boy. The child, an employee told him, sat by the window most weekends while his grandmother, Pearl, worked
the cash register. Pearl didn't have the money to hire someone to be with him, and she was his full-time caregiver. Sometimes, he sat there for a full
Moved by the story, Bradford approached the boy. "Hey buddy," Bradford said. The boy looked up, searching for recognition. He introduced himself as HK.
July 8, 1990: the crash
Derryberry's most significant moment is one he will never remember — and never could. The day he was born.
On the Saturday night before his birth, his father, William Howard Derryberry, drove a beat-up Hyundai along the twisting country roads in remote Maury
County. His mother, Mary Kay Davidson, snuggled against his father's side.
William Derryberry pushed the accelerator, directing the car along the curves after a 10-hour day stacking hay bales and a few post-work beers. He cut
one corner too close. The car's balding tires began to slide. The back end crashed into an oak tree. William Derryberry remained restrained behind the
wheel, not seriously harmed. Davidson's unbuckled body hurtled from the car.
LifeFlight airlifted her to Vanderbilt with severe head trauma. At the hospital, attention turned toward her unborn baby. In an emergency C-section, doctors
delivered a little boy — 13 weeks premature. His mother died hours later.
He weighed barely 2 pounds. He was blind, his retinas not yet fully formed. Just days after his birth, he developed a deep brain bleed.
The result: the underdevelopment of his right limbs and cerebral palsy. But the small soul soldiered on.
The boy was given his father's name, William. His parents' middle initials became his middle name. As he grew, he simply became known as HK.
After 96 days in the neonatal intensive care unit, on Oct. 11, 1990, HK Derryberry came home.
Dec. 17, 1993: moments to forget, and remember
HK Derryberry's first memory, as he tells it, came at age 3 1/2 when his father put him in a satchel and carried him around the house like Santa Claus.
Father and son lived in East Nashville then, with William Derryberry's mother, Pearl. The moment is one of the happy ones. But there are many HK Derryberry
would rather his unique memory not recollect. Like the day his father abandoned him.
HK Derryberry, right, signs books that his friend and mentor Jim Bradford wrote about their relationship in preparation for one of their many speaking
engagements. Thursday Oct. 13, 2016, in Brentwood, Tenn. (Photo: Larry McCormack / The Tennessean)
The heaviness of life after his mother's death proved too much for his father. On a cold February morning when Derryberry was 5, his dad filled up his
grandmother's Toyota pickup with gas. Then he got in his own truck, left the boy with his grandmother and disappeared.
>From that point on, Pearl Derryberry assumed full-time care. She learned to administer her grandson's many medications and manage his medical issues.
She enrolled him in the Tennessee School for the Blind,
taught him to recite his letters while driving around in her pickup truck, and fought for the tools he needed to learn Braille using only his good left
hand— not two hands. She drove him to twice-a-week doctors' appointments and therapies. She dressed him, pulling on long, white tube socks under his braces.
She bathed him, wiped his mouth after he ate. And she took him to Mrs. Winner's every weekend while she worked the cash register.
"I was so consumed by the daily living things," Pearl Derryberry says.
The morning Bradford walked in for his coffee, everything turned.
"How often do you look the other way and feel like you can't connect," Pearl Derryberry says of usual reactions to her disabled grandson. "HK's life was
changed because of a conversation over coffee. And Jim's, too."
The relationship built slowly at the beginning, with Pearl Derryberry giving Bradford permission to take her grandson on short excursions. The duo explored
Brentwood together, stopping for chocolate shakes at Sonic or swinging by the Ace Hardware. They grocery shopped, got the oil changed, washed the car.
Every man Derryberry had ever loved had left, but not this one. Bradford felt energized by his new young friend.
"He stayed with me," Derryberry says of the man whom he always calls Mr. Bradford. "That's what really made me think this could be a longer friendship."
That feeling solidified the night Bradford brought his new friend home to meet his wife, Brenda. The couple had raised two daughters in their four-bedroom
brick ranch, but they were grown and gone.
Soon after the introduction, Derryberry enjoyed his first dinner at the Bradford home: steamed broccoli, baked chicken and cornbread lovingly baked by
Brenda. It wasn't long before — at Brenda Bradford's suggestion — Derryberry began to spend Saturday nights at the Bradford house. On Sundays, they went
to church together.
Around that same time, Derryberry's memory magic began to show itself.
March 12, 2002: a Tuesday, not a Thursday
Bradford first discovered his young friend's memory abilities when the two were together at Harpeth Hills Church of Christ one Sunday morning. As the two
walked down the hall toward the church auditorium, Derryberry overheard a conversation.
"The meeting is scheduled for Thursday, March 12th," one man said as Derryberry walked by.
Derryberry intervened. "March 12th is on a Tuesday, not a Thursday," he said.
The skeptical man pulled out his Palm Pilot and confirmed.
"That's a pretty good trick," the man said.
But it was more than a trick. Derryberry could remember most every detail of his life.
HK Derryberry meets with his friend and mentor Jim Bradford at Chick-fil-A in Brentwood. (Photo: Larry McCormack / The Tennessean)
Remembering comes effortlessly, he says. He absorbs sensations and experiences. The news of the day often acts as a trigger.
His memories, and those of others like him, tend to be self-centered. He can remember “autobiographical” life events in vivid detail, but he isn't superior
in the rote memorization of facts we learn in school. He is no better than average at recalling impersonal information, such as random lists of words.
But when he thinks about something from his own past, it's as if he is right back in that situation.
"It's really almost impossible to know" what causes it, says Brandon Ally, a former assistant professor in the departments of neurology, psychiatry and psychology at Vanderbilt University.
Ally knows Derryberry well. He first came to Ally at age 19, still in high school and hoping to go to college. It wasn't to be, both because of the financial
hardship on his family and his daily care needs, and Derryberry felt devastated. But, after
extensive study of his brain structure and memory abilities, Ally diagnosed Derryberry with hyperthymesia. MRIs show that even though he can't see, Derryberry's optical lobes are not atrophied, instead the remain highly active. The region in his brain associated with emotion is not only larger than normal, but also six to 10 times more connected to the memory center.
Both findings could account some for his abilities.
It became the linchpin to a new purpose.
Oct. 13, 2016: a shared story
Thursday night is "boys night" — 6 p.m. dinner at Chick-fil-A.
The duo has dined at the Franklin Road restaurant every week since July 18, 2008, when a new store manager at Mrs. Winner's told Pearl Derryberry she could
no longer bring her grandson to work with her.
Bradford, with his still-thinning hair and ever-kind demeanor, is 73 years old now. Derryberry is 26. He is 4 feet, 11 inches tall, and his right leg is
still shorter than his left, but he is bigger than the day they first met and more confident.
They talk about football. They stir up memories about bluegrass nights they used to attend. They joke. Bradford cuts his friend's dinner — always a No.
1 meal with a chicken sandwich, waffle fries and a sweet tea — into bite-sized pieces.
Often, other families, who know the pair as regulars, stop by their table to catch up. A restaurant manager comes by to say hello. Strangers overhear snippets
of sports talk and join the conversation from across the restaurant.
When Derryberry meets new people, he always asks their birthday and tells them exactly on which day of the week they were born. Regardless of how old the
person is, he always adds with a sly grin: "And you don't look a day over 18."
Occasionally, a longtime friend joins them to eat. On this night, just such friend asks Derryberry to sign a copy of his new book — one featuring a photo
of Derryberry and Bradford on the front.
Though Derryberry may be able to remember all of their friendship, Bradford cannot. So, now, they have it all recorded in "The Awakening of HK Derryberry." And
together they travel the country recounting their story for others.
Derryberry has found his purpose: "to inspire people."
He may never be able to button his shorts or tie his blue New Balance sneakers by himself, but he can remember co-piloting a single-engine Cessna to Kentucky.
He landed on Oct. 18, 2003, and ate pork chops at Patti's 1880s Settlement Restaurant, all for his 13th birthday party.
And with Bradford by his side, he has done so much else.
HK Derryberry, right, talks with his mentor Jim Bradford and friend Chris Lynch as they enjoy a meal at Chick-fil-A. (Photo: Larry McCormack / The Tennessean)
He spent an hour with Alan Jackson before the country music star performed "It's Five O'Clock Somewhere" for his "famous friend HK." He got a watch from
retired Alabama football coach Gene Stallings as a present — one he still wears strapped around his left wrist every day. And he sat in the desk chair
of former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, acting as honorary mayor.
Then on June 1, 2012, draped in a royal blue cap and shining graduation gown, Derryberry received a high school diploma. Two months later, he and Bradford
went with friends to Destin, Fla., to celebrate Derryberry's 22nd birthday. Derryberry knocked in two holes-in-one during a putt-putt golf match, Bradford
by his side, steadying him as he swung.
It was another day in an enduring friendship. Aug. 15, 2012 — which Derryberry will tell you — was a balmy 89 degrees with rain showers.
But not enough to dampen his spirits.
Reach Jessica Bliss at 615-259-8253 and on Twitter @jlbliss.
Meet HK Derryberry and Jim Bradford
HK Derryberry and Jim Bradford have several upcoming promotional appearances for their book, "The Awakening of HK Derryberry." All of the book’s proceeds,
along with the professional speaking fees Derryberry and Bradford earn, go into a trust fund established to financially support Derryberry.
For more about the book visit:
Nov. 1: 45-minute speech at Lipscomb University's campuswide devotional called "The Gathering," focused on how special friendships change lives, 11 a.m., Lipscomb University's Allen Arena (1 University Park Drive, Nashville)
Nov. 6: A reading from "The Awakening of HK Derryberry" and a book signing by Derryberry and Bradford, 2 p.m.,
Parnassus Books (3900 Hillsboro Pike, Nashville),
-------------- next part --------------
A non-text attachment was scrubbed...
Name: Blank Bkgrd.gif
Size: 145 bytes
Desc: not available
More information about the NFBMO