“Little A” wore camouflage hunting clothes straight to the security gate. He carried a fishing pole right to the metal detector and carried a deer skull past federal agents.
Straight through the Charlotte airport terminal, all spied Little A.
“That’s Little A!” people said.
One guy even demanded a handshake and a lady wanted a hug.
Little A gave the handshake. No hugs given, just the same, even for pretty girls. This was a hunting trip.
“My South Carolina deer,” said the boy, less then 5 feet tall and under 100 pounds, known now far and wide as “Little A,” Alex Collins.
The deer head was already mounted on wood. He did not bag a live deer in two days of hunting, but nobody corrected him.
He bagged a bigger friend, anyway – “Big A.”
Right behind him was Big A – Chester County Sheriff Alex Underwood. A sheriff 6-feet-4-inches tall, 275 pounds, who just last month put five gang members in jail for murder and then warned others that he was coming for the rest of them.
But not this week. Not Monday through Wednesday.
Wednesday the big man tried not to cry, and he failed.
“This is one great kid, this Little A,” said Big A. “A great kid – I hate to see him go.”
Alex Collins is the son of a single parent – a sick momma and nobody else to take him hunting and fishing in Chester County, Pa. He applied for a dream hunting trip with the sheriff of Chester County in his hometown.
“I hope you pick me to go,” Little A wrote.
But the hunting trip was in Chester County, S.C. The error was found; Alex thought his dream died. He cried at home.
But the Chester County sheriffs in both states – friends and far more, big-hearted people – would not be denied in taking this kid hunting and fishing. The cops found the mistake, paid for the flight and the clothes and the gear and the joy.
People read The Herald’s coverage about Little A and Big A all across America and even as far as England, because of the hunting and fishing trip of Little A and Big A. When Little A caught a tiny fish, just inches long, he said it was five pounds.
Nobody corrected a boy whose dream came true.
“We went hunting, Little A fell asleep for a bit up in the tree stand,” said Big A. “Wore out.”
“What a kid,” said Big A, a father and grandfather himself.
Little A hunted and fished with Big A and deputies and even state agents. The cops who fought gangs just weeks ago took a kid who had never fished or hunted into the woods, and when all came out, they fought not to cry. The tears won.
In the airport, even a few bystanders and security agents held back the tears. Many failed. A lady named Rachel Barnette from Chester rushed up and hugged Underwood and called him the greatest in the world for making a kid’s dream come true. No cops stopped it. No security agent stopped it.
The airport watched the magic of a man and a boy hunting together, finding friendship that transcended race, geography, and age, after a few tough months of public police problems across America.
Tough cops hugged Little A. They told him he meant so much to what they are trying to do in a world marked by fear by showing them a smile and appreciation.
“Bye, Little A,’ said the deputies who gave hats, handshakes and hugs.
Little A thanked them all.
These tough cops thought this trip was supposed to be for Little A, about Little A.
Watching Big A shiver with friendship created in a short three days showed the trip gave the deputies and Big A as much as they delivered. Maybe more.
Big A finally took Little A through the terminal to the gate. Little A walked off into the rest of his life carrying a fishing pole and memories that will last forever.
Big A wished Little A a happy new year and told him to be good for his momma and do great in school.
“Then you will come back and see me again,” Big A said to Little A.
Big A walked out of that airport to a Chester County where gangs have made death threats against him, and with tears in his eyes he was never more resolved to make Chester County safer.
Little A helped remind Big A that the kid in all of us needs little more than a fishing pole and a shared heart after the work is done.