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    Gift from past eases parents' grief

    A dozen years after his death, Jamal Huffman's parents feel different this December. They received a special gift.

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published December 30, 2002

    As holiday festivities crescendo late in the year, life takes a somber tone for Elithia Stanfield and Terry Huffman.

    The car crash in which their only child perished occurred in June 1990, but their grief intensifies near his birthday in December.

    Had Jamal Huffman survived, he would have been 23 on Dec. 20.

    "This time of year is sort of testy for us," said Huffman, a technician in the tissue bank at LifeLink in Tampa who lives in an unincorporated area near Largo.

    "December bothers me more (than the anniversary of his death), said Stanfield, an assistant administrator and lobbyist for Pinellas County.

    The family was near Atlanta that summer, visiting relatives in the Georgia capital before heading to Washington, D.C. Jamal, 10 years old, had just completed fourth grade at Lakeview Fundamental Elementary School.

    Stanfield is a former president of the Junior League of St. Petersburg. Murray Beairsto, another former league president, rang her up earlier this month.

    "Elithia, I have something for you," Beairsto said.

    "Usually, when a Junior League person says that, they have some work for you to do," Stanfield said.

    Beairsto is interim executive director of Great Explorations, the children's museum that is vacating its current home at the Pier to reopen this spring at Sunken Gardens.

    The league was instrumental in establishing the museum, whose first location was on Fourth Street S. In October 1987, charter members and their families made hand casts, and the finished tiles were displayed when Great Explorations opened.

    Each tile, in storage since the museum moved to the Pier, is numbered; Great Explorations has a list matching names with tiles.

    Beairsto told her friend: "We were cleaning up, and I found something."

    "I knew right away," Stanfield said. "I told her, 'You found my baby's hand.' "

    On Wednesday, Stanfield went to the Great Explorations administrative offices on First Street NE.

    She "just looked at (the tile) and rubbed the print," Beairsto said.

    "She said, 'I wonder what his hand would look like now.' "

    A condition called polydactyly runs in Stanfield's family; at birth she had six fingers on each hand.

    "You know how when you have a baby, you make sure all their fingers and toes were there? When I saw (that Jamal had) those 12 digits, I knew he was mine."

    The tile, cast when he was 7, is so detailed that there is an impression of the tiny nub left after his extra pinkie was removed.

    "I don't need anything else for Christmas," Stanfield said.

    At home, Huffman touched the cast of their son's hand and said he was moved by how small it was.

    "I felt like this is a sign of good things to come for us.

    "(Jamal) was genuine. He had a lot of love. He respected us. He was an easygoing young man. He loved to read. He had a lot of good friends he associated with."

    Huffman took his son to test-drive Mercedes, BMW and Nissan Maxima automobiles and allowed him to pretend to steer.

    "On Friday night, we'd camp out in the Florida room. That was our Friday night deal. We ate cookies all night before we went to sleep."

    Jamal was cremated, and the urn is in the couple's home.

    "When Terry and I die, we'll all be together," Stanfield said.

    They will encase the tile that bears their son's handprint in a shadow box, and Huffman said he is transferring old photographs of Jamal to CD-ROM, their home videos to DVD.

    "Terry and I always wonder what type of young man he would have become," Stanfield said.

    "I'd like to see some of his schoolmates he would have graduated with," Huffman said, "to find out where they are today."

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