A day rarely goes by that Al Bunetta or his wife, Dawn, or both, don't bump into someone with a story about their son, Juri, who turned 19 on his last birthday.
It's not just polite platitudes. Usually it's a heartfelt anecdote peeling away another layer of Juri's empathetic personality, one marked by his love for human interaction and the lives he touched; like the young waitress, maybe 20 and whom Al and Dawn describe as "beautiful," who recently served them at Fairvue Plantation's clubhouse dining room.
The young woman laughed while telling them about the time Juri (pronounced "YURR-ee"), who once worked at the club, washed his car in the clubhouse's parking lot, explaining to her why it was no big deal. Normally that's not something you do on the grounds of a prim, proper and private golf club. Then again, you'd have to know Juri - and it seems countless people did - to understand that washing a car at the club was no big deal. No harm, no foul.
Al remembers being in Nashville several years ago when he ran into a fellow Fairvue club member. The conversation quickly turned to Juri. Al casually mentioned to the guy how Juri had been among the Fairvue employees stiffed on payday during the club's financial woes under previous ownership. The man whipped out $100 in cash and insisted that Al give it to Juri, saying Juri was worthy of the money.
At other times, though, it was Juri paying out money to help someone in need.
"Juri was all about helping the downtrodden," Al Bunetta said last week, seated in the den. "He was very honorable. He was cool. I think Juri was here to teach us how to love."
Let's not leave out the Leiby twins, Ryan and Adam, two of Juri's best friends. They occasionally drop by to regale the Bunettas with Juri stories at the Bunetta homestead, which sits on 32 beautifully pastoral acres in southwestern Gallatin, not far from Long Hollow Pike.
"When Juri's friends come by to see us, it's like he's telling us through them that he loves us," Al said.
Juri Bunetta died two and a half years ago, killed in a single-car crash while driving his 2002 BMW Mini Cooper on the night of Jan. 8, 2011, on I-65 near Nashville. He had been visiting friends and was alone in the car, four months away from graduating from Station Camp High School. At graduation that May, Ryan and Adam wore matching bowties embroidered with Juri's name.
Said Dawn: "Since his death, we have discovered the number of people he impacted is unbelievable. We hear this from peers in his class, from people we didn't know, and from people Al and I know well who tell us these things he did for them, so much stuff (Juri) never told us about."
It is said there is nothing more painful for grownups than losing a child, especially one so young. One consolation for Al and Dawn at the time was being told by police that Juri's car was clean; no drugs, no paraphernalia, no alcohol, and nothing to that effect in his bloodstream, either.
Juri was an only child for the Bunettas, who adopted him from an orphanage in Latvia (formerly a part of the Soviet Union) when he was 5. Until then, Juri had rarely seen or experienced the outside world. When Al and Dawn went to see him for the first time, they took him out for a drive. One of the first things he saw was a Volkswagon driving by, and with a child's unbridled innocence, he exclaimed, "Machine-a!! Machine-a!!"
In talking about Juri, the Bunettas don't speak so much about what they lost, instead focusing on the 14 wonderful years they had together. One important thing about their relationship: whenever they or Juri left the house, they would always be sure to say "I love you" to one another, just as they did on Jan. 8, 2011, the last time they were to speak to each other.
When you love the one you're with, tell them so every chance you get.
"Juri has made our life whole," Al said. "I'm 71, and this is the first time in my life I really feel successful, and it's because of our son."
Now it's time for the Bunettas to give back. They have organized a golf tournament fundraiser in Juri's honor. The Building Bridges Golf Tournament, presented by the Juri Bunetta Friendship Foundation and benefiting Safe Haven and Gallatin C.A.RE.S., will be held Oct. 7 at the Club of Fairvue Plantation in Gallatin.
To register or help sponsor the tournament, go to jbfriendship.org. Consider it something for Juri.
Providing rescue, safety and strength. Your support will help the homeless, teens in crisis and others with life changing emergencies.
Juri Bunetta Friendship Foundation is recognized as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
The Juri Bunetta Friendship Foundation, 33 Music Sq. West, Suite 102-B, Nashville, TN 37203
friendshipfoundation2013 (at) gmail (dot) com, www.jbfriendship.org