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Memories of Turkey Bowl slaying pain young widow, 5 children

Thursday, November 23, 2000

By Milan Simonich, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Where do you turn when your husband is slain and you have five small children to raise?

After struggling with that question for a year, Angela Barlow still isn't sure she has all the answers.

The Barlow family: from left, Jay, Janea, Sidney, mother Angela and Taylor, with

Corey in the foreground. (Gabor Degre, Post-Gazette)

Eaten up by stress, she has lost so much weight that her wedding rings slide right off her finger. Sleep comes fitfully. Some days, Barlow fades under the strain of working at National City Bank, then helping with homework and providing dinner, praise and discipline for her children, who range from 15 months to 8 years old.

Just 29 herself, Barlow still finds it hard to believe that she is a widow.

Her husband, Sidney Barlow, was shot dead last Thanksgiving Day after playing in a tackle football game in Garfield. Everybody in the neighborhood knew of the annual Turkey Bowl, and of Sidney, a 6-foot-3, 285-pound athlete who dominated it.

The final whistle had blown and Angela had headed for home to pop the holiday ham into the oven. Sidney assured her that he and the rest of the Barlow boys would be there soon, right after buying some beer.

Anger wells inside Angela when she thinks about that moment.

"Why," she asked, "didn't he just come home?"

Immediately after Angela left the game, Sidney heard strangers arguing loudly, their curse words flying across a playing field still ringed by some 150 people, many of them children. Sidney waded into the midst of the confrontation and told the men to take themselves and their mean words down the street.

One of the strangers had a gun tucked under his coat. It must have made Sidney's size less intimidating. He fired, wounding Sidney's brother, Maurice, in the belly.

Sidney pounced on the shooter, trying to seize control of the gun. Then a second man punched Sidney, dazing him just long enough for the shooter to gather himself and fire again. That bullet tore through Sidney's heart. He died that afternoon at 35.

A 'school dad'

The funeral marked the first time that Angela Barlow saw all nine of Sidney's siblings in the same place. Four live in the Pittsburgh area; the others have scattered across the country.

Even Angela's and Sidney's wedding in 1996 did not bring everybody together.

Angela had two children, Janea and Jay, from her first marriage. Sidney had a son, Sidney Jr., from his prior marriage.

Nevertheless, their union was smooth, almost seamless. Angela's kids took the Barlow name, and Sidney jumped headfirst into the role of being their father. His specialty was homework.

"He was the school dad," Angela said.

Little Sidney, 6, spent weekdays with his biological mother and weekends with his father's new family. None of it was daunting.

"We found it very easy to blend families together," Angela said.

Angela and Sidney had two more children together, Corey, now 3, and Taylor, now 15 months.

The scheduled Dec. 4 trial of the shooting suspect and the flurry of talk about the bloodshed of last Thanksgiving have even the little ones wondering about what happened.

"Did you kill my Dad?" Corey asked a visitor this week.

He is a handful, the one most likely to dart around his mother's household rules. Sidney's memory, though, can still bring him under control.

"Bring me daddy's belt," is what Angela says to Corey when he acts up. Those words are usually all it takes. Corey knows that his daddy is gone, so the belt's only purpose now is to put him in line if he disobeys his mother.

Family pitches in

"It's tolling on me," Angela said of being a single parent.

She has lost some 40 pounds since Sidney's death. Because she had just given birth to Taylor, some of that weight would have come off anyway. But the strain of the last year has melted many additional pounds off her lean frame and left her without an appetite.

When Sidney was alive, food seemed so much more important to her.

He managed the kitchen crew of Bobby Rubino's Place for Ribs in Station Square, and he loved to take the family out to dinner at other restaurants.

Sidney also gathered them up to sample dishes at the multitude of town festivals that occur each summer across Western Pennsylvania.

"Shaler, Etna, Sharpsburg, Aspinwall, he took us to so many of those fairs," Angela said. "We didn't go to any this summer."

Time and money wouldn't allow it.

Angela works until 5 p.m. each day as a sales associate at National City Bank in East Liberty.

Then she collects the children from day care, prepares dinner and supervises homework. If a night is placid enough, she can squeeze in grocery shopping, but she admits that by 8 p.m. she's usually too whipped to do anything except plan the next day's routine.

An Army veteran, she is disciplined in managing her time and making sure household tasks are completed.

Even so, she feels inadequate in certain ways.

"Sports were kind of hard for the boys at first because that was Sidney's area," she said.

Angela moved her family across Garfield three months ago, to a house where the children could be closer to Sidney's mother and a brother. A niece lives with her, and Sidney's 23-year-old nephew, Lynell, stops by most every evening to spend time with the youngsters.

Another of Sidney's nephews, Kevan Barlow, is the tailback on the University of Pittsburgh football team. He has dedicated this season to Sidney.

"He was always there to support me," Kevan Barlow said.

In turn, Angela has found support from family and strength from religious faith.

"I definitely looked to God and his guidance. It's hard. It really is. It's still like a shock. But then you try to gather yourself together and go on. The bills still have to be paid.

"The second stage for me was trying to create a new routine that's comfortable for everybody."

She believes she's done that. The kids are busy in day care, school and afternoon activities. She focuses every waking hour on work and family, an approach that kept her from being poisoned by bitterness.

Angela knows little about the shooting suspect, Michael Darnell Richards, 26, of Garfield. Neither she nor the Barlow brothers had ever heard of him before the shooting, and Angela still can't imagine how Richards' argument with somebody else could escalate to the violence that took away her husband.

That's the hardest part, the part that makes her angry at Sidney for not coming right home to Thanksgiving dinner. But Angela is learning to come to terms with that, too. She has no choice.

"I pray every day," she said. "We handle it every day."

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