#88

#88.

(That’s the number sign, not a hashtag.)

That was my Daddy’s jersey number when he played football. He played on his high school team. He was a Green Wave. (Not sure the story behind that mascot name, but I’m sure there are those who do know. I hope to find them and get to hear that story.) I have his letterman jacket hanging up in my closet. I was tickled to wear it every year for 50’s day–some years with a “poodle skirt,” others with rolled up jeans and a button down shirt. It was one of my favorite days of the year. Because I felt close to my Daddy.

Over the years, Mama found shirts and sweatshirts with those numbers and wore them proudly. She’d never seen him play, but 88 was his number and he was her love, so she loved wearing it.

When the pandemic started last year, I spent much time in worry, despite my Daddy’s words running through my mind, “Let’s not go borrowing trouble.” Finally, the words of a friend came to mind, “What does this make possible?”

There has been a lot of loss during the pandemic. I do not make light of that at all. My heart breaks for so many and for those still grieving during this season. It’s been hard, y’all. And it still is. It’s not over yet.

But there have been things, little things, that have brought me joy. Long walks with my little fella. Long phone call visits with far away friends. Finding light in the darkness. Listening to my brother’s sermons recorded from his church several states away. Watching my nephew play the sports.

There is a streaming service that I’ve learned of that allows you to subscribe and watch high school sports from all over the country. My nephew’s high school is one of these. In January of this year, they started their truncated basketball season. The county mandated specific things to keep everyone safe. Limited viewers, distanced seating, masks for everyone. Those boys played the game in masks. Impressive. They wanted to play, and they followed the rules. It was amazing. And most exciting of all, I got to cheer my nephew Z-man on, from all the way down here in Georgia. It made my January!

Their football season, put off from last fall, started not long after the last basketball game. It was a shortened season as well. Because of pandemic concerns, Z’s team played other schools in the county that were of higher divisions than his rather than their regular district teams. It was a hard season from a W-L column standpoint, but it was a great one as far as experience and teamwork and sportsmanship.

My nephew is a receiver. Not far off from his Cap’s number, he’s #81. At 6’3″ he wasn’t hard for me to pick out on the field, even when I couldn’t see his number. He’s known for how he runs, and it delighted my soul to see him running across that field and then when he caught pass after pass, I came up off my couch, cheering as though I was in the stands and he could hear me.

Not that every game yielded catch after catch. Not for lack of trying, but the catches and plays weren’t always made. Snaps from the center weren’t always caught, and their regular quarterback was out the last two games due to an injury. Still, they persevered. So impressive.

During the last game this past Friday night, the freshman quarterback who had to step in when the former one was sidelined got in a groove with Z. They had some completions, and even if the scoreboard didn’t reflect it, the mood of the home team was good. Even the announcers, one of whom was tangibly tickled by the actual appearance of “Friday night lights,” were in good spirits, singing praises of all those out there giving it their all.

Towards the end of the game in which Z had caught and run in the only touchdown, a pass was made, aimed at him. He jumped up with two opposing players right on him. He caught it in the air, held on to it (a skill not to be taken lightly, I’m learning), and fell flat on his back. Completion for first down. The crowd was yelling. I was yelling. Miss Sophie was barking. The feline family members were nonplussed, but still. It was amazing. And then…..

He got up. Tossed the ball to a ref. And went back into formation.

I watched in awe. First of all, getting up after falling flat on my back is not in my skillset. (That’s a story for another night.) Secondly, that he could and then moved along to do what came next blew me away.

As it did the announcers. But for a different reason.

“Wow. Amazing catch! Look at that. Class act, *Zman*. Great catch, no showboating, and then getting right back into it. That’s a class act.”

Oh my heart, guys. Agreed.

At the end of the game, where our team suffered a considerable loss, spirits were higher than could be explained. At least mine were. As were the announcer’s. They talked about how this team would really shine in the fall, because of having this season to learn and grow. They talked about the players who are graduating soon and the players who are not. And they praised my nephew.

Hearing them refer to him by my last name, the same last name that was on the back of Daddy’s jersey, just touched my heart. The words they said over him and his career–may they come to be. That they can see a light and energy, drive and passion, in this young man whom I love and am so proud of for many reasons just about made me weep.

On Saturday (I gave him a day to recuperate) I called him. I told him how proud I am of him.

Not for the catches. (Though those were pretty cool.)

Not for following the rules. (Though I know how hard that is, especially when it’s going against the grain of so many others.)

Not for taking my call. (Though at almost 16, it makes me happy that he will still talk to his Aunt T.)

But for those two words I heard the announcer use.

Class. Act.

He was showing good sportsmanship. He didn’t get a big head over making a phenomenal catch. He didn’t do an “in your face” dance when he got around the two opposing players to still make the catch. Every single time he left the field or went on it, he was making an encouraging gesture to his teammates. Even when he was disappointed over how the game was going, he was still a light.

That right there.

Tomorrow is #88’s birthday. It’s been 78 years since he entered this world. And over nine since he left it. But I know this–he is proud of #81. That legacy of humility, good sportsmanship, being a good teammate–those are the things he left with us, and I know he and Maemae were watching that game on Friday night–I felt it. And I know that they are proud that those words used to describe their grandson are accurate.

I am thankful for the lessons Daddy taught us. That life is hard. That doing the right thing very often goes against what (it seems to be) everyone else is doing. But you still do it. He expected it. Insisted upon it. Because in the end, your name and what you become known for are all you have.

My Daddy was a good man. One of the best. And #81 is on his way to be one too. It has nothing to do with how the play goes. It’s what he does after the play that makes him so.

Happy birthday, Daddy. Thanks for everything. Love you.

And love to all.

Cam, Cooter, and the Reason I’m a Fan

It all started when we found out the Broncos were going to the Super Bowl.

Or maybe it started last fall when the boys on the street started playing front yard football.  It looks a lot like wrestling but there’s a football involved, so they call it football.

They talk a lot of smack about different teams, too, so somewhere along the line–I’m not really sure when or how–my baby boy became a Carolina Panthers/Cam Newton fan.

…..you try to raise em right…..

See, I can smack talk with the best of them.

Last week at our dental appointments, my hygienist friend told Cooter a funny story involving Cam Newton and someone who was a huge Alabama fan.  Cooter started talking about Cam even more.  His birthday is this week, so I thought it would be fun to get him a t-shirt/jersey.  Come to find out there was no such thing anywhere in our town.  Each store told me that Corporate hadn’t sent them anything.  Well, they just missed out on a huge business opportunity, let me tell you.

Well a shirt sale anyway.

One $2.97 teal blue shirt and a jersey iron-on number and a printable iron-on sheet later, and we were set.  I found out that Cam Newton’s jersey number is 1, and we made it happen.  I might not be a Panthers fan, but I am a Cooter fan, and I like to make him smile.

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Aub and I stayed up late Saturday night creating the shirt, and Cooter was quite happy with it on Sunday.  We had a good day, teasing each other back and forth–him in his Cam Newton shirt and me in the Manning jersey the Fella got me a couple of years back.

The game was fun for me, not so much for my little heartbroken guy which made it not so fun for me in the end.  The outcome made me happy in the moment, but seeing my son heartbroken and melting down–I would have done anything to change that.  That kind of thing stays with you.

Today there has been all kinds of drama on social media about an interview Cam Newton gave after the game.  People have pointed fingers and said what a bad sport and example he is for his young fans.  A bad sport.

Sigh.

Who does that?  Who sticks a microphone in front of someone whose heart has just been broken?  Whose dream has been crushed?  Who gave it his all and it still wasn’t enough?  WHO EVEN WANTS TO SEE SUCH AN INTERVIEW?

Please, people.

I watched the little clip of him walking out.  The first thing that came to mind was my Mama’s words she said to us over and over through the years:

“If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”  

The truth of the matter is that I teach my children to do exactly what Cam did.  If you can’t say something kind–and I do not fault Cam Newton for not having any “It was an honor just being nominated” words–then WALK AWAY.  Don’t let it escalate to where you are really out of control.

Just a little while ago, I saw a story that apparently a Broncos player was being interviewed within earshot of Cam Newton, and Cam overheard the things he was saying disparaging the Panthers.

Y’all, my Mama said…..

I would’ve walked away too.

And I’m a Manning fan.

But grace abounds.  He’s young, his heart was broken, dreams dashed, and he had believed in himself and his team.  Let’s cut him some slack.

To my children if you are reading this–especially Cooter who is probably going to hear some of the folks trashing Cam Newton:

He did the right thing.  Instead of blowing up, yelling, throwing things, fussing and saying things he might regret later, he WALKED AWAY.  And that is okay.  Do that.  When things are more than you can handle, walk away and get help.  

No one is perfect.  Would it have made a lovely story if he’d been very cordial and laughing on this major loss in his career?  If he’d been singing the praises of the Broncos and been full of the “we’ll get ’em next year” bravado?

Maybe.

But two thoughts.

First, that would not have been real.  Or authentic.  I would have called Face Mask on him.  Because no way that would have been anything other than putting on a front to cover up all the pain and hurt.  He’s a football player, and a good one at that, but he’s not a trained orator, and to expect him to be otherwise is very unfair and unrealistic.

Second, it’s a story we wouldn’t have heard, because the media loves drama.  They wouldn’t have commented much on a congenial Cam Newton, because that’s not how they roll.  Or they would have because he’s derned if he does, derned if he doesn’t.  It’s what they thrive on.

And we encourage it by buying in to the drama and making all the negative comments.

These little people we love, they aren’t just watching Cam Newton and his reaction.  They’re also watching us and ours.

Let’s show them what grace and love really look like.

Thanks for listening.  And Peyton, if you’re reading, congratulations.  I’m happy for you.  And Cam, I’m happy for you, too.  You have a good career ahead of you, and you didn’t show out in the face of adversity.  You walked away from creating a scene and from letting all that mixed up, pent up emotion out in a really bad way.  Well done.  Thanks for keeping your cool, because, well, Cooter’s a fan.

And I think I am too.

Love to all.

 

 

The Right Tools and the Right Folks

You would think with all my lists and planning and washing and packing and thinking and not sleeping and planning some more that I would not have forgotten anything.

I mean, I worked to give my oldest all the mental and emotional tools I thought she’d need to make this transition and be okay, better than okay.  As we’ve prepared and packed for college, I hope I put kindness and compassion and listening and strength and passion and faith and so much more in her carry-on of character.  Only time will tell what kind of job I did, I suppose.  But today, I found out that those aren’t the only tools she will need.

Practicality, one.

‘Dre, zero.

It was one thing or another, who remembers now, that needed a screwdriver.  And WE did NOT have one.  My Daddy would be so disappointed.  So would my cousin who came over to teach our girl about the most important things she needed to know for caring for her car.  I bet he would have had one on him.  I’m just sayin’.  Everything we needed the other day, he either had on him or in his truck.  (And he’s not a mechanic by trade.)  But I think the most disappointed would have been my Great Uncle.

Mama used to quote him, “Well as Uncle Ray would say, ‘The right tool for the job can make anything easy.  Or at least a whole lot easier.'”

And that is usually the case.

After we all unloaded and unpacked, I went to the local stuff mart to get stuff on our “oh you just thought you had your act together, Tara, but look at what you forgot” list.  It wasn’t horribly long, and in my defense, there were some things that just couldn’t be anticipated.  But yeah, some could.  And yes, I forgot the tissues for a second time.  So that first-year student carrying around a roll of toilet paper for wiping tears and blowing her nose?  Yep, that’s my girl!  We are nothing if not resourceful.  Ahem.  (Note to self:  Let’s try the old third time’s a charm and get it this time, okay?)

And in my searching for picture hangers (isn’t that the official name?) and a hammer and an all-purpose tool or a screwdriver, I found this.

I mean, some of this stuff, I don't even know, but it's got to be important.  This was the DELUXE kit.

I mean, some of this stuff, I don’t even know, but it’s got to be important. This was the DELUXE kit.

Y’all.  For the win, right?  I mean, there’s stuff in there I don’t even know what it’s for, but it has to be handy, don’t you think?  And it all came inside a lovely purple and grey canvas toolbox. (Can I call it a box if it’s canvas?)  I think I have found my new gift for…..well everyone.  I mean if you’re caring and compassionate and a great listener but you don’t have a screwdriver or hammer to your name…..well, we might have to rethink just how wonderful you are.

Just kidding.  But it is my hope that my girl will be able to be helpful and share this with those who need it and that this will go to her first house with her, where I am SURE she will need it.  Everyone needs a pair of channel changers, right?

So today I learned a lesson about being practical as well as philosophical in what I send my child out into the world with.  There will be some days that the practical will be way more important.  Like today.

And I also learned that while I know what my Daddy meant when he said almost eighteen years ago, “Ain’t nobody gonna help you raise this young’un,” today was the exception to that.  I’ve shared before about folks not setting good examples and what society deems “appropriate” and things like that–none of which make it easy to raise up a child. But today once again, I saw he could be mistaken.  Today friends were a huge part of my girl’s journey.  The love and caring that they shared with her and with my family today–you can’t buy that kind of friendship.  It’s a gift.  A gift of strength (hauling things up two flights of stairs–so thankful) and holding it together in the face of tears.  A gift of laughter (if you’ve never seen a big football player sitting on a color coordinated bed in a women’s dorm, I’m sorry, you’ve just missed out people).  A gift of stepping outside of the box and ingenuity (asking total strangers for a screwdriver for a child that isn’t your own; sitting in a van when it’s pouring down rain watching Gilligan with the littles *sigh*).  A gift of companionship (sticking it out and changing plans you might have had).  A gift of compassion (listening, sitting in the dark with someone, walking through the rain with them).  A gift of patience (my littles, long rainy day, ’nuff said).  A gift of shared joy (being there at the start of our girl’s journey and helping her get started).  A gift of caring (texting and calling and checking in to see how the new college student AND her Mama were getting along).  We are so lucky to have the kind of friends and family many folks only hope for.

This momentous day has been about the right tools and the right folks in our lives.  One you can find at the stuff mart for a price and the other is priceless.  Tonight I hope my girl and all of her classmates sleep well in their new home–tucked away under bedding that expresses each one’s personality or preferences.  And if they need to sniffle or cry a bit, I hope there’s at least an extra roll of toilet paper close by for them to use.  Most of all, I hope each one goes to sleep knowing how much she is loved–by friends and family.

Sweet dreams, Aub.  I love you.  And as Maemae would say, “Happy pink and blue dreams.”  And if you have trouble falling asleep, count your friends.  That will take you longer than it possibly could to fall asleep.  They outnumber the stars I think.  ❤ –‘Dre