It was dark and we were walking through the parking lot toward Barrett Stadium. An old wooden stadium that seemed to creak and sway with every movement of the spectators. The playing field was grass.
In that sort of distinct fogginess of childhood memory, I remember the lights.
Bright lights. Shouted greetings as we climbed through the stands.
The smell of nacho cheese and jalapenos. Hot dogs. Cotton candy and popcorn.
The scent of the wooden bleachers and the sticky of the soda soaked wood.
The breeze was cool, especially towards the top of the stands. I was zipped up in a coat. His hand was bigger than mine and warm.
He was holding my hand and telling me about this thing we were there to see. This, football.
He was telling me the names of the players he knew. He was commenting on the team. How important it was to work together. And depend.
How debilitating it was to have a showy player. How everyone needed to be moving as one. Strengths and weaknesses accounted for and negotiated.
He pointed out that the players held hands in the huddle. These tough, West Texas boys traditionally proclaimed to everyone watching, that they were standing together. Each member of the team was important.
He spoke of the players who did not see much playing time in games, but worked hard all week at practice anyway. He highlighted their roles behind the scenes. How everyone contributed.
He stood a lot. And cheered loudly, calling the players by name.
He clapped and shouted encouragement loudest when they made a mistake.
“That’s all right boys! Stay with it!!!
He celebrated classy behavior. He would point out the good choices and strong courage shown.
We never left the stadium until the team had prayed and cleared the field.
We joined with the other remaining faithful and applauded the team to the locker room.
We applauded longer, if they lost.
Being community meant supporting. No matter what the outcome.
They were kids. Working together, sometimes against big odds, to advance and improve. To win. They were often the underdogs. Smaller. Slower. From a dry, hot West Texas town.
I loved going to the games with him.
Loved the sound of his voice. The way his hands looked and sounded when he clapped.
The funny, characteristic banter between him and those who shared our bleacher.
The enduring principles I saw and absorbed through his engagement of the game.
How proud I always felt to be sitting next to him.
It seems like yesterday.
Shivering in the West Texas fall winds. Enjoying the game. Laughing with friends. Staying until the final prayer.
Holding my hand.
We watched many, many games from the stands in our good town. I live a fair distance from that world now, but the feeling of those Friday nights is nestled deep and real.
The same feeling treasured from countless other childhood memories.
The belonging of community. The value of people and integrity.
The security of having a hand to hold and a supportive voice cheering.
I have been incredibly blessed.
Happy Father’s Day to my Dad.
I am so thankful for you.
Can’t wait to watch some football with you again. And soon.