Sunday, August 13, 2006

Bear Walk Wave Drill

That hot stretch we had here by the Bay a couple weeks ago opened some memory doors. I believe it’s common for a current physical sensation to connect somehow with a lost moment, some recollection that has lain undisturbed for years.

In my case, the trigger was heat. The memory was high school football. I don’t know if they’ve changed the rules, but 50 years ago on August 15 in the hottest days of the Virginia summer, two-a-day football practice started. Around August first, I would begin to imagine what I would soon experience, not just the bashing into and the running around and the jumping up and down but also the puking and sometimes the fainting, in spite of the salt tablets. I always thought, "You should have started running laps six months ago."

I never ran laps. I started from square one, a square characterized by a certain flabbiness and shortness of breath. Still, one of the small satisfactions of those three weeks of uncomfortable behavior – school always started the day after Labor Day at which point we dialed back to a mere four practices a week, plus a game – was watching the attrition. Lots of kids showed up, but every practice the numbers shrank. There was satisfaction in survival, and I never quit.

Originally, my dad made me go out for football, and it never occurred to me to turn that into a family drama. I didn't like playing, but I guess I liked pleasing my dad. At the time, I thought that intial command -- get in the car; practice starts in an hour -- was wrong. I thought it was bad parenting, and I decided if I ever had a kid, I would never make him go out for football. Yet I now think that he did the right thing -- for his kid. I was a mama's boy and a grandmama's boy and a great aunt's boy, too. We lived next door to my grandmother, and I was always being given little treats, like a prize pig.

I didn't get into confrontations, much less fights. A mama's boy can turn into a ladies man for sure, but he can also turn into a prop character from Flannery O'Connor. ("Everything That Rises Must Converge"; check it out.) So being forced to hit and be hit a hundred times a day was useful, at least for me. In football terms, I had a good first blow, but I lacked a "motor." That is, I would fight the guy opposite me all day, but I only made a tackle if the ball carrier ran into me, and on offense we had some plays where the tackle "pulled," that is, ignored the man opposite and ran briskly left or right to lead the interference. I was too slow. I interferred with my own running back.

Also, I wore "football glasses" with a thick rubber pad across the bridge of my nose so the metal frames wouldn't cut me. After five minutes of sweating I couldn't see a damn thing. It wasn't fun, but it was satisfying. I was never better than second string and then got the mumps -- yes, the mumps -- and dropped to third string. Senior year I didn't play because I wanted to take both physics and creative writing, and that meant I didn't have last period free.

My dad liked my taking physics and creative writing because by that time I was a bit of an academic star -- science medal, Most Intellectual and so on. When it came to academics, I had a better motor, though I sure have put-putted all over the place over the last four decades.

But that's not my point. I'm talking about the right way to raise a kid. When it comes to child-raising, my wife and I don't have any, so I never had the opportunity to develop my theories. My impression -- formed from a distance -- is that kids should be raised like chickens, either locked up in small cages or put out in the yard and allowed to range free.

And, once they are safely past the egg stage, how about a little football? Probably wrong for most but it was right for me. If I had it to do over again, I would ... do it over again. I didn't realize I had a good memory about those miserable days in the hot sun, wallowing in the dirt and the blood -- not much blood, but what there was was my own. I thought it was going to be a bad memory. But it isn't. My dad did a lot of things wrong, but not that.

Surprise. Surprise. Really big surprise.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You're never going to crack through the glass ceiling you've imposed on this blog until you succumb to the confessional spirit that informs the age. Tell us about why you didn't wear your specs in the team photo. The sado-masochism of the towel-snapping in the shower room that had its later expression in . . .what? And wasn't it West Virginia? I seem to recall a story about you arrive chigger-bitten and barefoot at school and being sent home by teachers with mouths like change purses. It being the south, did all those doting ladies deck you out in dresses? When were the curls shorn? These are the sorts of things that can bust this blog loose.