Column: Friday Night Lights, Family and Football
OXFORD, Miss. — We so often feel that it’s those massive, monumental moments that seem to shape us and make us — that these are the moments that mold us into the humans we ultimately become. And while I guess that makes sense and may be true, for me it’s been the little moments in my life that, when combined and accumulated, have remained the most meaningful in my mind. Especially when it comes to my love for football.
When I was a little girl, the Mississippi Delta, or as we still simply call it, the Delta, was full of tiny but thriving towns where cotton was king, and soybeans were a close second. Rice fields and later catfish ponds were as far as the eye could see. Crops grew all over that flat land in Sunflower County that we called home.
My Daddy came from Coldwater, a community farther North in Tate County, about an hour south of Memphis. He’d moved, along with my mother, down to the Delta after graduating from (huge gasp inserted) that other school that I simply cannot bear to mention. Seems they had a better agriculture program, and my sweet Daddy was set on becoming an entomologist. In the Delta, he was known as the ‘Bug Man.’
In the spring and summers, Daddy worked some long hard hours. If you don’t already know, Mississippi heat is a different and special kind of heat – the kind that stings and scorches – a heat that leaves its mark. But Daddy was up and out the door before anyone else even thought about waking up, and he garnered himself a sure-fire following because he was principled, amiable and knew what he was doing.
To this day, I’ve yet to hear anyone speak badly of my father. He’s not perfect, but I’d place him pretty high up there when it comes to his professionalism. Those farmers loved my Daddy, and any time I run into one I’m beyond blessed to be reminded of the sort of soul still he is.
Fall and high school football games
Thankfully though, Daddy’s season started to wind down in the fall. He’d come home earlier, and I remember how delighted I’d be to see him and get to spend just a little bit more time with him. Fall brought something else around our Delta town. Football. The football field where our local high school played was literally (if I cut through Mrs. Veasey’s backyard instead of taking the long way ‘round) less than a football field away from our back door. Fall became my favorite season.
Daddy would tell me to get ready, and I would. Way back then (and I understand this is difficult for some of you to believe), I could care less about clothes.
One year I received some Wonder Woman Underoos, and I thought that was such a letdown because all in the world I wanted to be was Lindsey Wagner in the Bionic Woman so I could marry Steve Austin and together we could conquer the world. But I digress.
Friday night would come around, and Daddy would tell me to brush my teeth and get ready. I was done in a flash and ready. He made sure I had a sweater, and he had his jacket. We’d set out – just the two of us. Mama was never much into football, anyway. He’d have my hand in one and his stadium seat in the other as we’d cross the road over to where our Indianola Academy Colonels played.
Hellos were exchanged at the gates, and even now I can vividly remember the excitement I felt as Daddy gave me the money from his wallet and let me pay for the tickets. Then he let me pay for the football programs too! He’d take the programs, and off we’d go to find our seats.
Daddy would start talking with all the adults, and they’d say all say hello to me as well, asking who I wanted to win. Daddy would open up the program for that night’s game and point out all the players that went with us to church. I would excitedly look and nod, and then Daddy would point them out on the field every once in awhile when one would make a play.
As a child, I don’t remember my love for the actual game. I remember the football players running through the big paper signs at the goalposts, and our cheerleaders running in front of them leading the way. I remember the smell of hamburgers coming off the grill, crowds cheering for touchdowns and Daddy shelling peanuts so I could eat them. I remember exactly where the band sat and exactly what they played when our team scored a touchdown.
Lots of little moments….
Remember what I said about lots of little moments? Life is funny that way. I’ve gone past hitting that halfway point in life now, past that fifty-year milestone. There have been days when I couldn’t find my keys, and they were in a kitchen cabinet. Literally. Ask me about football with my father though….that’s something this girl will never forget.
My Daddy will turn eighty years old next month. I’m not sure what to think or how to feel about this. We live, as he told me one day, “a miles and two-tenths from your front porch to my front door” away from each other now – out of the deep Delta dirt that he loved so much and in this college football town of Oxford.
It is Ole Miss football that now keeps us close.
If you were to ask him, he’d probably just say he took me to the local high school football games when I was a little girl. How could he have ever known that those times would later come to mean oh so much more? How could I have known?
This man has been a father, a friend, he has been my rock, my constant at times when I was uncertain of anything at all. He picked me up when I couldn’t stand. He helped patch my broken heart back together more than a few times. He’s been our family’s provider, our protector and he’s given me precious childhood memories I’ll always more than cherish. I’m a Daddy’s girl. And I have God to thank for that – God and I suppose Indianola Academy high school football, too.