Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Is there a Melissa Manchester ballad about athletic shoes?

               1982 was the year my nomadic Southern Baptist family wandered, somewhat purposefully, into the Red River Valley.  We moved to Bogata, a tiny hamlet of less than 500, unless you count horses and crabapples.  And we didn’t even live within the city limits; we actually lived in a nearby community called Fulbright, a misnomer to be sure. It wasn’t full of anything except houses and barns and there was nothing big and bright about it other than the stars at night (clap, clap, clap, clap).
                Moving here had been one of those moves that were common in my family and apparently no one else’s; you know the ones where your parents say, “Get in the car we are moving”?  I thought so.  We became adept at packing an entire house quickly and into relatively small spaces.  I promise you my mother could fit the contents of a 3 bedroom house in the back end of a Pontiac Bonneville station wagon, with room left for a cooler of fried chicken, a switch for when we ‘smarted off’ and my baby brother.  Don’t believe me? Call my sister (Hey, Shontyl!).
                This move was the first one that caused me concern.  I’ve never been one to get nervous around meeting new people and I have no issues with just sort of implanting myself in a new landscape and pretending I had been there for quite some time.  And in Bogata, I wasted no time in acquiring a girlfriend (she was cool and played clarinet) and a best friend (he was also cool and his Dad was the preacher).  And that was a great summer, but fall arrived and things were about to become a bit different.
                Up until this year, the only sport that was typically available to youth was baseball, and that was only in the summer.  I had participated with a reasonable facsimile of athletic ability from t-ball up through whatever they call community baseball for sixth-graders.  Full disclosure, I was known for striking out in t-ball and once, while playing left field, got so engrossed in a conversation with someone standing by the fence, I actually stayed in the outfield while my team batted and no one seemed to notice, not even the umpire.  I feel pretty sure my coach noticed but very wisely alerted no one.  The heart of the team I was not; the mouth of the team I was for certain.
                I don’t remember thinking sports were amazing but I also don’t remember disliking them to any degree.  It’s just what you did. But something had changed in sixth grade.  I had realized that I was much less like my Dad than I had previously thought and I had a sudden need to improve as a son; to be more of who I thought he wanted me to be, and that most definitely involved playing football.  Project Super Son was launched due to something my Dad had said on numerous occasions and that was “any boy not playing football is a sissy.”  It would become my mantra and I repeated it several times on the playground to, I feel pretty certain, utter confusion.  Macho, I was not, dear readers; determined, I was.
                And I almost dodged the football bullet, y’all, but like any Secret Serviceman worth his Bass Weejuns (that’s what they wear), I leaped in front of that bullet.  One of the conversations that my mother had with me was concerning our lack of resources.  I knew we had suddenly found ourselves without many of the things we were used to and we had to sell our car and truck when we moved but I wasn’t aware of the exact level of poverty until my mother said I couldn’t play football because we couldn’t afford to buy the football cleats.  My reaction (tears) wasn’t a proud moment for me but I didn’t know what else to do.  The success of Project Super Son hinged on the playing of the football with the appropriate accoutrement.  Of course, not using words like accoutrement would probably have helped.  Being in the band and an honor student hadn’t seemed to work in my favor, at least to my 11 year-old mind.  Yes, dear readers, I was 11 when I entered seventh grade and, to be honest, actually only became reasonably mature sometime in the last 5 years.
                My mother was never one to allow tears to sway her, but she apparently interpreted them to mean that I was desperate to play ball and I was, but not for the love of the gridiron.  I wasn’t privy to the conversations behind closed doors but apparently due to my implied level of devotion to the game, it was decided that my school shoes would be my football cleats and after a trip to The Wal-Mart, I became the proud owner and full-time wearer of athletic shoes.  Of course, these were not regulation cleats.  They were football shoes designed for short, portly youth to wear other places besides an athletic field; white with maroon stripes and a flap (that’s what it’s called) over the laces.  If you were to look at my class officer photo from 7th grade (Class Reporter, thank you very much), you will see me wearing a short-sleeved button-down, overly-tight Wrangler jeans and my football cleats.
                What could I do?  When you are lacking in resources and you gain weight, you simply wear the clothes you have and lose either (1) weight or (2) concern over your appearance.  Anything else causes angst, y’all.  Even in those who don’t yet know that angst exists.  And angst-riddled I became as I was hyper-aware of my appearance and I was certainly not about to modify my eating habits.  I had to play sports, people.  Athletes need biscuits and gravy, don’t they?
                And I feel certain that my mother was confused and disappointed as my passion for football was not evident in my performance or lack of restraint in complaining about two-a-days and football in general.  You would imagine I would not cry out loud; that I would keep it inside, like Melissa Manchester taught us, and try to hide my feelings.  You might think that but you would be wrong.  For some reason my fear of ostracism never outweighed my need for martyrdom.  No, sir, I had a need to be as dramatic on the outside as I felt on the inside, which I’m sure only alarmed and/or annoyed those in my general vicinity.  I have matured since then, I can assure you.  It has been more recent than I would have liked but better late than never, right?
                And that’s all I should probably say for now.

No comments:

Post a Comment