In so many past fall seasons, I’d step out the door into the first nip of fall. Beneath my feet the hand-sized sycamore leaves in my yard crinkled pleasantly. The outside thermometer registered 69, and my watch, 6:30. I reached back inside for my trusty blue sweater, for I knew I’d be cold before the game ended. Ah, my first football game of the season. The team started playing early every year, but I did not attend in the heat and the gnats and the mosquitoes. I came out with the cooler weather. Knowing I had time to spare, I leisurely drove toward town. The beat of drums reached my ears as I neared the school, telling me the band was already at work. I’d park in the lot near the band room and start my trek to the field. A steady stream of people trekked with me. Some held tightly to small hands as assorted bags, blankets, and stadium seats dangled from arms and shoulders. Others like me carried as little as possible--a casual sweater slung over a shoulder, a bottle of water. Many walked with phones to ears, reminding me that I’d left mine in the car even though I’d intended to put it in my pocket. I didn’t turn around though.
As I pulled money from my pocket, my colleagues manning the gate reminded me of the old days when teachers were given passes to games. On my way to my favorite seat, I stopped to speak to several people. After all, in my friendly town, half the fun of ball games has always been the socializing. Finally, I’d reach the top of the stadium and my favorite seat beside the band. From that vantage point, I could survey the whole place and lean my weary back against the fence. Behind me, the band struck up and I stood for a better look.
In shiny new uniforms, it performed on the field down below me--one last practice before it entered the field for the pre-game show. The late afternoon sun brightened the new coats and sparkled on sequined sashes. Myriad instruments flashed and played in the sun’s last rays. Out in front of the band, choral students practiced the “Star Spangled Banner.”
Turning back, I saw down in the end field the football teams and cheerleaders of tomorrow awaiting their five minutes of glory tonight, and afterwards, the superintendent high-fived each child leaving the field. Each face grinned, but the widest grin was on the face of the superintendent. And then the band took the field. My foot tapped along to the drums. I sat engrossed in pre-game activities— flags presented by blue clad ROTC cadets, the “Star Spangled Banner,” the cheerleaders and their giant run-through, and finally the players bursting through to the roar of fans. The stadium resounded with enthusiasm. The county really shines when it’s time to support our team, whether at home or on the road, whether they win or lose. We’ve always loved them unconditionally. Feet stomping on metal bleachers announced the kick-off, the game began, and almost immediately the Pirates scored a touchdown. Wild applause mingled with the voice of the cannon. I have been a fan for too many years to count now, but I’ve never quite gotten used to that cannon; it always startles me.
Soon the band was seated beside me, and I watched them intently. I liked the dancing tubas. I liked the drums. I liked the dancing flag girls. I liked the whole band. I’d be almost dancing myself. Oh, yeah, the game. The score was rising. Cannon smoke hung in the air and combined with the smell of popcorn and grilled burgers—the fall smells of Friday night. Then Brandon or some other former student would appear. Another thing I liked about ball games was the chance to see and visit with former students. They’d catch me up on their new lives, and I’d momentarily forget to watch the game. I’d glance at the score board, smile, and eye the band again as it began to file out for the half-time show. My goodness, the first half flew by, and those new black plumes looked really good on those hats?
After the visiting band finished, our band would begin. Suddenly the years flashed back and the kid playing those quints so masterfully was mine. I couldn’t tear my eyes from him. Tall and lanky, he made those drums talk. But the years had rolled on around and the one down there playing so masterfully that night marched on the same ground his father had marched on. Still in black shoes, growing tall and lanky, he too was mine, just one generation removed. His face smiled from the button I wore on my blue sweater. Time had come around, and my grandson now filled his place in the band. I had a vested interest, and I did, and still do, enjoy a good football game.