A sad story about why I love Michigan football

Submitted by jmdblue on January 23rd, 2015 at 3:28 PM

I'm off work today.  Been thinking about this story for awhile.  I write quite a bit, but almost never share, but I thought the board might like it.

I was in an upper bunk at my uncle's hunting cabin when he woke me that Saturday.  I was a year out of Ann Arbor, starting life, brutally hung over, and Uncle Jim's face was several inches from mine trying to get something through to me too early after the previous night's   rolling West Michigan trout camp party.

The cabin didn't have a phone and there were no cells in September of 1989.  Turns out my Mother had also had had a long Friday night.  A night spent in the hospital as my father unexpectedly died at the age of 50.  Uncle Jim's wife drove north to communicate the news.  And Uncle Jim told me.  I don't remember my immediate reaction, but I remember his face and his breath.  He was and is a strong man, but there was only stale beer and softness.

We quietly loaded up and drove for two hours.  Somehow it had been translated that my sister, then a freshman at Western, was in East Lansing visiting a high school friend at State.  I have no idea how anyone knew where to go or how to get in touch with her, but in hindsight it is clear that many calls had been made and accurate instructions had been transmitted because when we pulled next to a giant non-descript MSU dormitory my sister was there with her friend.  I told her the terrible thing through the open window.  I just blurted it out without thinking to get out of the minivan to catch her.  I just blurted it out because I was out of my head and had no balance, no ability to outline my moment-to-moment actions.

Mrs. Jones was the first person I saw upon our return to our childhood home.  Mom was in another room with the door shut.  Mrs. Jones caught me the way I should have caught my sister.  

We spent the next several days feeling our way through visitations, kind offers of help, casseroles the neighbors brought over, the wake and the funeral.  I don't remember much of it very well except being physically uncomfortable during the funeral, having chose a stiff dress shirt that must have been a shade too small.  During the wake one of Dad's college buddies noticed and told me to put on a sweatshirt while we drank beer and laughed a little.  

About two months later Mom and I went to the stadium for the Purdue game. She resisted a little, but I thought it would be alright. I've said that 90% of my formation occurred during camping trips to the western edge of the UP and in Section 10, Row 70, Seats 21 and 22. We had a nice tailgate at Ann Arbor Golf and Outing where the same crew - our crew - showed up early enough to maintain the same four near-entrance spaces for 20 years.  By the time I was eight or nine I could make my way alone from the parking space on the course, across Stadium Boulevard, to our seats without anyone worrying at all. 

Mom and I held hands between the tailgate and the stadium entrance.  I felt her tension and she told me she was thirsty and was going to buy a Coke and that I should go ahead and sit down.  As I walked those last few steps to our seats I realized we were going to have to communicate Dad's passing to our stadium friends.  Mom knew.  Like the calls that had happened to get me and my sister home that horrible Saturday morning earlier in the Fall, I was being helped along here, by a real adult who kept her shit together.  I told our friends in the seats adjacent to ours and after their expressions of sadness, Mom arrived with two Cokes and gracefully received condolences.  I've attended most home games between then and now, but she never went back.  

Mom passed away in 2003 after an inexplicably courageous battle with the bitch breast cancer.  But before she died she watched many Michigan games with my daughter - her new best friend.

I still have the unused tickets Mom and Dad were going to use that Saturday in September of 1989.  We beat Maryland that day. 

Comments

AZ-Blue

January 23rd, 2015 at 3:59 PM ^

and part-time editor (if that means anything), I understand the sad part but don't see how the love of Michigan fits.  Needs a little more of the UM connection that mentions how UM and your memories of times with them there somehow span that large space left by your loss (if that's even possible).  I'm assuming that's what you're conveying?   Notwithstanding, thanks for sharing it.

jmdblue

January 23rd, 2015 at 4:38 PM ^

That moment walking into the stadium when I realized there was another important group that didn't know dad was gone and mom got out of the way for a minute to make it easier for everybody was maybe the most poinant moment of my life.  It happened at a Michigan game.  You're right though.  It isn't emphasized well enough.  

Cheers and have a great weekend!

Michigan House '75

January 24th, 2015 at 8:29 PM ^

I find that you have to be very sensitive when critiquing a student's writing. I think it's best if you've established a supportive, trusting relationship with the student before offering suggestions for improvement. Writing, like art, is so personal and a critique has to be handled carefully. Ideally the teacher has the time with the student to guide them into understanding how their writing could be improved as opposed to the, "It would be better if you did this, that and whatever." Ability to self-reflect is more meaningful than a top-down approach. Some things I've taken away after teaching Language Arts for 15 years.

Michigan House '75

January 24th, 2015 at 8:30 PM ^

I find that you have to be very sensitive when critiquing a student's writing. I think it's best if you've established a supportive, trusting relationship with the student before offering suggestions for improvement. Writing, like art, is so personal and a critique has to be handled carefully. Ideally the teacher has the time with the student to guide them into understanding how their writing could be improved as opposed to the, "It would be better if you did this, that and whatever." Ability to self-reflect is more meaningful than a top-down approach. Some things I've taken away after teaching Language Arts for 15 years.

AZ-Blue

January 24th, 2015 at 11:09 PM ^

Or treat the writer as if they're a delicate porcelain flower that can't withstand constructive criticism without shattering?

What precisely was "insensitive" about the comment?

I provided the unsolicited advice for the reason that it's a great story and wanted to hear more re: the connection to UM.  Writers worth commenting on understand the difference.

Backpedaling?   Where's that exactly? 

Michigan House '75

January 25th, 2015 at 9:09 PM ^

I would say, you going through and down-voting every post I've made, including those about my father's death and people getting sick in old age is evidence of, "a delicate porcelain flower that can't withstand constructive criticism without shattering." You do realize that you've validated what I said in my post about teaching and critiquing.

DonAZ

January 23rd, 2015 at 6:14 PM ^

I understand the sad part but don't see how the love of Michigan fits.

I do ... it's captured in this one sentence:

I've said that 90% of my formation occurred during camping trips to the western edge of the UP and in Section 10, Row 70, Seats 21 and 22.

That rather poignantly speaks to the bond between father and son during the shared love of camping, and the shared love of football.

Those are the kinds of memories we cherish. 

Very nice story.  Thanks for sharing.

egrfree2rhyme

January 25th, 2015 at 12:37 AM ^

He's not writing an academic essay or defending an argument.  He's reflecting on an event from his past that was related to Michigan football.  That type of writing doesn't require you to spell everything out to the reader, in fact it can even strenghen your piece.

As Ernest Heminway once wrote, "you could omit anything if you knew that you omitted and the omitted part would strengthen the story and make people feel something more than they understood."  

I think there's enough about Michigan football in his piece for anyone on this board to understand the connection without him spelling it out more than he did.

Everyone Murders

January 23rd, 2015 at 7:25 PM ^

This is a touching diary and obviously heartfelt. Sports' intersection with time spent with loved ones is a powerful mix. Game days and similar events can mean so much more when shared with those we love - especially friends and family.

Pinto1987

January 23rd, 2015 at 9:46 PM ^

...my first daughter was born the day of that Maryland game.  She and her younger sister attended dozens of games in that stadium over the years, became students, and graduated with Michigan degrees.  Today, they both bleed blue as your father did.  The torch was passed.

nmumike

January 24th, 2015 at 8:35 AM ^

This is a very well done, heartfelt story that really shows how much family and Michigan football mean to you. I am pretty sure that many of us on this board can relate in one way or another. Great story

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1989 UM GRAD

January 24th, 2015 at 11:38 AM ^

Beautiful story. My condolences on losing your parents at such a young age. Now I need a moment to compose myself. Read this right after the Austin Hatch piece on GameDay.

Michigan House '75

January 24th, 2015 at 9:46 PM ^

It really feels so unfair. People that have worked so hard their whole lives to end up with illness. I can't tell you how many people I've known that, just when they retire to enjoy all the fruits of their labor, get sick. You're so right about enjoying the good days. Wise words. Your post was very powerful. Thank you.