Fridays in the fall always meant one thing to me. There would be a test in on of my classes and a test of our school’s football team on the gridiron later that night. I was always feeling exhausted after a long week of assignments and high expectations from my teachers. Even though I was a Hermione of sorts when it came to academics I just wanted to get through the educational part of the day as quickly as possible and move on to the possibilities of the weekend, a time for taking a deep breath and avoiding the stress of study if only for a moment.
My school didn’t have a band but we did have an all girls drill team with a drum and bugle corps. It was considered a big thing to belong, a way of forming endearing friendships and being part of something revered by the student body. Surprisingly I wasn’t a member of the group. My decision was a huge disappointment to my mother.
My mom had spent money that she didn’t have to provide me with baton twirling lessons from the time that I was in the third grade. In my middle school years I had performed as a twirler in the drill squad and had eventually risen to the rank of Captain. Mama had assumed that I would continue the quest to become the drum major in high school but in an uncharacteristic fit of rebellion I had refused to try out for one of the coveted twirling positions and had instead chosen to become a lowly marcher on the team. Due to my then diminutive size I was in the very last row of performers, a kind of afterthought.
My downfall from the glory of leading the group as a twirler was more than my dear mother could handle and she announced that if I wanted to be on the team I would have to find a way to pay the fees and attend the practices on my own. Since I barely had enough money saved to purchase the many school supplies that I needed it became quickly apparent that I would have to drop out of the coveted drill team group and become a nameless member of the horde of students that freely trolled the stands under the Friday night lights. I chose the unconventional road and it ended up being not so bad after all.
I never had a car or a driver’s license. Such luxuries were not included in our very tight family budget. I bummed rides to the football games with anyone that I could find and thoroughly enjoyed our free and easy excursions. We had no uniform code or rules. We were just out and about for the evening. We’d crank up the volume on the radio which was always tuned to the popular stations of the time and rock to the songs of The Beach Boys and The Animals. We’d laugh and sing and swear that on this night our team was going to topple the opponents. We’d whisper our hopes of encountering certain male someones from our classes and scoring romantic conquests of our own. It was all so glorious and magical.
Our football team always tried but never ranked with the greats around our state of Texas. I went to a Catholic school that was rather small by public school standards. Our arch rival was St. Thomas High School, an all boys institution that prided itself in both academics and a championship athletic program. During my high school years they dominated football, winning the state title several times. Still with the optimism that was mine in my innocence I always dreamed that my team would one day be David to the St. Thomas Goliath. It never happened but it was fun to keep the faith and cheer for our guys even in the face of defeat.
I was an enthusiastic supporter of my classmates who braved the gridiron. I saw them as superheroes, young lions strutting their physical acumen. I yelled so long and hard at those games that I often returned home with a voice so weak that I was barely able to relate my adventures to my mom. I never scored with any of the guys with whom I self consciously flirted even though I often tried. I should have been disappointed by so many of those Friday nights but instead I remember them as being the highlight of my week. Win or lose it was glorious to shed the stresses of studying and taking tests and just hang out with friends. Screaming for my team and laughing at the antics of my fellow students freed the pent up frustrations and emotions associated with my attempts to successfully meet the sometimes daunting demands of my teachers.
Our football team’s most successful year came when I was a senior. For a brief moment I imagined that we might actually topple the might St. Thomas Eagles but that was not going to happen. Back then I had no idea that I would one day meet a young man from St. Thomas who would steal my heart and teach me how to love my one time foes. We would become parents and then grandparents cheering new teams and still enjoying those Friday night challenges that light up entire towns across Texas on cool fall evenings.
Tonight we’ll be at the Pearland Oil Rig stadium to watch the clash between Dawson High School and George Ranch. We will be torn in our allegiance because the kids in our neighborhood attend Dawson. In fact the young lady next door is one of the cheerleaders. On the other hand our grandchildren attend George Ranch. We’ll wear the George Ranch colors and sit on their side of the field but in the end we really can’t lose because we have grown to love all of the young people who live around us who catch the bus for Dawson each morning right in front of our home. It’s a win win situation all around.
I rarely have any kind of tests these days other than those to explain my medical ailments. I have left the stress of long academic weeks behind. I am retired so even work is no longer a worry. I have new concerns over which I have little control. I fret about friends who are sick and suffering. I tutor my grandchildren and students at local high schools and middle schools and often think of them taking a critical exam. I feel a bit nervous for them when I look at the clock and realize that they are in the midst of taking a test for which I helped them study. I pray that they will remain calm and remember the ideas that we discussed. I mentally root for them as much as I did for the athletes who represented me and my school so long ago.
Life is the ultimate test of our wisdom, courage and endurance. As I attempt to make the very best of what will inevitably be the final phase of my life I at long last understand that it is okay to be unsure of all the answers and to lose from time to time. We gain as much from defeats as from victories, from mistakes as from success. In the end we are tested not so much on our abilities as in how we have lived and treated those who have walked along beside us. I’d like to believe that most of us have passed with flying colors.