All neighbors in the ‘ville like football a lot…
But as for me? Well, let’s just say I do not.
Now, please don’t ask why, now’s not the time for the reason, but I hold my breath and pray a lot during every football season.
The evening started like any other fall Friday night. The football teams were warming up on the field, the cheerleaders and dance team were running through their routines in the end zone. Life-sized photo-banners of seniors in band, cheer, dance and football uniforms were displayed on every available space in honor of this, their last year in high school.
The lights weren’t on yet, but it was small town Friday Night Lights at its finest. The perimeter of the stadium (loosely termed) was lined with open gated trucks and SUVs, some lawn chairs, and some shade tents. The smells of barbecue mingled in the air with the loud pop music being played through the stadium’s speaker system. Tailgating, football —- they go hand-in-hand at every opportunity and the first game of the season in this small town was the perfect opportunity.
So what there were storm clouds swirling?
“I think it might slide to our south,” I lied to myself. The brightly colored radar clouds I was watching on my phone (instead of, you know, looking up in the sky) were coming right for us. I tried to focus on the warm-up show on the field.
Warm-ups are actually my favorite parts of a game. Not only because no one gets hurt but it’s entertaining — like a dance. I feel like either team could, at any moment, burst into song! It’s not really a dangerous sport, surprise! It’s a musical! I waited for this yet-to-happen magical moment and watched the two teams’ routines: skip to the 50 yard-line, turn around skip back to the end zone; repeat with high kicks then a really fast grapevine…
“Can I have your attention?” The announcer calmly said and stopped the music. He continued talking with the same tone of voice he would use to tell the crowd the band boosters were running the concession stand.
All I heard was, “Whaa whaaa whaaa,” like the Charlie Brown Adult Voice, “…tornado warning.”
Disclaimer time: I am from the East Coast. I grew up with tropical storms, nor’easters and the occasional hurricane — big storms that gave days’ notice of their arrival. I did not grow up with tornadoes. Even after more than 20 years in the Midwest, the word “tornado” causes a special level of panic to start deep in my digestive tract and then race through my body.
I know a lot of people hear, “tornado warning,” and race outside to watch.
I am not one of those people.
I wanted to grab my young son’s hand and run across the parking lot into the school.
But, like most parents, I didn’t want to freak my kid out.
“Oh, hey, Buddy, maybe we should head into the school,” I said with a chill-smile in my voice while Inner Susan was flailing about, the Miss Gulch music from “The Wizard of Oz” underscoring my thoughts.
At this point I need to apologize to my friends that I ignored on my way through the parking lot. I was fast walking and concentrating on one tunnel-visioned goal: get to the gym.
Got to the gym.
Found space on floor of the gym.
Stayed in the gym for three hours.
Three loud hours in a gym with the cheerleaders, band, a variety of parents, little kids and a huge chunk of the student section.
Three hours of texting my daughter who was home alone in our basement claiming to follow my directive to watch the radar when I know full well she was snuggled into a corner reading.
Three hours of the smell of people who had been outside mingling with the gym smell that’s a combination of floor polish, stuffy room and teen sweat, with an endnote of AXE Body Spray.
I managed to calm myself down during those three hours to a point of boredom. Actually, that happened in the first 30 minutes, then I people-watched until people caught me watching, then I quickly averted my eyes.
The gym was missing the tailgate food, sounds and smells; it was missing the pop music and the football players dance-routines, but like all the Whos down in Whoville after the Grinch stole their Christmas, I realized that something wasn’t missing: Community spirit.
The tornado precautions hadn’t stopped the town event, it all seemed just the same, without football at all!
How could it be so?
It came without coaches! It came without cheering!
It came without nachos or pretzels or root beering.
I puzzled three hours, ‘til my puzzler (and rump) was sore, then I thought of something I hadn’t before.
“Maybe Friday Night Lights doesn’t just come from the field or the score.
Maybe the gathering of people…perhaps…helps it shine just a little bit more.
Susan Vollenweider lives north of the river in the ‘Ville. To listen to the women’s history podcast that she co-hosts or to read more of her writing visit www.thehistorychicks.com or www.susanvollenweider.com