It was nine o’clock and t-shirt warm and almost-full moon, and I was taking a night-time stroll through my small town. As I got near the high school’s football field, the announcer’s voice baritoned through the night: “And it’s a fumble! … recovered by Healdsburg!” Hoots of delight erupted from the crowd.
And there it was across the street: a field of white-striped grass on which boys — padded and helmeted like militant cocoons — banged into each other in a simulacrum of warfare, cheered on by pretty girls in tiny skirts, the rewards for their valor.
Yes, that old game, so much older than football. The ritual hadn’t changed since I’d started high school myself — how many years ago? I did the math in my head. Wow. Quite a few.
The man down the sidewalk from me looked even older than I, at that moment, felt. The woman with him was asking him to stay put, but he didn’t seem to understand and kept trying to follow her.
I got it at a glance (I’m not always so quick on the uptake). “Would you like me to stay with him?”
“Oh yes, thank you, just while I get the car. Now stay here, Daddy,” and she headed off down the street.
He was a nice-looking man with kind eyes. Confused, left on his own with a stranger, yet he seemed content. I tossed a couple of conversational balls his way and he fumbled them. He knew what he wanted to say, but he’d forgotten the words.
So did my dad in the last years of his life, a man who’d always been articulate, who gave me a dictionary for my fourteenth birthday and never met a pun he didn’t like. Tell him you had ants in your kitchen and he’d ask you about the uncles.
“And now the kick-off … first down … and it’s touchdown Healds-burg!” As the words flowed over us on the cool breeze from the Pacific, I thought about high school, my family, and being young but starting to feel very grown-up on nights like this, out after dark without my parents, wrapped up warmly and sitting with my friends in the bleachers. Cheering for the boys.
The man next to me, with his shy smile: was he remembering too? Or was he losing his memories along with his words? Was that going to happen to me someday? Maybe I wouldn’t remember being thirteen years old, watching a football arc through the night sky, yelling “Push ’em back, push ’em back, way-ay back!” Maybe I wouldn’t remember standing here all these years later, remembering.
“It’s a beautiful moon,” I said, and my companion looked up at the sky, caught that ball and threw it straight back to me. “Yes, it is!”
We waited. His daughter didn’t come. Every few minutes he’d say, “Well, I should … ” and start to walk away, and I’d say, “I think we should stay, your daughter will be here soon.” And he stayed, but started to ask wonderingly, “Is that her? Is that her car?” whenever someone drove past.
Healdsburg scored another touchdown. Where was his daughter? Had she had an accident? If she didn’t come back, what should I do?
And then she drove past, parked, and walked toward us, and I saw (like I said, not always so quick on the uptake) that she was much too old to be his daughter. His age or thereabouts, but vigorous, bright-eyed, happy.
“Thank you so much,” she said. “We’re the Pearls. I just retired after thirty years teaching at the high school.” She gestured toward the old/new game across the street. “That’s my school! Not Daddy’s, though. His was Cloverdale.”
I said, “I thought you were his daughter. You know, because you call him ‘Daddy’.”
“Oh no,” she said proudly, as they reached toward each other and clasped hands. “No, he’s my sweetheart.”
She wished me good night, he smiled one last time, and they walked away.
A very old game, and one with so many downs. Nevertheless, sometimes, both sides win.
Moon and “old story” in the public domain.
“You’re my hero” by Chordboard (Self, from material in my possession.) [Public domain, GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)].
Both from Wikimedia Commons.