A Christmas Memory: The Best Football There Ever Was

 

(Illustration by www.keishaleighsmithfineart.com)

That night, the brothers carefully inserted the new bladder into the well-worn pigskin, laced it, and aired it with a hand pump.

It is gone now, that little white building is, the one on the edge of downtown, the one where the variety store was for so many years.

It is gone now, gone in the wake of the demolition crew, gone in the good name of that which in our time we choose to call progress.

It is gone now, yet in the vivid picture that memory provides, it blessedly is there still, there maybe in the mind’s eye stronger, more noticeable than when it really was.

It is there, there for the two brothers this Christmas, as it has been at Christmases in between, there because from that little white building came a most important item under some quite special circumstances, an item which made a Christmas of so many years ago so extraordinarily special.

Though there was an abundance of what really is important at Christmas – an all-day, family fellowship dinner and the big annual get-together of brothers and sisters and cousins and others – there was no expectation that the bag Santa would bring to the Home Place that year would exactly have Santa huffin’ ‘n’ puffin.’

What was especially fretful for the brothers about that projected lack of gifts, though, was that there were no prospects for a new, bright and shiny football, one for all the clan to use in the once-a-year family football game in the long, long front yard which doubled as a football field – a field which extended from the giant hackberries on the east to Mr. Merriweather’s endangered garden fence on the west.

So, unmindful of the harsh winter winds, the brothers walked the country roads, knocking on the doors to see if friendly Mrs. Bursey needed her garden grounds turned or if good ol’ Mr. Plumber needed some chore done. Or maybe this neighbor or that neighbor needed to buy another tin of Cloverine Salve or a shiny picture of Jesus.

Alas – and fortunately – someone did have an odd job that needed doing and the brothers did it and later in the day the brothers happily headed home, fifty cents the richer.

Roger Summers

That night, they dragged out their skinned, battered, flattened football, the one they’d booted into the giant hackberries or hung in Mr. Merriweather’s fence lo’ those many Christmases – and all the days in between – before.

They dreamed: if only they could find a football bladder to replace the flattened one that had seen its day they’d have their Christmas football.

They beat the sun up the next morning and the older brother raced the half-mile to the country bus stop to catch the next bus bound for downtown and,

hope upon hope, perchance to find and buy a football bladder.

The plan was carefully drawn during the anxious, sleepless night—a nickel for the bus ride to town, a nickel for the bus ride home, 40 cents for the football bladder.

On that day, the brothers were to learn that dreams which turn into reality are made of perseverance and hard work and, yes, more than a modicum of luck.

Plus, acres of gumption, the required stuff of country livin’ in that day.

The older brother trudged up and down the downtown streets for hours, in and out of every department store, every shop which even remotely seemed to have a chance of stocking a football bladder.

He skipped the hamburger stands and the popcorn machines and such, though their lure more than once almost separated him from some of the 45 cents he had left.

Temptation, thy name is the aroma of onion burgers frying on the grill, corn pop-pop-popping inside the department stores.

On and on.

Search here.

Look there.

Disappointment upon disappointment.

No football bladder to be found.

Soon the sun would start to bed down for the night. Soon the last country bus would run. Soon would fade any last glimmer of hope there would be a Christmas football.

No run-pass-kick for the clan on the front lawn, which, in a way was the greatest Christmas gift of all.

He trudged back toward the bus stop, as deflated as the well-worn football at home, pausing for a final, extended look at the new football in a store window, knowing all the while there wouldn’t be enough odd jobs at Mrs. Bursey’s or Mr. Plumber’s or time to sell another tin or two of Cloverine Salve or another shiny picture of Jesus to raise that kind of money before Christmas.

On to the bus stop.

On to seeming defeat.

He leaned against a building to await the disappointing ride home. But, after a while, he realized the building he was using as a prop housed a variety store. No use, he first thought. A variety store probably would not have sports stuff. Certainly not a football bladder.

But the wind grew colder, more punishing, and the bus was not in sight, so he stepped inside the variety store.

At least it would be a place to get warm.

The proprietor was a jolly man and when he said, yes, he did indeed have a football bladder – a single football bladder – he was, in an instant, transformed into Santa, though his suit probably was gray, not red.

Then came the letdown.

The price was one dollar, one unattainable, unavailable dollar.

The boy pulled his 45 cents from his pocket. The proprietor said he’d sell the bladder for that since it was Christmas. Then the store owner asked whether the boy had bus money home. No matter, the boy said, he would walk ‘n’ run home. He could do it in a couple of hours.

He had done it before when there was no nickel for the country bus. But the store owner wouldn’t hear of it, sold the bladder for 40 cents, let him keep a nickel for the bus ride home, patted the boy on the back, wished him Merry Christmas, and sent him on his way.

Happiness was a country, pothole bouncing bus ride home.

That night, the brothers carefully inserted the new bladder into the well-worn pigskin, laced it, and aired it with a hand pump.

On Christmas Day, it served superbly for the family football game and weathered the hard knocks it took when kicked into Mr. Merriweather’s fence or when booted into the hackberries.

That chilly, quiet Christmas night, after the day’s big family meal and after the clan had played family football and gone its way, the brothers stood at either end of the long, long front yard and, using a brilliant full moon to keep track of the ball, kicked and threw to each other the best football they had ever had.

And ever would.

Back and forth.

Back and forth.

That particular Christmas, that resurrected football, that little variety store, that understanding proprietor are gone now.

Yet they are there.

There in the cherished, 20-20 memory of the two brothers, there from a Christmas of long, long ago,

There to bring a special warmth, a special meaning, a special understanding, a special glow to each passing Christmas.

And now to this one.

And all of those to come.

Please click HERE to find Heart Songs from a Washboard Road, a short story collection written by Roger Summers.

 

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