I went to my first University of Kentucky basketball game in the mid 1980’s. I can’t tell you the exact game or all of the players but there are a few vivid memories. I was in awe of Rupp Arena and the sheer number of people gathered in one place united in their love for a team of college kids dressed in blue and white. It was very loud and as soon as everyone stood for the fight song, I was hooked. The drums, the clapping, and sheer joy reeled me into a world of “having a team”.
Years of watching games on television, live at Rupp, and listening to Cawood Ledford on the radio followed. All of those memories are attached to my late father. We would make the two and half hour trek to Lexington : from Highway 80 to where it exists onto Highway 15. As the curves of 15 began to straighten out, we’d hit the Mountain Parkway. Soon the mountains were behind us and the promise of an adventure was at the end of I75.
I haven’t watched the UK men play a game live in over two years. I just couldn’t. A dear friend even gave me tickets to Big Blue Madness a few months after my dad died and I gave them back. The thought of ever enjoying a basketball game, especially one that involved my beloved Wildcats, seemed impossible. Who would I call after it was over to analyze the missed calls? What if I walked in and just fell apart and one of those sweet ushers in the blue blazers thought I was nuts?
I kept watching games but it was rough. I didn’t get as excited, not even two years ago when UK won the championship. I was thrilled but I cried myself to sleep that night.
Throughout the last two seasons I kept trying to care. I kept hoping that part of my healing process would involve basketball, specifically UK basketball. My husband Stephen has had to watch and endure this process with me. He also loves basketball. He tried to get tickets on my birthday this year but it didn’t work out. I wasn’t upset.
I kept watching and waiting and little glimpses of hope would appear. I was downright livid when UK lost to Florida in the SEC Championship. Stephen was smiling at me and when I asked why he said, “I like this.” Tonight after UK earned a trip to the Sweet 16 in Indianapolis he told me to buy a ticket and go. I thought perhaps he was having some sort of episode. Who would watch the kids? Do you know how much tickets cost??? Seriously…are you BEING serious?
A broken heart cannot be pieced together overnight. Sometimes there are even sections that disappear and cannot be replaced. Tonight I learned that a small piece of paper with a row and seat number can place a band aid over that empty spot but the love behind that band aid can do so much more.
Each night Lily goes through her piggy bank and Christmas/birthday money envelope and adds more change or small bills to her Ziploc bag. It goes into her backpack heavy with pennies, quarters, and nickels. I imagine that bag must feel like 10 pounds of gold in her small hands. She is almost giddy as she decides which treasure she will purchase at the school book fair. I listen as my tall, skinny middle child tells me that she is buying a princess cat poster for her younger sister and a book about the latest Barbie movie… “Mom, Bailey will LOVE it!!” I can’t argue.
Then she turns, and as I try to remember what she looked like before the braces with green bands she carefully selected to prevent any pinching on St. Patrick’s Day, Lily says, “Do you think it’s okay if I buy something for my friend? He doesn’t have any money.” I have to take a second so she won’t see that my eyes are filling with tears. The Ziploc bag that may not survive much longer in the depths of an 8 year old hoarder’s backpack now has a $5 bill. In terms of money, that amount won’t make a huge difference. But I hope the book, poster, or pencil sharpener that is purchased with that wrinkled bill will feel like a warm hug from a sweet little girl.
**Disclaimer: Much of this post was in my Facebook status yesterday. I took my thoughts and added a bit more to come up with this blog post.
Sometimes it’s hard to come to grips with the fact that my three girls (ages 9, 8, and 4) don’t get excited about the prospect of driving two hours round trip for a regional basketball tournament game. Actually they don’t seem super enthused for a drive half as long for a regular season matchup.
Maybe I’ve failed them in some way. Perhaps there are more distractions now than there were when I was a kid. I lived for trips to games with my dad when I was their age. I had no idea that madness was contained to March for people outside of the mountains I called home. Wasn’t it normal for at least three months out of the year to ask “Hey, which region are you from” instead of what town?
How can I describe to my daughters the thrill of walking into a gym packed to the rafters with the rest of the town watching a round ball determine joy and sorrow? Is there anything more satisfying than a bag of popcorn, a cold Pepsi, and running to the car to beat the crowd after the final buzzer? I can close my eyes and hear my dad make call after call and feel his frustration grow because the refs never listened to his advice.
Maybe it isn’t the sport after all that I want so much for my daughters to love the way I do. Perhaps I want to live it all again through their eyes and recreate a brief moment in time that made all the difference to a skinny little girl with braces who would write about many basketball games but never actually play in one. I wish I could share the miles of words and moments that took place on twists and turns of every road my dad and I travelled together to see yet another Friday night barn burner. The invisible map of that journey is one of pure joy and love and is forever imprinted on my heart. If I could show my dear children that map, they could see that even though their Poppy is no longer on this Earth, he left behind a beautiful trail for them to follow.