Indigo Insights

Saturday, February 01, 2003

Football Heroes sometime become Life Heroes. At least it happened for me.

Football, or sports in general, was way down on my priority list when I was in high school. My world was all about music. Then one day I had an epiphany that would change the course of the rest of my life. It became evident to me that the neatest boys were not as interested in Chopin as they were football. That was when I was motivated to become a cheerleader and pursue fall activities that would take me away from the piano bench. A real hunky baseball player had caught my eye and, coincidentally, he decided to go out for the football team that same fall. The fact that cheerleaders and team players rode to games on the same bus had absolutely nothing to do with our decisions.

Although baseball was his first priority and love, he enjoyed football once he got into it because he could show off his running and agility. He played left end, now known as tight end. The adulation from the stands when he made a touchdown didn't hurt either. His extraordinary strength and excellent physical condition made him a natural in athletic prowess. He was a farm boy, used to hard labor, and had muscles that were the envy of many of the city boys. Some of my city girl friends were a little envious of me too! Once when he was teasing me, he picked me up like a sack of potatoes, and I was afraid he would drop me. He said I was light as a feather, compared to the 200-lb bags of fertilizer he had loaded all day on the farm. Muscles, galore.

His participation on the team and mine on the cheering squad intensified the bond between us. We had a little ritual before every game. When he made the team, I had given him a rabbit's foot for good luck - a really big deal in those days! He wanted to wear it around his neck only during the game, way down under all the uniform padding, so our ritual was I would meet him for a few fleeting seconds as he ran out of the field house to go onto the field; I would put the chained rabbit's foot around his neck and give him a quick kiss on the cheek for good luck. After the game he returned it to me to keep until the next game, when the ceremony would be repeated. Mild by today's standards, but very meaningful stuff to my generation's teens. Funny how small things were so important then. I still have that rabbit's foot.

"They tried to tell us we're too young - too young to really be in love. They say that love's a word - a word we've only heard - but can't begin to know the meaning of." Nat King Cole sang it, and we proved it wrong. Storybook "highschool sweethearts marry and live happily ever after" scenario. We married young; had a family young; grew up with our children; and enjoyed every minute of it. While life was happening (John Lennon), our son and daughter were the joys of our lives and ultimately gave us grandchildren who enriched us too.

It was an ongoing joke between us that he gave up a major league baseball career to marry me. I would quip back that I gave up a concert pianist career to marry him. His joke was a lot closer to the truth than mine. Semi-pro baseball scouts continued to approach him even after we had two children. So his talent was recognized by someone other than himself! Yes, he was a hotdog ball player. Even in his forties, after both children were married, he won the MVP trophy in the town softball league. To the delight of the crowd, and himself (!), he could still catch fly balls in the outfield, one-handed, behind his back.

Besides his sports talents, he was the quintessential Southern gentleman, wonderful husband, model father to his children and son to his parents, and a benchmark- setting grandfather. Goodness of heart and spirit and winning smile were his trademarks. Forget "Everybody Loves Raymond". Everybody loved Willis.

Today marks the second anniversary of his death. The void in my life will never go away, but faith tells me he is hotdogging in that Big Outfield in the Sky. And still smiling.