If you have lived in Texas for any length of time, you know very well that Friday nights beginning in September are all about high school football. And if your team does well enough, that season can stretch deep into the winter. But most of us usually don't have the good fortune of our team going "all the way" down the championship road and so we only get to spend eight to ten Friday nights in the stands cheering on our boys.
My Friday night was spent with a delightful young lady, who I have to admit, was not my wife. No, she's a sweet, young and gorgeous blonde and let me just say, she's more than fond of me. Folks might have a thing or two to say at the age difference, until they knowingly figure out that this ten-year old bombshell is my granddaughter, Cristian.
Ms. Cristian attends grade school in Joshua, Texas and starts making plans with her granpapa weeks and weeks in advance for out "date night" during homecoming week. She inquires about the mum and where we'll eat, if we get to sit on the 50 yard line and most importantly if we have to stay for the entire game. (Insert chuckle).
On this Friday night, the Mighty Joshua Owls would be taking on the Arlington Seguin Cougars for a hopeful homecoming win. As we entered the stadium, you could feel the electricity in the air. The smell of fresh popcorn and nachos blanketed the entire snack area . My date and I had just finished dinner at the local DQ not even five minutes prior, but the smell of fresh popcorn always taps into that primal hunger spot and my mouth immediately began to let me know that my nose picked up the fragrance. It must have hit Cristian too, because she immediately asked for nachos, popcorn, M & M's and a soda. I convinced her that her mind and tummy were having a conflict and we'd settle the fight at halftime.
We took our seats in seats 25 and 26 on Row Q and began to watch the pre-game festivities. The visiting team was at the south end of the stadium warming up and the Owls were at the North end doing the same. The stands were filled with ardent fans shaking empty metal containers with anything from rocks to pennies to see whose side could make the most noise for their team. In front of us, a choir of about 40 - 50 students were busy "warming their pipes" to sing the National Anthem, acappella. The cheerleaders were all huddled together in the end zone working over last minute details on the paper "spirit wall" the players always smash through on their way to the field.
Finally the time had come. The announcer asked all to rise and for the gentlemen to remove their caps and hats in respect to the flag ceremony. After the Navy Junior Reserve Officers had posted the flag, the group broke into a rousing, although very fast paced, version of the national anthem. After they were done, a display of appreciation erupted that set my heart and patriotism afire. God bless America.
The teams took the field and the Joshua Owls won the toss. The crowd was ecstatic and into the game immediately. The Owls marched the ball down almost effortlessly and scored the first touchdown. The stadium erupted into applause and cheer, for the Mighty Owls had drawn first blood.
At the half, the score was 21-14, in favor of the visiting Cougars. The two teams moved up and down the field running, passing, intercepting, tackling and putting forth effort at a level that you just don't see in the National Football League. These kids aren't influenced by multi-million dollar contracts, signing bonuses and endorsement deals. They're influenced by the boys around them, their coaches and fellow students and most especially, their community. Money and notoriety beyond the city limits doesn't concern them tonight. Tonight, they play for respect from the visiting team, family, friends and the community.
Around the latter part of the third quarter, the questions began to come from the tired and weary young lady sitting beside me. "Granpapa, when are we going to leave?" I answered, "when the game is over sweetheart". I absolutely enjoy our yearly get together at the stadium and the time we get to spend together before, during and after the game. It's a time that I get to reflect on how much she matures and grows each year between our dates. She's getting to be quite the young lady.
She is now in the 5th grade and is starting to show interest in school activities. She ran for Student Council, she's joined the choir and is doing as much as she can with the energy she has to do them. She's a wonderful person and I love her dearly. But what amazes me more and more each day, is how she deals with Tourrette's Syndrome and a lower level of disorder in the Autism spectrum called Aspberger's Syndrome that she has to work through. If you were around her for any length of time, you'd begin to see the traits of someone that aren't normally displayed in other children's developmental cycle. But just seeing her from a distance, you can't see anything blatantly obvious. And this child is brilliant. She's always on the honor roll at school, she's in accelerated math and has the memory of a computer's hard drive.
Miss Cristian and I had another wonderful evening at homecoming this year. But unlike the previous two years, the Mighty Owls of Joshua High School had met up against a mightier opponent. The clock was dwindling down and with less than six minutes left in the game, the score went up to 31-20. I looked over at my date and could tell she was bored out of her little mind, so I told her to get her things and we'd leave. She said, "I thought you said we were leaving when the game is over?". "It is over sweetie, let's go home".
One more year of the sights, sounds and flavors of Homecoming has come and gone. Although our team didn't win, it was a memorable night. Friday Night Lights will always hold a wonderful place in my heart and mind when I get too old to get out and enjoy the real thing. It'll remind me of special times that I was fortunate enough to spend with a wonderful young lady that has entered my life. I pray that one day, she takes her son or daughter or a grandchild out on this most special of all occasions in the fall, here in Texas. Life is all about memories you see. And the more times you can take to make them, the more you'll carry with you in the "golden years". Happy Friday night, Texas.
"I may not get much done, but I sure am slow"...