The SEC Championship football game is playing on a television in an empty living room.
In this room there is no furniture, no framed pictures, no lamps, and no signs of life. Just a barren house and spiders who died of old age.
This used to be my mother-in-law’s house. Now that she is no longer with us, it’s a tomb.
My wife and I are seated on the hard floor, watching our last game in this room, eating box dinners. The Michelob never tasted so bittersweet.
Alabama just intercepted the ball. My wife leaps to her feet, howling, dancing the Cabbage Patch, shouting at the TV.
We are big TV shouters in this family. It’s tradition. My wife is worse about shouting than I am. If you ever get a chance, ask my wife about the time Washington Nationals Park security approached her about yelling inappropriate remarks to a starting pitcher regarding his mother.
But anyway, it’s hard to believe that only one hundred days ago this living room was populated with cushy sofas, oaken side tables, brass floor lamps, gaudy 1970s wall art, and easy chairs.
What’s more, these rooms once contained my mother-in-law’s Christmas decorations, her cookbook anthologies, her porcelain figurines, her past issues of “Southern Living” dating back to February 1966, and her closets full of outdated polyester clothing.
But after the recent estate sale, all that remains is a TV.
Over the years I watched this TV a lot with with my mother-in-law. I have seen roughly four million Hallmark Channel Christmas movies on this screen. I’ve seen each episode of “Murder She Wrote” six or seven times. And I’ve watched all nine seasons of “Little House on the Prairie” thrice.
And, of course, each year the family would gather in this den to watch the SEC Championship. On this humble 48-inch low-definition screen, I’ve seen Alabama win seven SEC titles. After tonight, eight.
It all seems like ancient history now.
Still, when I close my eyes I can remember the old days spent in the company of these walls. Long ago, my wife’s parents would sit in His and Hers BarcaLoungers, the TV would be blaring at a volume loud enough to affect the migratory patterns of geese.
Come December, the Christmas decor would be in full bloom. This room always looked swell for Christmas.
My mother-in-law recruited me to put up the holiday decorations because I am a pushover. Decorating this house was a three-week-long affair. I spent most of that time dangling from a six-story ladder, hyperventilating, and muttering the 23rd Psalm.
The old woman would bark orders like a little communist dictator. She was a vicious taskmaster when it came to decorations. By the time we family members finished adorning every nanometer of her blamed house, we were homicidal. Or inebriated.
Then she fed us homemade cheese straws and all was forgotten.
But Alabama football games were by far my favorite activity at this house. My father-in-law would shout at the television, dog cuss, and throw glassware at the screen. And that was just during the commercial breaks. He hollered much louder during the game itself.
The rest of the family would joyously chime in, shouting after each major play.
One day, the old man encouraged me to join in all the shouting. “No thanks,” I said, inasmuch as I didn’t do much shouting in those days. I was a quiet kid, accustomed to watching games alone. You don’t shout when you watch games alone.
But my father-in-law would not tolerate quietness. Not in his living room. He coaxed me to raise my voice one afternoon until I strained a diaphragm muscle from yelling at the Samsung television like an idiot.
And I had a blast.
There I was, yelling at an inanimate flatscreen along with this loud, and gaily animated family. We ate popcorn by the fistful, spilled drinks on our laps, and pounded our fists on coffee tables like professional wrestlers during critical third-down situations. It was nothing short of magical.
But nothing lasts forever. Especially not magical stuff. People get older. People get sick. Loved ones leave this world. We lost my wife’s father first. Then her mother’s health went downhill.
It wasn’t long before my wife and I were putting up Christmas decorations while her mother was attached to a nasal cannula, struggling to breathe. The old woman didn’t have the energy to bark orders anymore. She didn’t even have the stamina to care about cheese straws.
Sitting in this vacant house brings it all back. Tonight I wonder if it all really happened. Was it all real, our lives? Or was it just a dream?
Were we really that youthful and naïve couple once? Did we really have a life here? Where did my freckles go? When did we start getting old?
Speaking of old. In a few months this old house will be sold. Some happy family will move into this place, renovate it, fix it up, and turn it into a real estate peach. On that day, all our memories will be covered beneath latex interior paint. The sound of our laughter will be forever embedded within these walls, never to be heard again.
But tonight—just for tonight—my wife and I are happy. We are watching Alabama win, and remembering our life as it was. We are rubbing elbows with familiar ghosts and friendly spirits. We are smiling.
And, of course, we are shouting at the TV.