The NCAA National Championship. Alabama is playing Clemson in a fight to the death. I am in a living room with my elderly mother-in-law, Mary, preparing to watch the big game.
Mother Mary sits beside me, sipping seltzer water. Mother Mary is eating ice cream. Mother Mary is hard of hearing.
The phone rings.
She answers the phone.
“HELLO?!” she hollers into the phone. “YES! THAT’S RIGHT! WE’RE WATCHING THE GAME! HOW ARE YOU, EDNA?”
“OH, ISN’T THAT NICE?”
I’m tuning her out and focusing on the television. This is, quite possibly, the most pivotal game of all time. These are the best teams in the—
“HAAAAAAAH! IS HE STILL ALIVE? OH, I REMEMBER WHEN HE WAS A YOUNG MAN, HE WAS HANDSOME! REMEMBER WHEN HE USED TO WEAR THOSE BASKETBALL SHORTS! REMEMBER? THOSE REALLY TIGHT SHORTS? LORD HAVE MERCY, I DIDN’T HATE THOSE SHORTS.”
Shoot me now.
“YES! THAT’S RIGHT! THEY WERE SUCH SKIMPY SHORTS FOR SUCH A WELL-BUILT, STRONG BOY!”
The Lord is my Shepherd…
Clemson scores. Alabama is falling behind. This is difficult to watch. Our team is making big mistakes.
“UH HUH! I JUST SPOKE WITH BEVERLY YESTERDAY! YOU KNOW SHE HAD THAT GOITER CUT OFF HER NECK LAST WEEK? DO YOU KNOW THE DOCTORS CUT IT OPEN AND FOUND SOME TEETH AND HAIR INSIDE IT? BLESS HER HEART!”
This game is tense. In fact, I am so nervous, I am about to make a puddle from all the stress. But the important thing to remember here is—
“OOOOOHHH NOOOOOOOOO! SHE DID?! REALLY? OH, GOD LOVE HER! I HEARD SHE HAD HIP SURGERY! HOW IS SHE? OH, SHE IS? THAT’S WONDERFUL! ISN’T SHE JUST THE SWEETEST THING? BUT A LITTLE BIRDIE TOLD ME HER POTATO SALAD TASTED LIKE FERTILIZER!”
Alabama is still behind. Their defense has been drowning. We are falling. I don’t want to talk about it.
I crawl off the sofa to stretch my legs and get something cold to drink. I’m trying to stay positive about this game, even though our heroes are behind.
“UH, HUH! I REMEMBER IT LIKE YESTERDAY! ALL THOSE BASKETBALL PLAYERS CAME TO OUR HOUSE FOR LUNCH WHEN I WAS A TEENAGER! AND LORD, THOSE SHORTS THEY WORE, SO SHORT AND PERFECT…”
He leadeth me beside the still waters…
“AND SO VERY, VERY TIGHT!”
Miss Mary giggles like a teenager.
I sit down with a cold beverage. The game is a tragedy.
Another touchdown by Clemson. Lots of applause on the TV. Alabama is done for.
“HAAA HAAAH! SO THEN SHE TELLS HIM, ‘YOU BETTER PUT THAT SPATULA DOWN, OR I’M GONNA SHOW YOU WHERE YOU CAN SHOVE THAT PEAR SALAD!’ YES! THAT’S WHAT SHE TOLD HIM! HAND TO GOD!”
Another fantastic play by the opposing team. Our boys are losing ground. This is a bloodbath I can hardly watch.
“DID YOU KNOW JIMMY COKER HAS A BOX SEAT?! YES HE DOES! WELL, BELIEVE IT, EDNA! I WONDER HOW MUCH ONE OF THOSE SPECIAL BOXES COSTS? IS JIMMY COKER STILL MARRIED? WHAT A SHAME, HE ALWAYS WAS KINDA CUTE! DID YOU EVER NOTICE HOW MEN WITH MONEY ARE ALWAYS SO MUCH CUTER?!”
Now the game is over.
My beloved team has lost. The University of Alabama gave it all they had, and even though they were conquered, I am not disappointed in them. I will never be disappointed in them.
“OKAY TAKE CARE! GOODNIGHT!” Mother Mary says, hanging up the phone.
Then, she grins at me.
“So,” she says. “Which team won?”
I hang my head.
We turn the TV off. Miss Mary is ready for bed. My wife removes the oxygen nose piece from her face. Mary leans onto her walker and we help her shuffle to the bedroom.
When she is all tucked in, she hugs me and says, “Sweetie, it’s only football. Don’t be so sad. We’ll get’em next year, right?”
“Yes, ma’am,” I say.
She touches my cheek. Her eyes are smiling at me with the wisdom of years.
“Sean,” she says. “I’m sorry I talked about those skimpy basketball shorts.”
“It’s okay, Mother Mary.”
“But Lord have mercy, those tight shorts really were something to see.”