Alabama is playing Oklahoma University, and it is my birthday. And I am writing you.
As it happens, I was born during an Alabama game. Coach Bear Bryant’s final match. The Liberty Bowl was playing on the television in the corner of the delivery room the moment I drew breath.
The fighting Illini and the Crimson Tide were locked in heated battle. And by the third quarter, the doctor was holding me by the feet, swatting my white hindparts.
The score was 12 to 14. The University of Alabama was barely ahead.
They tell me that my father almost dropped me when Oliver Williams scored a touchdown for Illinois that nearly tied the game.
He was so upset that he removed his surgical cap, threw it on the ground, then shouted.
My mother says the first thing my infant ears heard was the voice of my father saying…
Well, use your imagination.
The truth is, my father hadn’t wanted kids when he was a younger man. That’s what my mother told me.
He’d had such a lousy upbringing that he wasn’t going to have children. The details don’t matter, but his childhood was no cakewalk.
But, his best friend’s three little daughters changed his mind. My mother says he came home one night from a barbecue and announced, “I wanna have a baby.”
My mother answered, “Great. Let me know if you need any help.”
They tried, but nothing happened. My mother had a two miscarriages. The doc told her she was barren.
Then, one day my mother saw a greasy televangelist on TV who hollered:
“There’s someone out there who wants a baby, God hears you! Believe, and ye shall have a child!”
That’s all it took. My mother learned she was pregnant with me shortly thereafter, and the televangelist went down in history for being a notorious larcenist.
After she gave birth, she handed me to my father and we became friends.
He carried me all over creation. She said he was so smitten with me that she only got to hold me twice during my first six years.
My mother claims I never slept in a bed until I was three weeks old. I mostly slept in his arms. He would talk to me all night long in a whispered voice.
Somewhere in my brain, those conversations are recorded.
When I was in third grade, I wrote my first book report on lined paper. I’ll never forget it. The report was about the Three Musketeers. My father was the first to read my words.
When he finished, he slapped the paper on the counter and said, “By God, you’re a writer! My son’s a writer!”
I got a ‘B’ on the report. My mother tells me that my father wanted to march into the school and raise Cain.
“That paper deserved an ‘A!’” he was shouting. “Why I oughta give that Methodist woman a piece of my mind!”
She also tells me that he took my book report to his jobsite and waved it around to all his friends, saying, “My son’s a writer!”
I don’t know if that’s true or not. But I like to think it is.
By my seventeenth birthday, my father had already been dead for five years. It was a dark birthday.
But my mother wasn’t about to let it stay that way. She made me call in sick for work. She took me to see a movie, then to a Mexican restaurant called Pepito’s. We ate chips and salsa until I almost passed out from a food coma.
I ordered the chimichanga. She ordered the fish. We ate, we laughed, it was a wonderful day.
When supper was over, I heard a sound from the back of the room. It was singing.
A group of cooks, waiters, waitresses, and dishwashers were marching toward me, clapping, singing in Spanish:
“Feliz cumpleaños a ti, feliz cumpleaños a ti!”
They placed a sombrero on my head, and a bowl of fried ice cream before me. When they finished, the whole restaurant applauded a redhead in an oversized hat.
My mother gave me a three twenty-dollar-bills in an envelope with my name on it.
She managed to turn a dark day into one of the highlights of my year.
When we got home that evening, there was a package, wrapped in a red ribbon, sitting on our kitchen table.
“What’s this?” I said to her.
“Open it,” she said.
It was an portable Olympia typewriter, in a black leather carrying case.
“It used to be mine,” she said. “A long time ago, but now it’s yours, since you’re a writer.”
We hugged. I cried, even though I didn’t mean to.
“Don’t cry, Sean,” she said. “Just promise me that one day, you’ll write something for me.”
And well, you just read that something.