It’s fall. It’s a chilly, misty morning. The fog is heavy and ethereal, shadows and sunlight dapple the winding country road. I can hear cows bellowing, roosters crowing, trains shrieking and my dad whistling. I’m fourteen. My family (mom, dad and little sister) is on its way to Knoxville, because…
It’s Football Time in Tennessee.
I realize I am writing this for a mom’s blog, so the topic of football may not seem relatable. This post is more about family, however. It’s about something shared by generations, about making memories and learning life lessons.
I grew up in Neyland Stadium, Section A, Row 56. As the daughter of two University of Tennessee graduates and the granddaughter of a season ticket holder since 1968, I know all about the pride and pageantry, the traditions and thrills, the legends and lore of Tennessee football. My family narrative was re-told and re-written every time we attended a game together. The orange thread connecting, extending, weaving and binding. Psychologists have found, according to this article in the New York Times that children who hear stories of their family’s past are more confident and resilient. It states:
“Talking also means telling a positive story about yourselves. When faced with a challenge, happy families, like happy people, just add a new chapter to their life story that shows them overcoming the hardship. This skill is particularly important for children, whose identity tends to get locked in during adolescence.”
My interest in football certainly shielded me from teenage girl drama. Goodness knows, football is dramatic enough. The stories I heard growing up were mostly about the trials and triumphs of the Vols, but because the moments were distinct experiences for my family, these stories served the purpose of shaping my family identity. I love remembering the story of my grandfather (Pops) taking my dad and uncle to their first Tennessee/Alabama game in 1964 and knowing that the last Tennessee/Alabama game my Pops saw was the 1998 win.
Many families make memories on vacation, certainly important but typically more singular and isolated. My myriad of game-day memories connects me deeply to generations of my family. My husband holding our 4-year-old daughter on his shoulders so she can get a glimpse of the Pride of the Southland Band marching down Volunteer Boulevard, knowing my mom’s clarinet trilled with this same band the first time it ever played “Rocky Top.” These are good memories no matter the outcome of that season. However, that 1998 season was particularly special. My Pops, the greatest Vol fan I knew, passed away in November of that year. Just a month earlier, my amazing MawMaw passed away. After witnessing the game of my life on September 19, 1998 (when Tennessee beat Florida 20-17), I did not know the meaning the ’98 season would have for me. When we entered MawMaw’s home north of Knoxville at 1:30 a.m. that night, she simply said (as she pulled out a huge country ham to slice for sandwiches), “I knew they could do it.” My MawMaw possessed great faith – in the good in people, in God and in the Vols, too! That was the last time I saw her alive.
Football has also been a catalyst for creating great relationships outside of my family.
My parents have always modeled the importance of hospitality, generosity and investing in people. They taught me whatever we have the ability to do and whatever we have, we should do it for others and share it with others. Whether it was bringing a friend to his or her first game or inviting coworkers, college roommates or friends of friends of friends to my mom’s famous tailgate party, we always extend a Big Orange welcome and treat any and all as part of our family. Seriously, if you are up in Knoxville on a game day, come have some cheese grits with us at the White Street garage.