Three Thanksgivings – Part 2
“Hi, Mom. It’s your good son, Paul.”
“Hi, honey.” She has given up on trying to correct my brother and I from extending the vestiges of our sibling rivalry to our phone calls to her.
“I’m calling to let you know that I won’t be coming down on Thanksgiving to watch the Longhorn game with Dad.”
“Oh, he’ll be disappointed. Why not?”
“Well, I’m actually going to the game…”
I’m embarrassed to confess on this hallowed forum, that I’ve never actually paid for tickets to a Longhorn football game. As an undergrad, I was usually working on Saturdays, either for school, or to pay for school, and let my poverty of both time and finances keep me from enjoying my God-given access to student admission tickets. The first few years after graduation, I frankly couldn’t have afforded a trip to the concession stand, much less a trip to DKR. Then I went away to grad school and jobs that kept taking me across time zones and into graduate student loan debt. Even after I started my slow climb from student pauper and into fragile solvency, the luxury of being a part of the spectacle, in the crowd, rather than merely observing the spectacle on TV, was far beyond my meager reach.
It is probably the strength of the memory of my student poverty that makes me such an easy mark, and in a nice karmic turn, scored me tickets to the 2010 Aggie game. I’m guessing that many of you have also been on the receiving end of the brilliantly effective emotional manipulation that is current scholarship kids from UT calling you up to thank you for your past support as an alumni donor, and to gouge you for more. They call, and they sound so young and so earnest and, frankly, so impoverished, that I get out the checkbook every damn time. I know I’m being hustled, but I just can’t help myself.
Part of it is a genuine love of the esteemed University to whom I owe my education, and thus my livelihood. Part of it is my awareness as an academic of just how crucial alumni giving is to keeping a school running, especially in this age of dwindling state support. But mostly, I’m a sap. These kids call me up and they are so articulate and so innocent that the paternal instinct pushes my baseline patriotism for all things burnt orange into the desk drawer for the checkbook. I’m sure that my file in the UT Foundation database is marked with “pushover” right next to my giving history. The raw capital they generate off of me isn’t that great, but their hit rate is phenomenal.
In the summer of 2010, the College of Fine Arts sent me, and countless others, an email promising to enter us into a sweepstakes for two tickets to the Aggie game in exchange for updating our information with their register (and if you’d like to click the “donate now” button that’d be great too). I filled it out, mostly out of love of Bevo, as in my experience, “sweepstakes” is an ancient Gaelic word meaning “waste of time.” I’m not sure that I’ve ever been happier to be proven wrong.
The positive energy that I’d put out into the world, through my various donations to my blessed alma mater, had been returned unto me ten-fold in the form of two airline tickets, two nights at the Omni, and two club tickets to the Aggie game. Oprah should write a book.
This did mean the interruption of what might have turned into a family tradition. I had watched the 2009 Longhorn - Aggie game with my Dad. On a TV bolted to the ceiling of his hospital room.
Since then, my parents had acquired a sudden desire to live in Colorado, where I now work, instead of Austin where they had been living in retired bliss. My Father once referred to the last house they bought in Austin as “the house I’m gonna die in,” and that came too close to truth for my Mother’s comfort. And too far from family for emergencies. So within a few months of Dad getting stitched back up, my Mom bought a town house that came with yard service and snow shoveling duties included.
I live about an hour and a half north of Denver; my parents moved 45 minutes south. So I could have my space, my Mom said. It was just one of a myriad of silent negotiations surrounding the future of my aging parents. We’d also had an unspoken assumption that I’d be driving down to watch the game with my Dad, like a good son would.
My daughter was eight at the time, and I wanted to make sure that she got to partake in this burnt orange windfall. She didn’t care too much about football; she often rolled her eyes when her Daddy wanted to turn on “those running boys” as background music for tea parties and games of Candyland. She was only vaguely aware of what Aggies were, and had merely a general sense that they were to be avoided. The few times she had been willing to listen to Daddy try to explain the intricacies of football, the finer points had mostly been uninteresting to her. She’d cheer for touchbacks (“but Daddy, he’s got the ball in the colored part!”), and any discussion of positions devolved into “the big guys, and the ones who run.” Her main interest in football seemed to rest in quizzing me about the abbreviations on the backs of the officials’ uniforms.
Mrs. Flipteach and I had opted for the traditional eight year spacing between children. So, my daughter now had a baby brother introduced into her life, and watched without much complaint as a crying bundle of cuteness and need had taken over much of our lives. When we went to Austin for Thanksgiving, the baby was going to stay with Nana, and Claire was coming with my Longhorn wife and me to the game.
I actually tried to pay for her ticket. I asked the powers that be at UT if I could purchase an adjacent ticket so that my daughter could have her big-girl-no-baby staying up late date with Longhorn destiny. By this time the specter of 5-7 was clearly stalking the season, and for some kind soul in the Dean’s office, being nice to a little girl had more appeal than standing in the bitter cold of a late November night and watching the death rattles of GDGD. We magically got a third ticket.
I think if you asked my daughter what her favorite part of the trip was, she’d probably say it was shopping for Longhorn gear at the Co-Op before the game. A zip up fleece, a Bevo shirt, and her amazement at UT’s ability to put a logo on any object ever created. She, like me, did wonder if secretly an Aggie was behind the Longhorn Loofah. That just don’t seem right.
If it wasn’t the awesome power of the Longhorn marketing arm, it was probably the food. The Omni has ruined her for any hotel her family’s budget will ever take her to, what with their warm chocolate chip cookies at check in. My wife and I were mildly uncomfortable with reflexively polite individuals in uniforms that insisted on carrying our ratty luggage, but my daughter moved easily to the beat of diva-in-training.
Upon arrival at DKR, I swell with pride in my parenting skills when I tell you that I think her Thanksgiving Night meal consisted of chips, queso, ice cream and lemonade by the gallon. She was thankful indeed. If Mack wants to complain when fans arrive late to the game, he might consider cutting off the food. At the pre-game spread, my daughter nearly overdosed on queso – to the point that she almost didn’t want to see the game.
We managed to cajole her out into the stands, and I received a memory for which I will be forever thankful. I watched her face as we stepped out of the shadow of the tunnel towards our seats. The crowd was there, alternating volleys of TEXAS! FIGHT! and her eyes got big, her mouth dropped open, and she stopped and stared.
“How many people is that?!” she asked in awe.
“WHAT?” I shouted back.
“HOW MANY PEOPLE IS THAT?” she called.
100,752 as it turns out.
There were some things my daughter learned that day. She learned a slightly sanitized version the fight song. She learned that Texas is so awesome they have multiple cheerleader-like organizations. And she learned that Daddy is capable of yelling even louder than he does when she doesn’t make her bed, forgets the cap to the toothpaste, or leaves the light on upstairs.
She learned that we cheer FOR our team, not AGAINST the other team. “Go Longhorns!” and “Texas! Fight!” are acceptable, but “Stop the stupid Aggie Poopie-Head!” is a phrase we can avoid. Although I did consider relaxing that particular rule after Cyrus Gray ran for his second break away touchdown, a 48 yarder to go with his insultingly easy 84 romp earlier in the game.
She learned that sometimes, despite our best efforts, the good guys lose. Garret Gilbert led a late 4th quarter drive 68 yards to the Aggie 12 yard line, before a tipped ball interception at the 8 ended any chance for the tying touchdown with 2:37 to play. In a pretty strong metaphor for the season, the Texas D managed to come up with a stop, force a punt, and watched as the ball fell harmlessly to the ground. The clock dribbled out on the year with the Texas O not managing to get back on the field.
Young Miss Flipteach didn’t seem overly concerned with the outcome of the game. She had fun, yelled herself hoarse, and fell in love with UT, but now she was cold, sleepy and (a gallon of lemonade later) in urgent need of a bathroom.
I don’t know that my Dad missed my presence much on Thanksgiving. He can fall asleep in front of the TV pretty well without me there, and photos of his grand-daughter flashing the Hook ‘Em sign can make up for a lot.
The 2010 season for the Longhorns was not filled with a cornucopia of football delights, but I have to say that I wouldn’t exchange my Thanksgiving Day experiences with 2009 at all. Garret Gilbert can get his clock cleaned any day of the week if it keeps my Dad out of the hospital and my daughter in burnt orange.
Part 3 will introduce the further origins of my daughter’s antipathy for all of Aggiedom, and our fondness for jigsaw puzzles.