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Three Thanksgivings - Part 3

Three Thanksgivings – Part 3

2011

As an Army Brat I’ve had the opportunity to experience much of this great nation of ours, and a fair amount of Europe. Easily the hardest culture to explain that I’ve encountered is the North American Free-Range Texas A&M Aggie. I’ve lived in Texas longer than anywhere else, and I still don’t get the Aggies. Not that I’ve tried all that hard.

As a kid in San Angelo, my main introduction to this particular species was through the Aggie joke, thus my conception of Ags was that they were cartoonish buffoons.

The last time my Dad was stationed in Germany, there was a kid my age that lived up the hill. We’d play war (what did you expect of Army Brats?), and when we’d get thirsty from running around with plastic machine guns, we’d go to whomever’s house was closest for imported American juice boxes. In his house, his father had an entire wall over the mantelpiece dedicated to an anthropological display of Aggie Corps artifacts. I wasn’t allowed to get too close. In pride of place on top of the mantle was a pair of high, brown boots in a custom display case.

One Saturday, after defending democracy from invading hordes of commie bastards, the Aggielet and I went into his house for our ration of Capri Suns. His dad was polishing the boots. Now, as the son of an Army sergeant, I had seen plenty of boots shined in my youth. And it wasn’t all that odd that he was polishing boots that hadn’t been worn in years; my Mother had her share of heirlooms whose family spirits would haunt her if she didn’t dust them regularly. Although these boots had been in a display case. And he wasn’t just dusting. He was wearing some strange uniform. Marching band music was playing a song I’d never heard.

The part of Germany we lived in was predominantly Catholic. I’ve seen High Mass conducted with less ceremony than the reverence with which this man enacted the sacrament of boot polishing. Until he saw me. Then he sheepishly stood in awkward silence. This might be the core of Aggiedom. It’s not just that they are, in fact, cartoonish buffoons. It’s that they know it, are embarrassed by it, and yet they do it anyway. If he had just owned it – just looked up and nodded when his son and I came into the room, and gone about polishing, I probably would have forgotten it. Instead, his embarrassment was so palpable that it infected everything in the room, including me, with a shame I didn’t really understand.

If a man wants to polish his boots while wearing a silly hat, I got no problem with that. It seems to be the quintessence of Aggie to pursue a series of traditions that have become so wholly divorced from the realities that gave birth to those traditions in the first place, that even they don’t really understand why they do them. Then, instead of developing new methods to confront a changing world, they enact these hollow rituals as if the rote repetition can keep the world at bay. It is curious to me, but doesn’t generally harm others, and is thus easy to ignore.

Unless you live among them.

***

“Well, they’re like a cult.”

This is me, trying to explain Aggies to the group of students that had gone with me on a semester abroad trip to a tiny village in Italy. It was supposed to give a small group of art students a chance to view first-hand the monuments of the Renaissance that they had studied, and to soak up a culture by living in the midst of it from January through May. Unfortunately, the culture they were exposed to was Aggie.

The facility we were using exists to host American art and architecture students: Colorado State, Kansas State, UC Davis, UTSA, and two other schools from Texas. The University of Texas uses this converted convent in the Fall and the Summer. But its main client is the Texas A&M University architecture program (fittingly, they don’t teach Art at A&M). It turns out that it is part of the degree requirement that Aggie architecture students have to do an internship or a semester abroad, so that they will go out into the world upon graduation as well rounded individuals. It’s almost as if someone decided that College Station would not foster a sense of creative innovation.

We all ate dinner in a communal dining hall, served “family style” at a fixed time. You aren’t on time, you don’t eat (which, come to think of it, is how my family worked too). The students were encouraged to intermingle, to seek out students from other schools and get to know new people. The Ags sat in packs. It was very High School clique-ish, but that’s not what sent my students running to me to explain Aggie behavior. All of my pupils knew that I was from Texas, so there were numerous instances throughout the semester when they would turn to me for explanation of some strange Aggie behavior. The first night, it was the fact that several times during the meal, some random Aggie would beat the table in a short, kindergarten rhythm and then every Aggie in the room would squeal a “whoop!”

Forty seemingly normal architecture students would be sitting and eating, then Bump da Bump da Bump - “WHOOP!” and pick up with dinner as if nothing had happened. My students couldn’t decide if they wanted to laugh, or hide the sharp utensils from the crazy people.

The real challenge for me wasn’t protecting my thirteen student charges from forty College Station cultists. My real challenge was keeping my then eight year old daughter from taking on two score wackos all by herself. Young Miss Flipteach had only recently become aware of the existence of Aggies, but she knew that they were of suspect moral fiber.

Upon learning of the meaning of this strange chant, my sweet daughter took to shouting “GO LONGHORNS!” at the top of her lungs after each whoop. I thought it was pretty funny, although I did try to keep her from further disturbing the meals of every other diner in the hall. What was really interesting was the fact that a skinny eight year old responding in kind to their misplaced school pride actually seemed to genuinely piss off some of the Ags – in a “how dare she?!” kind of way. Dude, she’s eight. What’s your excuse?

It turns out I made a bad plan. I signed up to run the semester abroad because my son had just been born. Mrs. Flipteach and I thought that spending the Spring in Italy would be a wonderful way to extend the paltry maternity leave she had, and give our older daughter a wonderful cultural experience. We’re both educators, so we could homeschool a 3rd grader while we were nurturing a newborn. It made sense on paper. If you ever want to torture your daughter, it turns out that taking her thousands of miles from her friends to a place where there isn’t an English speaking child her age for hundreds of miles is a pretty good way to temporarily ruin her life. She was homesick, and being surrounded by Aggies didn’t help. We got through it, and managed to keep my daughter from getting run through with a cutlass.

***

Young Miss Flipteach had a greater interest in the Longhorn football season in the Fall of 2011. She’d been to a game. She’d defended Longhorn Nation for a long semester of exposure to Aggie cooties. She was old enough to actually follow some of the strategy of the game. So we watched parts of the season together.

She sat through part of the BYU game. For some reason, her main take away from that experience was loudly declaiming “Just play Ash!” throughout the rest of the season. I’m sure I don’t know where she picked that up.

She saw Fozzy’s kickoff return for a touchdown against OU. (3:27 mark) He instantly became her favorite player.

She was in the room for Fozzy’s kickoff return for a touchdown against Okie State. She now doesn’t understand when any kickoff goes for less than a hundred yards.

She actually was engaged for most of the season in at least checking in with me on how the team was doing. So when she found out that we would play the loathsome, Italy ruining Aggies on Thanksgiving night, she insisted she wanted to watch it with me. The problem is, though, that a college football game is still about an hour and a half too long to hold her interest. So I called in reinforcements; 513 of them to be exact.

We sat at the kitchen table and watched the game streaming over ESPN on my laptop and worked on the puzzle. The stream because I’ve found that the number of ads you don’t want to have to explain to your now nine year old daughter is diminished greatly. The puzzle because if her interest in the game started to wane, I could have her look for Miss Piggy in the crowd (just in front of the band). She not only watched the whole game (way past her bed time); she was riveted.

She didn’t lose faith when the Aggies took an early lead. Jaxon Shipley had to invent some offense for us. Carrington Byndom and the rest of the D kept us in the game (0:37 mark), harassing Tannehill frequently. And even Case McCoy loped his way into the halls of memory.

When Justin Tucker hit the winning field goal, my daughter jumped out of her chair and danced around the room. It is possible that I danced too. We exchanged chants of “We won! We won! We won!” in barely restrained whispers, so as not to wake her baby brother. Just as I thought she was calming down, she busts out with “In your face, stupid Aggies!” Nine year olds shouldn’t trash talk.

Most of the time.

27 – 25.

76 – 37 – 5

Be excellent to each other.

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