Two weeks ago at the end of Super Bowl Sunday, I found myself sitting in a small city airport, expecting to see lots of people dressed in Seahawks paraphernalia even though we weren’t contenders. Sadly, I was the only person decked in my gear. I had just enjoyed four days in Spokane with MY HERO, MY SISTER, Melissa.
We had left each other at the departures curb after a long good-bye and big hugs. During the afternoon we had watched the second half of the game at a wine bar overlooking the river and the slight, though sparkling, Spokane skyline. A fun bluegrass band played when we entered the bar. The game was projected on the giant screen in front of us but there was no commentary to be heard. That was just fine with me.
Melissa’s husband, my brother-in-law, died four months ago. He played college football and refereed high school ball. When we found out almost two years ago that he had pancreatic cancer, I called to ask, “Hey Monte, you can’t leave yet. I don’t know nearly enough about sports. Can I text you and ask for details about professional football or any sport for that matter?” He laughed and replied, “Penny, you can ask me anything you want about sports, but not about cancer. I know sports, not cancer.” So this lovely relationship began through texting about gruesome football of all things. Actually it continued and deepened.
Wow, there sure is a lot of culture around American football, including my own personal cultural memories. For instance, I remember my football-loving grandmother who lived in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. She had a college degree—not a given in her era—with a major in PE. On holidays, I’d watch Washington Redskins games with her. I remember the slow motion television replays that made even tackles look like ballet. She called her beloved players “n—–“ thus creating a complicated, early memory for me. While I remember those games as generally fun times with Grandmom, that racist slur definitely tainted the warmth. Now her favorite team’s mascot has changed and they’re the Washington Nationals. Times have changed (or more fairly, are changing).
We began revisiting football when my nephew played for the nearby high school team. They’d lost forever until the freak streak when Elliot was a wide receiver….and my daughter Carolina was a teddy bear mascot. Now that’s a fun memory on all counts.
Then my father—an elementary school principal/English major who was decidedly too skinny to ever show much interest in playing football, found himself seriously aging at 92. That’s when the Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson from Richmond, Virginia (same hometown as my Dad and me) started leading his team (AND OURS!) to a Super Bowl championship. Fantastic! By that time my Dad had given up tennis, then ping pong. He’d shifted from riding a bicycle to a tricycle. Even when it finally came down to someone following his trike around the block with an oxygen tank, he could still watch and celebrate pro-ball 100%. He even dressed up as Russell Wilson for his retirement community’s Halloween party. And NO, he did not use black-face.
Next was Monte, my rules instructor. We texted back-and-forth for 13 months during Seahawks games. Me with the questions; Monte with the answers. I even texted him unknowingly during his last breath to let him know I’d be home soon and turning on the game. Now, I’ve transferred this text banter to his wonderful son, my nephew Andy. Every now and then I pull a “Haha” from him.
Back to that recent Super Bowl night though…
I wondered how I could enjoy this game I think is so bloody extreme? I hate the hurt it causes. Such a hot testosterone mess! And yet…I love the culture. The community. The conversations. I miss Monte and it seems like a good way to continue connecting as a family.
It was certainly perfect to be in Spokane for that particular weekend with my gorgeous sister who is doing it! She’s managing all the gargantuan shifts in her life—financial, emotional, etc.
I am fricking amazed at how many people she knows. I loved the wonderful bright green-and-blue Seahawks pants she wore for our evening together. I treasure the stories she told me, about Monte’s last minutes, about the first night he was on the other side, about the softest times.
I’m happy to say I could downplay those glasses of wine at the Alaska Air and TSA check-ins. I even talked them out of charging me $30 for the extra bag. Maybe it was my Seahawks Rashad Penny shirt? Didn’t even have to pull my own cancer card to get that. But I will pull up that trick Melissa taught me if/when needed.
Yes, I have learned A LOT from Melissa, my favorite coach. She’s living through every wife’s nightmare with decorum that is transparent and inspiring. I think she is becoming more beautiful all the time. The new coaching job suits her.
*Photo was taken last April when Monte and Melissa stayed in Seattle for extended experimental treatment. They lived in an apartment on Capitol Hill near Virginia Mason for the duration, thanks to the largesse of our friends, Randy and Eliza. While we walked that first evening after dinner, we spotted Seahawks coach Pete Carroll out for a stroll too. I think there was also a rainbow in the sky that night.