Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Georgia on Our Minds

Gerald and I have returned from a long wonderful weekend in Athens and Watkinsville, Georgia.  Gerald drove us south all day Friday crawling through the 6 p.m. Atlanta traffic and finally eastward arriving for the late evening with our son and wife, Gerry and Vickie, and the Archibalds.  I hadn’t been down to see their large rented house since Tara join the University of Georgia softball coaching staff, but I could quickly see the house was comfortably large enough for two families.

Bryan and Tara’s three little guys were already in their beds, but the older two, Aidan and Maddux, were not yet asleep. We were able to enter their bedrooms and give them good night kisses.  They were so sweet, and after hugs and grins, they seemed to go right on to slumber land when we left the room.  We did not try that with Payton since he had already fallen asleep. 

With the extraordinarily busy lifestyle the Archibalds-Glascos have and with an important visiting day for UGA softball recruits the next day, they were tired. And, of course, so were we.  We tried not to talk too late but to all go on to bed. I think Gerald was too tired from the trip down to sleep well; so as he is most mornings, he was up very early. Gerry wanted his dad to go on campus with him to observe the huge crowd already there at 7 a.m. ready to camp out tailgating all day for the 7:45 p.m. football game against Vanderbilt.

Tara and Bryan were busy early Saturday morning claiming the spot close to the stadium and setting up the canopy tent for the tailgate supper for  potential softball recruits and their parents and for the hosting freshmen players and parents. Gerry and Tara were working all day, so we had plenty of time to enjoy visiting with the little boys until the late afternoon tailgate time.  I had not seen them for much too long.  Payton, who turned 2 in early March, woke up smiling, and I loved getting re-acquainted with him.  Aidan, 6, and Maddux, 3, had school crafts they had made to show off and lots to tell about. Soon the kids and the adults were playing with Legos, and I spent some time watching Maddux write the alphabet letters of his name and then playing a paper game with Aidan.

After Vickie came back with lunches for all of us, the boys napped, and I even had a chance to review some family history material I had brought with me. Later we sat on lawn chairs in the garage with the door open watching the three boys play a variety of ball and bike activities, some take-offs of real sports and some made-up games. Bryan was there encouraging and playing right with them.  

When Aidan, who has just started first grade, asked me what we played when I was in school, I had to think hard.  I told him about Red Rover, which we played with the entire grade school lined up in two large opposing lines on either side of the huge side yard of our school building.  Obviously we did not have enough people to do that. 

Then I remembered how we sat on steps with crossed hands and tried to fool the kid playing the teacher as to which hand had a rock in it.  If the teacher did not guess correctly, the pupil promoted up a step to the next grade. Aidan soon had a piece of chalk for us to use, and he and Maddux and I moved over to the front steps and played school where two little bulldog statues greet guests at their entrance. Maddux liked getting promoted to fourth grade at the top of the three entry steps. Then I remembered the game about taking giant steps, baby steps, scissor steps according to a leader’s direction, and we played that for awhile. (Although I really could not remember the rules.)

Finally, it was time to don our red and black clothes and join the throngs heading to the tailgate area. Far from the stadium, cars and trucks were already lined up on all approaching streets, and lawns were full of lawn chairs and UGA fans and their friends grilling out.  Parking spots were available for $50 or $25, and scalpers had tickets flashing for the unprepared. Before Bryan put their van in the parking garage, he was kind enough to drop Gerald, Vickie, and me and the boys as near as possible for us to enter the village of red canopies set up on campus in the stadium roadway. Patient people behind us waited while we undid three car seats and grabbed boys and lawn chairs.  Actually Gerald and Vickie did that as it took me that long to get out of the high van. I got to grab Payton’s hand as we headed to the softball tent. 

I don’t know if Norma Holliday and her husband Mike were there all day or not, but I think they were--busily helping the caterers and getting every thing ready for the recruit party. They greeted us and guided us to lawn chairs when we arrived at 4:30 or so and helped keep the boys occupied since they are special friends of these little fellows. They had bean bag games set up and were letting other revelers use them until the softball gang arrived. (Coach Lu Harris-Champer and three little daughters, were up at Macomb at her alma mater Western Illinois University.  Her husband Jerry Champer, UGA associate head swimming coach, was being inducted into Western’s Hall of Fame for being the most winning coach in Western Illinois Swimming and Diving history.)

Although we had slept in our granddaughter Geri Ann’s room, we had not seen her until now since she lives with the other players on campus in the dorm. There was time to socialize with the players and parents and eat supper before the band started arriving and setting up next to us. I never in my life saw so many marimbas marching into play. The weather was very warm, and these brave band members had on heavy uniforms and gloves, but they were obviously enjoying themselves as we listened to drums giving us rhythms to add to the festivities.

Very early people started lining up three and four deep to be behind the band members who formed a large aisle for the traditional Dawg Walk.  Norma and Mike generously let softball players sit in the bed and even on top of their truck parked by our tent. Hundreds of spectators crowded at the wall atop the stadium and hundreds more filled balconies over the stadium staircases long before the band started playing for the Dawg Walk. 

The band was so large that it spread out over the area below those many spectators looking down on them but then they also stretched around the corner from our tent up the roadway.  I was fascinated by not the one director below but another up above looking down and at least two other student directors on very tall sturdy ladders that allowed them to see one another around the corner and, thus, all stay together. 

Because I am short, I had to enjoy just the music and the directors on ladders because all I could see with the rows of taller people in front of me were sometimes the tops on baton twirlers’ heads and then the large tubas as their owners marched by.  I am assuming that football players had marched in during all this pageantry, but I never did even ask.  The whole spectacle was quite exciting with everyone anticipating the lone trumpet player mixed with the top crowd who would sound a few notes on cue.  Then after the band finished playing, two members replaced the on-top director and led the crowd in cheers.

Gerald, who had attended a UGA football game, warned me about the multitude of steps inside the stadium without banisters for us oldsters, and I had instantly declined any plans to attend since I am not a football fan.  Gerald too was glad to go on back to the house and make up for the poor sleep the night before.  So we hugged Geri Ann goodbye as Gerry and Vickie and Tara went on to the game to sit with the recruits and parents and probably over 90,000 more folks who saw Georgia win over Vandy.  After some straightening up, Mike and Norma did yet another good deed and drove us and Bryan and the boys over (way over) to the parking garage. 

On Sunday before I even got up, once again Tara and Gerry were off to campus very early preparing for the first game of the year for the 2013 softball team that afternoon.  Fall games are considered just practice games, but coaches and players know they are very important preparation for the real season during the spring semester. 

I dressed casually for the day and the afternoon game before I came downstairs, where I was pleasantly greeted by little Payton who looked at me and said, “I like your shirt.” 

The Archibalds go to a different church than Gerry and Vickie, because the boys are satisfied in their classes there, so Tara and Bryan are less likely to be called out of the service. Payton will stay happily if the teenage helper named Miss Allie is there to befriend him.  So I decided I’d attend church with Bryan and the boys, and we were relieved that Miss Allie was present.  Started in 2005, the Athens Church was created to provide a place of worship for people who might not like traditional buildings or services. No one needs to dress up or feel pressure to conform.  Music is  loud and passionate, and the two wide screens high in the auditorium allowed an enjoyable view of the talented drummer and other  musicians.

The church’s stated mission is “to lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ,” and they have available staff to help seekers who want to learn more about Jesus.  The sermon too was a different format than I am used to, but it was given by an extremely talented communicator and the message was very helpful to me personally on the importance of our knowing how to draw a line with our own values in difficult situations and to avoid addictions.  I won’t read about Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar ever again in quite the same limited way as before thanks to the pastor’s excellent content.

As we drove away, I liked the way Bryan asked the boys for reports on what they had learned in their classes, and I was more than amazed when Maddux recited his Bible verse along with where it was found. With lunch boxes from a drive-in, we headed to the softball stadium to join the rest of the family already there.  Bryan let the boys decide if they wanted to go to the game and assured them they could leave when they wanted for nap time.  Only Aidan lasted through the double header. Always full of energy, he was happy to the end and as we waited for Geri Ann afterwards to go to dinner with us. 

We were there this particular weekend because we wanted to see Geri Ann’s first Division I college game, and we were not disappointed.  The softball Bulldogs won both games by a respectable score against Georgia State, a good team.  Geri Ann played at first base while junior Morgan Montemayor pitched an excellent game, and we were able to see Geri Ann’s and Tina Iosefa’s first homeruns of the season. Geri Ann pitched the second game, and Tina played first.  The night before, we had met Chelsea  Wilkinson’s mother, who had come from North Carolina to see Chelsea’s first college games. When Chelsea relieved both Mo and Geri Ann, we were able to see why she had such an outstanding high school record.  (She had set the North Carolina record for high school shutouts, perfect games, wins, and innings pitched as well as being an ESPN first team All American.)  Of course, we also liked meeting or at least seeing the other freshman  players—Sam Lazear, Cricket Blanco, Kaylee Puailoa, and Katie Brown—as well as the talented players we enjoyed watching last year.

When the games were over, players iced down, and goodbyes said after more socializing, Aidan and Geri Ann took me through the locker room and offices.  We left to meet up at a steak house with Brian, Maddux, and Payton, where Gerry and Vickie treated us to a celebratory dinner.  As reluctant as we were to end that good time, Vickie had to take Geri Ann back to campus for a tutoring session, and we took Gerry back to the office to do some lock up and tape watching before we gathered again to rehash the games until bedtime.   I was able to hear Aidan read Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed, and I started  packing up for our trip home.

We had a morning visit around the table drinking coffee and admiring Maddux, who loves to dress up.  He was in his fire fighting outfit because their preschool class was going to be concentrating on the letter “f” this week.  I had a hard time thinking of short nouns starting with that letter, but Tara with her elementary ed experience was good at it.  Too soon Tara was taking Aidan and Maddux off to school while Payton was looking forward to having Gma Vickie all to himself.  Bryan, who works for a Chicago-area firm, excused himself to go to work--in his office in their part of the house.  Gerry helped me carry all my bags downstairs and to the car before he left for campus, and Gerald and I were off to creep through the Monday morning Atlanta traffic and on up through Tennessee and Kentucky back to Southern Illinois.  Our conversation on the trip back and now here at Woodsong has mostly been remembering what we laughed at there with our great grandsons and how much we enjoyed watching Geri Ann’s first Georgia games.




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