© 2015 T.A. Hardenbrook
Unedited/Subject to change
Certain smells can make a person instantly think of home; fresh baked cookies, a dinner cooking in the oven, the odor of bleach after a thorough cleaning. No matter how far you are away from the comfort of home, aromas can instantly bring you back to the warmth of family. For me, it’s the fresh cut grass on a football field that sends my senses into a whirl wind. Those one-hundred-twenty yards are better than any two-bedroom, stucco roof, white picket fence style house any day.
There is nothing better than taking your shoes off on a fresh cut field; letting the short blades run through your toes and feeling the firmness of the ground underneath your feet. Mix that with the white paint used to create the lines and markers, and it is basically heaven on earth. The football field is the one place that everything makes sense to me. I get the layout, I know the plays, and there is always going to be a winner and a loser at the end of the night. Risks are taken when one steps on the field and the clock starts to tick down. Plays are called, coaches yell, and the fans go wild for the entire forty-eight minutes that the guys are putting their all out on the field. This is my safe zone, the one place in the entire world where I can guarantee a black or white finish.
“Shouldn’t you be heading off to college?”
Glancing over to the sidelines, I notice Jerry, the groundskeeper, starting to set out the markers to prep the field for painting. Having a grass field is almost a novelty anymore for any football program, with synthetic turfs being the new and advanced technology that most schools gravitate towards. Still, some diehards refuse to make that transition over; leaving the painting of the lines to the groundskeepers the day before the big game.
“Yeah, I guess.” Shrugging my shoulders, I flash a smile at Jerry while walking over to him. Everyone in a hundred mile radius of this town knows of this man. The football field at Evans County High should be considered a national monument. The grass is always green to perfection, the height of the blades never dip below two inches, and the white lines look they grow straight out of the ground each week. This high school field is perfect, and it’s all because of this old groundskeeper.
“Don’t tell me that you’re not excited for college, Blair?”
“Of course I am. I just hate to leave dad.” Sliding my feet back into my flip flops, I grab the yellow string from his hand and loop it around the wooden stake in the ground.
“Your dad is going to be just fine. Besides, two-a-days start on Monday, and you know firsthand how the rest of summer goes once that chaos begins.” Jerry motions for me to hand over the string, and smiles. His face has been weathered from the sun over the years, but the sparkle in his eyes never seems to dull when he is out here on this field. This field is magic for people who believe in the power of the game.
“I know, I know,” I ramble.
My father lives and breathes football. More specifically, my father breathes Evan’s County football. He has been head coach of the team for the last eighteen years, with fourteen state championships under his belt. This field is all I’ve ever known growing up. I have paced up and down the sidelines since I was able to walk, and before that spent most of my time in the arm of a player who was not on the field. The majority of my wardrobe consists of the crimson and grey, and I can pretty much call any play during the game without looking at my dad’s clipboard. Leaving this field and moving on isn’t something I’m exactly ready to do. Some families have family dinner nights, our family had football games.
“For not being a girl, you seriously have too much crap.” My brother Mitchell complains while loading one the last boxes into the back of his truck bed.
“I am a girl, you jerk.” Sending him a death glare, I toss a plastic bin into the cab of the truck, and slam the door.
“Hey, no need to take out your frustrations on Betsy.” My other brother Nate laughs, patting the top of the truck firmly. This thing is a piece of junk, but for unknown reasons my brother is firmly attached to the scrap of metal.
“Watch it,” Mitchell snaps, narrowing his eyes at the both of us. Not having the guys around this last year had been rough. We are all spaced out almost exactly a year apart in age, and growing up we did everything together. The boys started playing Pop Warner football when they were five and six, and since I was only four, I got stuck on the cheerleading team. Looking back now, it was the only time you would ever catch me on the sidelines shaking a pom-pom. I begged my father to let me suit up with the boys, and he finally caved in second grade. Sadly, my playing days were short and few, as most of the parents complained about their sons getting smashed into the ground by a scrawny little girl. There was no fear for a girl being hurt on the field, it was the parent’s ego that took a hit when a little dark hair ponytail could read an incoming blitz from a mile away, and then tackle their top rusher before he could look up and grab the ball.
The cheerleading coach of my brother’s teams always tried to get me on their squad. Mostly, I think it was for my dad in hopes that he would toss a glance their way, but it never happened. He is a celebrity in the high school football scene, being offered countless times other coaching positions with hundreds of schools across the nation. Even with the dangling of a head coaching job at a college level, he wouldn't leave that high school field. After my mother died, the only thing that mattered was football, and having the support of the high school during that time basically solidified the bond he shared with Evan’s County. Growing up in a house full of the male species isn’t easy on a girl, but I would not trade it for anything else.
“What do you have in these boxes, Blair?” Nate asks just as the bottom of the box tears open, spilling my free weights out on the concrete. “Seriously? Weights? You do realize we have a state of the art gym, right?”
“Well, you have a gym. Remember, I’m just one of the many incoming freshman. I have to use the gym that the entire student population is entitled to. That means I’m waiting in line for a treadmill and dare forbid I try and use the free weights with all the macho fraternities taking up space in front of the mirrors.” Grabbing the box from his hand, I fix the bottom tape, and start tossing the weights back in.
In high school it was a common occurrence to find me in the weight room with the guys. No one ever cared that I worked out with them; considering they didn’t have to change the weight on the squat rack after I used it. I am forever branded as the little sister to any of the Evan’s County football players, past, present, and future.
“I’m sure coach won’t mind if you come work out with us on downtime.” Mitchell grabs an old football from the garage and signals for me to go deep.
Sprinting into the field across from the house, I glance over my shoulder and watch as the ball spirals through the warm summer air. Turning my body slightly to the right, I open my arms and guide the ball right down into my chest, cradling it like precious cargo.
“Nice catch,” Nate yells from the tailgate of the truck.
“Maybe I can teach you a thing or two this way you don’t screw up again in playoffs this year,” I yell back, letting a shit eating grin spread across my face.
Talent isn’t something the god’s sprinkled lightly over our family. My father is one hell of a coach, and my brothers are the perfect offspring. Nate has been behind the ball since his days in Pop Warner, basically throwing the perfect spiral since kindergarten. Colleges were knocking down our door when he was just a freshman, trying to get them to commit to them early on. All four years of high school, Nate led the team to a state championship. He is calm in the pocket, can predict the outcome of a play before it’s even called, and knows when to take the risk and break out for some yardage. It was no surprise when he announced that New Haven State College would be the school he was committing to his senior year, considering the alma mater was basically breed into our bloodlines. Our grandfather played wide receiver for them in the early sixties and our father in the eighties, so naturally Nate would follow suit with his college selection. If not, I’m pretty sure dad would have benched him his senior year, just to prove a point.
So, it also wasn’t a shock to anyone when Mitchell joined him the next year on the team, and bypassed the dreaded red-shirt of freshman year. Having both of the McPherson boys on the team was something most college coaches dreamed of. Nate could throw the ball down the field with ease, and Mitchell would be right down there in no time flat to catch it. Growing up, I always resented being a girl, since once the boys graduated high school, I was the only legacy left at Evans County High, yet I didn’t play football. I fixed helmets, screamed at players, hauled gear, and argued with my father on the sidelines. Pretty sure he wished I had been a boy, considering he didn’t have a single clue how to raise a girl.
“You’re real funny, Blair.” Mitchell snatches the ball out of my hands and tosses it back into the garage. “Are you ready to go?”
“Yeah, I just want to say goodbye to dad,” I say quickly. Tossing the front door open, I wander down the small hallway into the living room. Since it’s the weekend, I know dad will be sitting in front of the television reviewing game film from last season. Most schools went to digital format, so one can watch it on the computer or tablet, but not my dad. If he can’t record it with his old black camcorder and plug it into the television, he refuses to watch it.
“Hey, Daddy.” Bracing myself on the door frame, I wait for a break in the action for him to acknowledge my presence.
“One second, Blair.” He says quickly, while his eyes are still fixated on the screen. I know instantly what footage he is watching. It’s last year’s third season game against Ames high, the only game they lost. He is at the very end of the fourth quarter, with a minute thirty left on the clock. Ames has the ball on their tenth yard line, and everything is set up for them to run the ball. It’s the second the ball snaps that the game goes downhill. The linebackers and safeties were so concerned with the run game that their tight end slipped right around the side and into the end zone. This allowed their Quarterback to basically drop it into the Tight End’s hands, cementing the thirty-four to thirty-one with no time to get the ball back down the field efficiently.
A couple seconds later, and a few muffled curse words, my father turns around and tries to wipe the frustrated look off his face.
“Nate and Mitchell are taking me over to the dorms.”
“Did you pack everything you need?”
“I think so. If not, I can always take Mitchell’s truck and come back to get it.”
New Haven College is only an hour away. Even if I didn’t have access to a car, I know I can always steal my brother’s if it came down to it.
“Alright,” my dad replies in hesitation. I know he doesn't really have a clue on what to do next. When the boys left for college, dad patted them on their backs and said don’t fuck up. With me, I can tell he isn’t quite sure what to say.
“Love you dad.” Walking over to the recliner, I lean down and wrap my arms around the tall burly man. Placing a soft kiss to his cheek, he pats my back awkwardly and grunts.
“Make sure you call me and stuff. No drinking, no parties, no boys, and……………what else should I tell you no about?”
“Drugs?” I question, cocking my head to the side.
“Yeah, drugs. No drugs, Blair.” Dad’s firm tight smile softens a little, as I nod my head. “Go have fun at college.”
“Thanks, Daddy.” Still smiling, I hurry out of the room to let him get back to scowling at the television. I knew he wouldn’t move from that spot until later tonight; hopefully he would remember to eat since I’m not there to put food in front of him.
I take my time wandering down the small hallway, letting my fingers glide along the dark wood paneling. The pictures are all of the boys when they were young, and a single baby picture of me before Mom died. Dad never had the heart to change anything after she was gone, nor the desire to take photos without her. The only time it happened was the yearly photo’s the school provided, or anything that was sports related. But, those pictures never made it to frames. They normally were duck taped on the living room wall, or stuffed behind trophies that the boys had won over the years.
“We will be leaving your freshman ass if you don’t get moving, Blair.” Nate yells from outside.
Taking one last quick glimpse around the kitchen, I let out a heavy sigh and push open the door. It’s not like I won’t be back, but I know everything won’t be the same when I return either.