April 21, 2011
Originally published October 4, 2003
I want to share some unforgettable moments in my life. They might not be special to you, but they were to me and they always will be.
* I remember my first day of school. I was a skinny little tow-headed boy from the hills of Harlan County, Kentucky who talked funny and I didn't know a soul in my first-grade class. I had been in Savannah for only a couple of months at the time. But when the teacher asked if anybody could count to 100, I raised my hand. I stood in front of the class, counted to 100 and then recited my ABCs to top off my performance. Everybody hated me after that. I became known as a show-off and a smart-ass.
* I remember the day my father taught me to fight. That show-off, smart-ass thing will attract bullies in school and my father didn't like seeing me run from them. He insisted that I fight or face an ass-whipping from him. I remember his exact words. "You can fight that guy and take your chances, or you can run from him and be GUARANTEED of a whipping from ME." I was seven years old and believed that my daddy was a wrathful God. I fought the guy the next day and surprised the shit out of him. I won the fight and after that my father had to simmer me down to stop ME from being a bully. I discovered that I LIKED fighting.
* I remember my first day of Little League football practice. I shined. I remember my father driving me home with a big grin on his face, saying "Robbie, you are a NATURAL!" He was mistaken. I was good, but I never had the speed or the size that I needed to go with my desire and determination to play football. I played for the next seven years on damn good teams, but I did that because I wanted it more than other people did. I wasn't a "natural." I was a hard worker.
* I remember the day John Kennedy was assassinated. The principal made an announcement over the intercom at Hesse Elementary School and class was dismissed for the day at about 1:30 in the afternoon. I walked home, because I could see my house from the Teacher's Parking Lot. I walked inside to find my mama ironing clothes and crying while she watched Walter Cronkite on TV. I was in fifth grade. I really didn't understand what was going on.
* I remember having three of my stories published in the First Ever Bartlett Junior High School Literary Magazine. I got some kind of award for being "Best Writer" when I was in Seventh Grade.
* I remember being all confused about the school district changes when I went from Junior High to High School. I was supposed to attend the brand-new Windsor Forrest High, but at the last minute I ended up being assigned to Jenkins High School. I missed spring training with the football team, so I ended up on the Junior Varsity, where I became defensive captain, the long-snap center for punts and the kickoff and extra-point kicker. I was a big fish in a little pond. We went up the road to play some team a lot better than we were and got our asses whipped, but I made several outstanding plays in that game. The coaches watched the film. The following Monday, I was told to dress out with the varsity from then on. I was one of six "newbies" to do that and the other five all went to spring training. I was a good football player, but I had the shit beat out of me at practice every day for the rest of the season.
* I remember being named a starter during the next spring training. Starters wore a green vest at practice while second-stringers wore red and the "renegades" wore yellow. I made a damn good play when the guy ahead of me had been fucking up all day (he really didn't want to hit) and the coach screamed, "Blakewood, peel off that vest! Give it to Smith!" I took off my red vest and put on a green one, and I never wore a red vest again. My father showed up after he got off work to take me home and asked me as I was walking off the practice field after wind sprints and all the other horrible conditioning drills we did every day, "Hey, poot? What's THIS?" as he tugged on the green vest. He knew what it meant. "I'm first string, dad. I'm a STARTER!" And I was, on one of the best football teams in the state. I don't know who was more proud, my dad or me.
* I remember the last football game I played in pads. Jenkins was ranked #2 in the state and we were playing #3, Savannah High. (Valdosta, of course, was ranked #1) We were 9-0 for the year and playing another 9-0 team. We had a week off before that game after shutting out a bunch of pussywillows for the last several contests and posting a lot of points for ourselves. Meanwhile Savannah High played Windsor Forest the week before that game and escaped with a narrow one-point victory thanks to a last-second touchdown. We beat Windsor 19-7. I saw complacency setting in. Too many people on my team believed that we would have a cakewalk against SHS. We lost that game 35-8. I remember taking off my shoulder pads on the bus and crying, not only because we lost the game but because I knew that I would never wear shoulder pads on the field again. I loved football then and I still love it now. That's why I want Quinton to play well.
* I remember being voted "Most Talented" in my senior class in high school. I edited the school newspaper, was a football player, I played in a band and I wrote off-the-wall stuff that people liked. They saw me as a "natural," just the way my father did. Nobody knew the work that went into my "talent."
* I remember getting my college degree. I was the first person EVER, on either side of my family of hillbillies to get a degree. I haven't done shit with it, but at least I got it and made a lot of people proud of me.
* I remember my first kiss. I would love to go back and feel something like that again. My skin was electrified. Now, I can barely jump-start myself at the sight of a nekkid woman.
* I remember marrying Jennifer. We spoke our own vows and I remember what I said that day. "Jennifer, I love you with all my heart and I want you to be my wife. You will forever be my partner, my lover and my best friend." She started to say her vows and broke down crying. I hugged her and said, "That's good enough. I know what you mean." But I didn't. She lied when I told the truth.
* I remember the day my father died. That was a rough one.
* I remember the day Quinton was born. That was a good one. Quinton was born at 8:30 in the evening after a labor that began at 5:30 that morning. I went home and wrote an epistle about the experience. I wonder if Jennifer still has that? I would like to read it again and maybe post it on my blog. I was one happy daddy that day.
* I remember a night that I never want to relive, a night so dark and painful that it almost sucked me into the abyss from which there is no escape. I remember everything that came afterward and how much my life changed in the blink of an eye. I don't believe that I'll ever be the same person I once was.
* I remember wishing that I could fly like a bird when I was a child. You know what? I still wish that.
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