The school building looked the same but it didn't feel the same. Maybe I had outgrown it or maybe I had just been left me behind in more ways than one. I had spent two years in that building before my father became ill. Everyone I had grown up with would be gone. I hated the idea of returning to finish my senior year, but my mom had insisted. Not only that, she had insisted that I take part in every school function that came along. All that was demanded even before the doors to the school opened for the graduating class of 1963. I expected a truly miserable nine months.
I knew exactly where the school office was located. Not only because I had business there two years before, but also because I had been inside one or the other of the small rooms twice already that August. The secretary greeted me with a warm smile. She, and probably everyone else, knew the story. Fortunately no one knew all of it.
"What can I do for you Mr. Burke?" She asked it with a pleasant, though bored, smile.
"I don't know if you remember Mrs. Ansley but I played football here before I missed the year. I was curious to know if I'm eligible to play again."
"You never enrolled for you senior year did you?" She asked it knowing I had not.
"No Ma'am, my dad got sick before school started that year."
"In that case your eligibility still stands. If you had registered, then dropped out it would be gone."
"You wouldn't know if the coach is around would you?"
"He should be in his office, but I haven't seen him this morning. You remember where it is don't you David."
"Yes Ma'am, guess I will wander over to talk to him."
Ten minutes later I stuck my head in the coach's door. "Coach Reid, it me David Burke."
"Yeah David, what can I do for you?" If he recognized me, he didn't let on.
"I'd like to try out for the team."
"Sure, check with the office to make sure I'm not gonna have any trouble from the academics board."
"Already have Coach."
"You are getting in under the wire. First practice is tomorrow at four, come in at three and draw your equipment."
"Fair enough coach," I replied as I turned for the door.
"Sorry about your dad son." It was a whisper. It must have choked the bastard to say a kind word.
"Thanks," I replied not even looking back.
My eighteenth birthday was marked by a miserable football practice and a store bought cake. Mom just didn't have time to bake one. Birthdays on a Wednesday for a woman who worked so hard, just couldn't get the full treatment.
All during dad's eight month ordeal as we called it, mom's had been the only money coming in. Dad's dried up in a couple of months, after that it was live on the salary of a female factory worker. Even if it had been my dad's salary alone, we might not have done well.
Eighteen years and a day found me back on the field running laps. The first couple of days were what the coach called conditioning. It was designed to make the kids puke and I did my share. I certainly hadn't distinguished myself when the second week began. The second week was all about who could take the pain. We hit each other over and over again. After two days I began playing fullback. Why? I have no idea.
I wasn't fast and I wasn't as big as the lineman for sure. I was probably too small to be a fullback but that's where I was. I blocked for the halfbacks and ran for short yardage. In those days the kids played both offense and defense, or what they like to call iron man football now, I was involved in almost every play. I was probably the slowest defensive end on any team. Why I played there was a mystery. I had expected to be a lineman.
Football really hadn't been my idea. Hell school hadn't been my idea either. I had planned to keep the job in the plant. The plant manager had personally hired me after dad's death. No, I wasn't on any fast track to anywhere, but he wanted to help. I guess he thought it his Christian duty. I took the job but mom made me quit in August. It was back to school with me and no excuses.
During that eight month work stint mom refused to accept any of the money I made. Instead she told me to buy something I wanted or to save it for college. Since there was absolutely no chance that I was going to college, I immediately thought car. Hell I was seventeen, soon to be eighteen what else would I think.
Dad's brother the one the called Deacon stopped by once a week or so to check on us. I always thought that he slipped mom money, but I never knew for sure. On one of his visits I told him I wanted to buy a car.
"You know I'm getting ready to sell my old bomb. If you want that big old dog, I will make you a deal."
Deacon was the only grown man I knew who drove a convertible. I know there had to be others but I didn't know any. "Thanks Uncle Deacon, but I could never afford that car. It is only four years old and a convertible."
"True David but it's a damn Ford, and not even the pretty fifty-seven. I bought the ugliest Ford ever made. I bought the fifty-eight Ford fairlane. Deacon was right it was ugly as hell, but it was a convertible.
"Still I know it must have cost two grand, at least."
"Not really the guy owed me a favor."
"Still Uncle Deacon, I just don't have anywhere near what it would cost to buy that car."
"Then you can rent it."
"Sure give me what you got, then when you are tired of it, give it back to me."
"What if I tear it up?"
"Oh hell son, I have so much insurance on this piece of shit, I hope you do. Now you forget about cars and get your grades up. I have seen your report card from two years ago."
"Ok Uncle Deacon, It's a deal."
"Then drive me home," he said it without so much as a blink. On the drive he said something to me that shocked hell out of me. "The car is a gift forget bringing it back. That rent bullshit was for your mother."
"I know what you did David, I would have done it myself for anyone else, but I just couldn't for your dad. He and I were brothers and even closer at times."
I knew exactly what he meant, but I chose to play dumb. "You mean taking care of him. Hell Uncle Deacon, I had to do it there was no one else." I thought for a minute he was going to buy the line. Yes I drove dad to the doctor and hospital early on. Then I helped him to the bathroom and even bathed him. I gave him his shots for pain. I hoped that Deacon meant that.
"Taking care of him is exactly what I mean." Deacon looked hard at me. I kept my eyes on the road but I felt it. "Now David, you get your ass back to that school, and you do what you need to do."
The remark and the car were the reasons that took me to the guidance counselors office the day before school officially started. The older, to me at least, woman sat looking at my record. "Let me get this straight David, you want to retake a course that you passed two years ago?"
"Yes Ma'am, I made a D in biology and I want a chance to fix it."
"It is commendable but you are going to have your hands full passing your other courses."
"If I can't handle it, I will drop the first week. Please Mrs. Edwards this is important to me."
"Have you seen our biology teacher?"
"Sure Mr. Jasper was my teacher two years ago."
"Since you don't know I will sign your permission card to take six courses."
"Know what?" I asked it truly in the dark.
"Mr. Jasper move to another state, the new teacher is name Miss Grogan."
"Okay, it makes no difference to me."
It truly did not until I saw Miss Grogan. She was a knockout by anyone's definition. She was also young. At the plant I had interacted with women her age and older, and I had done it as an equal. I can't say that my first look at her gave me an erection, but it did light a fire in me. I'm not sure what kind of fire.
The first week of school was a nightmare for me. Everything and everyone was strange to me. I hadn't been an especially popular kid two years before but a few of the students remembered me. Since I wasn't mobbed by them, they didn't seem overly joyful to have me back.
During the first couple of weeks everyone was settling in mostly. The first football game arrived while the homework was still light. I was surprised to find myself in the line up. I certainly hadn't expected it. I got beat up some but I played almost every down. The plays all ran together in my mind. It was all just a blur. I know that we won, and even that I scored a lot of the points. It would have been a lot more fun if there hadn't been a ringing in my head. After the first real shot I took, the ringing started and the pain ended. I had seen real pain. I could disregard my own minor pain and the pain I was delivering to others.
In the locker room the other guys tried to be nice to me but I was still in never, never land. I must have looked arrogant to them, but I was really still lost. After the shower I walked into the parking lot. I found Uncle Deacon standing by the car.
"Good game David, I'm proud of you."
"Thanks Uncle Deacon. but it's just a game."
"True but it is a game of life. Just like in life you have to take your shots and if you have enough left then you give them back. You did just that. I don't give damn what the score it. Nobody in real life keeps score much. You just take the hits then you get up do it again the next day."
"Yeah, I guess you are right."
"Anyway, I just wanted to tell you that you did well."
"Uncle Deacon, I just wanted to prove I could do it. I wasn't much of a player before."
.... There is more of this story ...