A Warm September Night in Nashville
Mothers ruin young quarterbacks. I know this because my mother demolished my football career when I was ten years old.
That particular evening began with mama telling me I had to attend the final night of a tent crusade at Renaissance Pentecostal Church. She refused to even listen to my reasoning for not going with her. If she would have heard me out, I would have told her about the University of Tennessee Volunteers playing the Trojans of USC on television that night with Curt Gowdy doing the announcing. Every U of T football fan would be glued to the game.
“Listen up Luke Stoner,” she said, bringing out the heavy artillery, “you’re going along with me. No more discussion on this subject, you hear? Now, go upstairs and get ready.”
I bit my tongue, knowing I lost that battle, but my eyes were wide open for the next skirmish. You see, the game was not over until I sat on a metal chair next to her, listening to the fat lady singing. I trudged upstairs, removing my white t-shirt and tossing it toward the laundry hamper.
As I sat on my bed, pulling on my black slacks, I looked at a poster of Kenny Stabler hanging on the wall, next to my desk. He wore his black Oakland Raiders’ uniform with a silver number 12 on the front. My youth football jersey had the same number.
“Mama, you can make me miss the game tonight,” I proclaimed over my shoulder loud enough for her to hear in the bathroom across the hallway, “but you can’t make me walk down to the altar. It’s not my thing.”
Mama stood in the doorway to the bathroom, rolling her eyes toward heaven and brushing her long dark hair with sweeping strokes. She walked over to the vanity, laying the brush down on the walnut stained countertop. With both hands, she wound her hair into a tight bun and then clasped a hair clip to hold it in place. She accomplished all this while praying quietly.
“Mama, I ain’t wearing a tie with my white shirt. It’s too hot,” I shouted.
“Luke, you know it’s wrong to use the word ain’t, but no matter, you’re wearing a tie. Do you want me to tie it for you?”
“No! I’ll tie it myself.”
“Make sure it’s snug at the top. I want you looking sharp tonight.”
I finished dressing and trotted downstairs with a football in my left hand. My hero, Kenny Stabler, said that a young quarterback should always carry a football in his throwing hand, his fingers gripping the leather laces. He believed it produced confidence and he should know because he was the greatest left handed quarterback in the history of the NFL.
At the bottom of the stairs, I made a quick turn into the small kitchen. My right hand lifted the top of the old cookie jar and I grabbed a couple of cookies, without letting go of the football.
“Luke, stay out of the cookies.”
“Okay, mama,” I said, stuffing both chocolate chip cookies into my mouth with one motion. I figured she was too late on that call to penalize me for the theft. The soothing taste eased some of the pain of not seeing the football game.
Seconds later, she arrived downstairs, patting her dark blue dress down over her wide hips.
“How do I look?” she asked, giving me a wink.
“Mama, you’re beautiful.”
And to be honest, my mama, Melanie Stoner, was an attractive gal. The extra thickness she carried around her midsection did not subtract one smidge from her looks. Men asked her out often, but she seldom said yes because she felt her first priority was being my mom.
As for my dad, mama said I reminded her of him with my dishwater blond hair, blue eyes, and wiry build. He was a 101st Airborne paratrooper stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. They dated for four months, but then he died in a helicopter crash. Sadly, he never even knew mama was pregnant.
“Let’s go, Luke. I don’t want to be late.”
(The above is the opening to a new novel I’m writing, The Day LA Died, © Larry Nevenhoven, 2012.
(Continued in Part 2)