I realize that the world doesn’t revolve around me, and I realize that my column is typically a sports column — at least it is about 50 out of 52 weeks a year.
And I know that Sunday’s column isn’t one for everybody, and actually, may have only been for me. Maybe that’s what this space is for, and that I should leave the printed space for something more athletically tangible.
But Mother’s Day has become a tough one for me the last couple of years after my mom passed away suddenly. And when I stumbled upon an old picture of her and me at one of her favorite places in the world, Chapel Hill, it hit me hard. Real hard.
I’ve written before about how much my mother loved sports, and that while I do believe she enjoyed watching competition, I think a big part of it was that sports were something my dad and I really liked. Sports were just another way for my mom to connect to both of us, but it was a big way, and one she could always count on. Seeing something about the Cubs gave her a “reason” to call me up in the middle of the day for a 20-minute talk.
I miss my mom terribly, and I think about her every single day. I’m overjoyed that my daughter is old enough to remember her grandma, but saddened that the memories only go so deep. It’s finding a 14-year-old photo that reminds me how lucky I truly was to have my mom around for 30 years of my life.
So Sunday’s column wasn’t a sports column. Didn’t have to be, I don’t think. Be thankful, those of you who still can, to be able to share Mother’s Day with your mom.
I had to find another way.
Here’s the column:
The envelope was just sitting there.
Not a regular envelope. Not business size or one of those large manila mailers.
A photo envelope.
The crate had many of my old notebooks from my college years. Old exam essays, notes and handouts that were yellowing on the edges with fading print after a decade of neglect, first in a closet, then in a garage.
The notebooks, after one more trip down memory lane (the red ink, it turns out, seemed as though it hadn’t faded a bit — red ink, the foreboding color of mistake-laden writing), were tossed out with the rest of the garbage.
The yellow envelope, though, was a keeper.
Tucked inside, with not a fold to be seen or a frayed edge to be found, were snapshots of life before digital cameras. Of life before real bills. Of life before a daily job. Of life when a five-page paper was daunting.
Freshman year. Old East dorm. Chapel Hill.
Buddies Matt, Neil, Chuck, Schwarzen, Miller.
Beer. (I know, I know.) A 13-inch TV. With a game on.
It wasn’t a whole roll of film. Then again, it might have been. There weren’t 24 pictures in the envelope, but then again, there weren’t always 24 photos on a roll of film. You could get 18. Twelve, even. Remember?
Leafing through them, they replayed a night like many in college. A quick little get-together in your dorm room at school. It may have been a weekend. Or not. Eight a.m. class? Big deal in those days. Big deal.
Lots of smiles, a few blurry eyes. A relatively quiet night. No trouble. This is what my group of friends would do. Come over, and we’ll find a game. You never needed a color analyst, though. The game wasn’t background noise because you didn’t need the broadcasters. You weren’t really watching the game anyway. It was just on. It was a reason to get together, hang out and have a few.
You could go through these pictures pretty quickly. I remember taking them. Honestly, I do. Maybe that’s why I didn’t give them much mind as I looked at them. One after another. Different people, but essentially the same scene.
It was a picture I didn’t take. I was in it. Still as goofy-looking as I am now, just, my God, 14 years younger.
I could see it. Not the picture. The time. The day. The moment. The exact moment. You know how you pose when a picture is being taken of you, and then after the click, you relax, your shoulders slump slightly and you become, well, natural again? I remember doing all of that.
It was hot, humid, the sun high in the sky. Clear blue, but dotted with big, puffy white clouds. The kind you always see on a brutal summer day. The kind that eventually come together and make a late afternoon storm.
First day of college. Moving in.
The picture, though, was taken after I had trudged my stuff up one whole flight of stairs. Did I know how good I had it? That many of my friends were on a 10th floor somewhere on south campus? I don’t know. I don’t remember.
The picture, though, I remember.
On the front steps of Old East, I stood, wearing a hideous green golf t-shirt and standing with my mom for a quick photo.
My mom, an easy smile spread across her face, standing in the sun with her only child.
I can see her. Not because the picture brings back the image. No, I can see her. I can hear her. I can feel her hug before she and my dad left to go home.
I can feel myself walk back up that flight of stairs, back to the second-floor corner room that was too good for us three idiots. I can feel myself tug on the door and open it. I can feel myself wonder if I was ready for all this.
The other pictures from the envelope reveal that I was.
But that one, the one that brought tears to my eyes in the cool shade of the garage of my home 14 years later and nearly two years since she’s been gone, the one that showed me why I was ready, is also the same one that reminds me of how much I miss.