Monday, February 13, 2017

Sundays with Art

     In the course of human events people will come in and out of our lives. Disney has gained ownership of the phrase "circle of life" which can be a sorrowful part of the human experience when the cycle ends for loved ones. One of the happiest events for some is watching football and experiencing it with friends and family. During the 5 years that I lived in Charlotte, North Carolina, I spent my Sundays with Art and his family watching the Carolina Panthers at the stadium.
     Art's son was my roommate in the area of the city called 4th Ward. It was a 10 minute walk and over the years our friends started to have what became a very large tailgate that became a family named the Tailgate Union. I traded a golf bag for an old grill and we named the grill "Sparky". The grill hung in there for a couple of years until the tailgate went big time and got the industrial grade meat sizzler.
     My roommate's family had acquired 6 season tickets since the inception of the Panthers inaugural season in 1995 where they played in Death Valley on the campus of Clemson University.
For 8 Sundays a year I was able to sit next to Art. Art was never a man of many words but his conversations were precise and offered quick information. I appreciated this more than he knew.
     Usually, as the Panthers played he would lose the ability to create conversation because at times he would become internally disgusted. The other times that required celebration he usually seemed to be in a state of relief rather than an ecstatic outburst. He is a former military man and his other older son is now a Naval Commander. The tickets were originally bought to include his son and wife but like father like son, he has been moved from station to station. I guess you could call me the pseudoson.
     The seats were in the upper bowl in the corner of the end zone and everyone in our section over the years started to become family and exchange Christmas cards over time. Sundays with Art was not only sacred to me and my friend but the people around him in that stadium. Except for third down guy, who started to annoy us after a while, there was peace and solidarity in our area mixed with exhalation and the occasional disappointment. There was a 1-15 season and a season that we did not lose a game at home.
     We had conversations about my family. My father went to play golf with Art and I with my roommate. I was by far the worst of the foursome. They had me over for Thanksgiving dinner and on cook outs. I was a 20 something at the time and well in to the night life of a single bachelor living uptown. Therefore, Sundays with Art provided a level of serenity and family. Art's wife was, very; loving, caring and God fearing. There was a small feeling of shame when we would show up at kickoff still having the feeling of the night hunting for willing female companions. Also, when the Tailgate Union ramped up there was a hint of us already being lathered up, or lost in the sauce. However, looking up into the blue Carolina sky on Sundays was a site to behold. There wasn't a church that could help me appreciate the wonders that laid before me. I would sit back and enjoy the time that would take me away from the normality of everyday life. I am now, more than ever, thankful that I had that time with Art on Sundays.

   The most memorable Sunday came after the return of the NFL after 911. I have two grandfathers who are passed now but both were WWII veterans. One, a POW in Germany for 12 months, and the other was stationed on a ship in the South Pacific. When the flag was laid out and all of the stadiums were singing the National Anthem in synchronicity, I became openly emotional. The emotion started as sorrow, then elation and pride when the anthem finished with the roar of the crowd and the fly over. The moment rang deep due to the fact that I stood with Art, a former military person, and having a father who was born in Manhattan. Also, I have family living near and working occasionally in the towers.
     Sitting next to Art's wife one sunny afternoon, I notice when I was talking to her she wasn't responding. She started to quickly nod her head without speaking. I mentioned to Art that I felt there was something wrong. He left the game and we later found out she had a tumor pressing on the part of the brain responsible for speech. She pulled through like a champ because not only was she loving and caring, she was tough as nails.
     As stated in the opening, the circle of life has an end that brings life. Right now Art is fighting for his life after suffering a massive heart attack. I was alerted during a class on a Friday morning by my long time friend that his father was in critical condition. He has been texting me updates on a daily basis. Art will not go down without a fight and getting back to those seats in Section 524 might not be a reality even if there is a recovery.
     As I sat there during those years, I never really thought that Sundays with Art would ever come to an end. I can never go back to the time of conversations, laughter and the sarcastic quips we used to throw at each other from time to time. Engrained in my mind is the bright Carolina sunshine reflecting off of Art's white Panther polo shirt and seeing him smile as he sat next to me in those seats. There are some memories that become burned into your mind, that is one I don't care to lose.            
     His son has told me that Art is not alert enough to receive visitors and my fear is that the sun drenched memory of Art on those Sundays may be altered by the struggling visage of my Sunday buddy. However, if my friend were to text me at any moment that he is able to receive guests I would be there at a moments notice on any given day, not just Sunday.

You Belong There, Just not Soon