Thanksgiving is a time for family. It's a time to gather together to thank God and those closest to us for the blessings in our lives and catch up on family news. This year, I'm especially grateful for my literal Auburn family, past, present, and future.
No matter how we sometimes try to escape, our values are defined by our upbringing and family tradition. I was raised to hold fast to the church, each other, and Auburn.
I grew up in an Auburn family. My grandfather attended Auburn for a year or two before the Depression and family tragedies forced him to drop out. My father and mother met at Auburn and are Auburn graduates. I grew up in Auburn. Most of my earliest memories are my parents taking me to Auburn football and basketball games. I feel about Jordan Hare Stadium the way most people feel about their childhood homes. I grew up there.
As I write this column, I can see the lights of Legion Field, the Old Grey Lady, glowing under a beautiful Birmingham sunset and it makes me smile, not because the stadium is special but because it reminds me of wonderful November days I spent with my family in that stadium watching the Iron Bowl. Dad has been to every Iron Bowl since the 60s. He has more than one first cousin who has been to every Iron Bowl since the mid 50s. My first was 1985. Other than 1986 and two Iron Bowls when I was in Pennsylvania, I've been to every one since.
This common connection to Auburn is important in my family. It bridged generational divides. Probably 1/3 of the trips I ook with my family were Auburn road trips. The time in the car gave us time to discuss our lives and the next game. My dad first discussed the birds and the bees (well, popped in a tape with someone discussing it) on the way back from a long Gainesville trip. Good times or bad times, weddings, funerals, or lake weekends, whenever the family would gather, Auburn football would be one of the biggest topics of discussion.
In time, I went to Auburn. I joined a fraternity and made a general nuisance of myself. I married an Auburn woman (the daughter of an Auburn alum), a member of the Auburn University Marching Band. Eight of the twelve members of the wedding party were Auburn men and women.
We had children. Every game day, like most Auburn families, we dress our daughter in a cheerleader outfit and put a jersey on our son.
They are five and two. For the purposes of this article we'll call the oldest Bianca and the youngest Skylar. They love Aubie, the Band, and the cheerleaders, but have no use for what my wife and I consider to be the main attraction: Auburn sports.
I brought Bianca to last year's Western Carolina game. The first half was miserable. It was hot, crowded and loud. She hated every minute of it. The second half was only saved because we moved down to sit with mommy in the Alumni Band. Earlier this year, I took Bianca to Louisiana Tech. The experience left me thinking that maybe she just wasn't ready for the crowded, intense environment of SEC football.
Last week, against Georgia, we noticed something. Instead of running around the house trying to get our attention or playing in another room, Bianca was sitting still in front of the television. She seemed interested. We put her to bed at halftime but the next day, I ran to the library and bought her some first readers about football. She read the books to me at bedtime before I read her a chapter of a Paddington Bear book.
By Tuesday, I decided to do something rash: We were taking Bianca to the Samford game.
The key to surviving any event with kids is to surround them with other kids. We arranged a full day in Auburn with three families, all of whom had children Bianca's age. At our well-off-campus tailgating event, we had seven kids and seven adults. Most of the families scattered for other events but we arranged to run into these families throughout the day to keep Bianca engaged.
We arrived on campus just in time to get to Tiger Walk.
This was not Bianca's first Tiger Walk, but it was the first one she really enjoyed from start to finish. We then went to the Auburn Arena to give the kids (and us) a chance to sit, relax, and have some concession stand food for dinner before the game. After dinner we went through the athletic museum where Bianca and her friend ran up and down the "Tiger Walk" ramp pretending to give high fives to the people in the picture.
We sat in my parents' seats under the overhang in the South endzone with a friend from Birmingham and a fraternity brother from out of state and their families. Bianca was on the edge of her seat during the eagle's flight. She sang along when the band played War Eagle. But the moment of the game came when Auburn scored its second touchdown right before the half.
When Cameron Artis-Payne crossed the goal line, my daughter became a full-fledged member of our Auburn family.
This has been a good season. Some have been disappointed in Auburn's play over the last month because for a while, it had the makings of a great season. It may yet be a memorable season if we beat Alabama. But win or lose, 2014 for me will always be the year my little girl became an Auburn fan, continuing our family tradition into the fourth generation. I wouldn't trade that for anything.
From our literal Auburn Family to yours, Happy Thanksgiving, Beat Bama, and War Eagle!