As much fun as it is to parachute readers into the middle of a contextless world, I guess a little background might prove helpful today:
1. Last Saturday was Homecoming on the Plains.
2. I work for a generous Auburn Man.
3. My mother, Auburn Woman and cancer survivor, hasn’t been to an Auburn game* since the 1980s.
4. The above fact led her to tell me she’d probably never seen the eagle fly.
5. It didn’t take long for me to decide on a Homecoming date.
Last this blog heard, my mom was undergoing chemotherapy and kicking cancer’s ass. Those of you who follow me on Twitter or have the [mis]fortune of knowing me in real life know that Mom finished chemo at the end of last year, smacked cancer, and grew back some pretty snazzy curly hair**. It’s been well over a year now since her first treatment and she’s finally feeling like herself again. We're grateful everyday for her second chance at life, and I'm grateful that she chose to fight.
So when my aforementioned generous boss offered me his football tickets for the Homecoming game, I jumped at the chance. We were already planning to go to Ag Roundup, and making a day of it just made sense. Being a proud graduate of the College of Agriculture, Mom loves seeing the school reach out to the community and seeing the community reach back. Because she wasn’t able to go last year due to her treatment, she vowed to go this year. I agreed to go with her for two reasons: 1. It’s our tradition and 2. Free samples***. We had a blast.
I didn’t know if Mom would want to go to the game****, but I figured the worst she could do is turn me down so I asked her with those only child puppy dog eyes. To my surprise, she agreed immediately. She’s all about getting outside of her comfort zone nowadays.
While Mom's college friends have tailgated on campus for almost 40 years now, Mom herself has managed to miss most of those wonderful gameday traditions that we most cherish. In her defense, she was usually in the library or working on Saturdays. So on our way to the gate, we stopped to smell the roses.
It's all quite magical, you know.
And then we saw Nova fly. Out of the wrong corner, but still.
I told you. Magical
And then I tried my best to get her on the Jumbotron but failed.
You know the story of the game. Auburn sizzled. Auburn struggled. Auburn won. It wasn't the most comfortable of Homecoming victories, but at least we managed to carry the ball over the goal line. I remember hearing old stories from my mom's friends about Auburn being so bad in the 70s, "...we just partied when we scored." There's a lot of wisdom in that.
The biggest difference between my mom and me, other than about 5 inches in height, is that she would’ve loved Saturday just as much whether Auburn had won or lost the game. In fact, the game itself was almost an afterthought. She loved being on campus, she loved hearing the band, and she loved seeing Jordan-Hare cloaked in orange and blue while belting out a thunderous WARRRRRRR EAGLE! HEY! She liked being home. And I kind of think she has it figured out. Auburn, for all its successes (and failures*****) on the field, is more than a football team. We love Auburn not because it rewards us with national championships but because it binds us together. Because it gives us lifelong friends and a reason to reunite with them. Because it makes us feel feelings and cry at Homecoming videos and roll trees. And yes, sometimes because it rewards us with national championships. But mostly the trees thing.
Honestly, I couldn’t imagine a more perfect day than the one I spent in Auburn with my mom last Saturday. Moving back here has allowed me to spend precious time with her that wasn’t guaranteed a year ago. My parents and the lifelong friends they made here taught me to love this place, and that in and of itself was a gift. It was an honor and a privilege to be able to repay my mom a small fraction of the heartmist I owe her.
Sara went from smacking cancer to smacking Saturdays and that’s a win on any scoreboard, but especially Auburn's giant one.
Do enjoy this bye week, guys. Hug your kids. Walk your dog. Read a book. Obsess over hours of other teams’ games. Whatever floats your boat. Just get out and enjoy life a little bit.
Until next time—War Eagle.
*Despite having been to an Alabama game while I was in undergrad. I went through an unfortunate five-year-phase where I dated an Alabama fan and my parents were the most supportive people on the planet, even when I was a moron.
**I inherited my mother’s fine, straight hair. I inherited most things from my mother, actually, but especially her hair. It won’t hold a curl, and it only has one shape: flat. But when her hair started to grow back after chemo, she was blessed with curls, something that she’s never experienced before. It probably won’t last, but sometimes roses really do grow from concrete.
***Like Sam’s on a good day.
****Here’s a fun fact: Your friendly neighborhood Undercover Barner is the only child of two parents who actually have healthy relationships with sports. My father is a rational and logical fan, always keeping things in perspective. My mother isn’t even really a fan at all. She loves Auburn, but Mom loves the school with or without the football team. Sometimes I wonder what that would be like, and then I laugh out loud because I’m not capable of such transcendence.
***** If you don’t think God has a sense of humor, try this on for size: While I was writing this sentimental mushy gushy column, Auburn dismissed Duke Williams. When you love something, you love it for better or worse. And Auburn is a little worse for the wear right now, but given Duke’s off-[and on]-the-field issues, this is probably best for all parties. I wish him the best.
C'est la vie.