A Southern Girl at The Big House

My second stop on my Big Ten tour was in Ann Arbor, Michigan at Michigan Stadium – The Big House. I know that Michigan is the home of numerous top academic programs (one of my favorite law professors is a Michigan alum) and has a history of football dominance (history being the operative term at this time).  Just remember I am not a Michigan fan.  I was a visitor.  I am a fan of the Virginia Cavaliers and Tennessee Volunteers (yes, I do not mind openly admitting this fact).  On this day Michigan was hosting Purdue University.  The preferred school of the majority of my work colleagues – I hear “boiler up” at lot.  But on this day I had no dog in the race.  I was present strictly for the experience.  The wonder, if you will, of attending a football game in the NCAA’s largest football arena.

I am no stranger to large stadiums.  The University of Tennessee’s fishbowl shaped football temple that is Neyland Stadium seats approximately 102,000 fans.  I have spent many a Saturday cheering on the Vols with 100,000 of my closest friends.  I get the whole “12th man” effect.  It is real.

Stubhub hooked me up with a good ticket – sideline, section 42, 19th row – and I was off.  Of course, it was a noon game, which required a 7:30 a.m. departure from FW, but I was committed to the endeavor so I was up and ready to go. Being a mountain girl, I adore a short cut, especially if it is a two lane road (reminds me of home, especially if the road has no lines).  So, naturally, when the opportunity to take Route 60 to avoid Marshall, Michigan presented itself I could not say no.  This route was working in my favor until I was gratuitously introduced to a friendly young sheriff’s deputy.  The only consolation that he offered for casting the first blemish up on my driving record and issuing me a $100 ticket was that “I won’t be the only one” on that day.  I found no comfort in that.  Nice, Mr. Deputy, nice.  I soldiered on.

The good news is that a colleague from work (one of the aforementioned Boilermakers) and his lovely wife are staunch Purdue fans (complete with Purdue hats, sweatshirts, and the like) and were going up for the game as well.  They kindly invited me to tailgate with them and then take the shuttle to the game.  This made the day immensely more pleasant.  The idea of trying to decipher parking amidst 109,000 people in a town I had never navigated on a game day was not too inviting.  Oh, and it was cold and rainy (don’t worry, my Daddy raised me right – I have all the outer-wear one will need for such events).  I arrived at the pre-game gathering, which was complete with tasty snacks and a mix of Purdue and Michigan fans, and was made to feel right at home.  The kindness and promise of fun was enough to drown the irritation from my encounter with the deputy.

Then we were off.  The University of Michigan campus was beautifully painted in fall colors in addition to the omnipresent yellow and blue.  As we approached the stadium we were engulfed by a sea of Michigan fans that filled a closed street.  It was clear that these folks were serious.  What was interesting and surprising were the number of young men in ties and some in jackets for the game.  Fraternity types, no doubt.  I stand corrected that this is a Southern phenomenon, it is not.  However, I still contend that bowties are still Southern.  But, I digress.

So far I was impressed.  Ann Arbor is a classic college town.  Fans come en masse and are a happy mix of drunk, rude, and friendly.  We arrived at the stadium and I was met with my first concern – no bags.  No bags.  What?  Not even my pocketbook, which on this day was a tiny little backpack (I have to carry my rain pants, wallet, camera, and phone in something).  No.  You must take your bag to another entrance and “check it”.  This means that you need to leave your bag with your essentials in it with some stranger at a football stadium.  No.  Like any good Southern lady, I took my coat off and put on my tiny backpack on under my coat (my kind colleague pointed out that it was obvious that something was under my coat – I did not care) and walked right in.  Sorry, but I am not checking my pocketbook at a football stadium.  No.

I then made my way to my seat.  It was good a good seat.  Right at the end zone and directly across from the band.  I love marching bands.  I was positioned perfectly so that I could see both jumbotrons and the entire field without obstruction.  Good stuff.  It was pretty obvious that I had ended up in the season ticket holder section with the faithful Wolverines.  The older alums and fans.  I learned the fight song and motions very quickly.  Luckily, I am good at clapping. Michigan Stadium is great.  I hate to admit it but for the size and capacity it is much more fan friendly than Neyland Stadium at UT.  It is wide and and open and not like a fishbowl at all.  There are no three story ramps or upper decks that seems as though you could slide off with an errant sneeze.  It is a great place to watch a game.

I am sad to report that the Michigan fans that I was amongst were not particularly friendly.  It took my neighbors in my row an entire half to utter a word to me and then it was cool at best. Strange. Additionally, my Southern sensibilities and personal notions of good sportsmanship were a bit offended when I realized that there is an organized, marching band led, chant that ends with the entire Michigan contingent screaming “you suck”.  Not impressive.  I expressed this to a Purdue fan from my group and got the response “oh, that is football”.  Well, no, it is not.  Not in the Big East, ACC, or SEC.  Apparently, it is football in the Big Ten.  Maybe I am a prude, but that kind of nastiness is unnecessary and not pretty.

As for the game, well, Purdue failed to capitalize on two interceptions and Michigan decided to play in the second half.  Go Blue!  As for the rest of the fans, the student section is the most organized of any I have seen.  I was advised that the wave is popular at games but it can only start in the students’ section.  First the wave goes counter clockwise, then clockwise, then it goes both directions at the same time and back.  It was pretty cool and fun, especially since everyone participated.

A highlight was the half time show.  The Michigan Marching Band welcomed the Michigan Alumni Band to the field and they played together.  It is impressive that the band alumni are so organize and involved.  It was very fun to see the alums in jeans and matching shirts with their painted instruments and male baton twirlers going at it like they were still in college.  I just can’t contain my love for marching bands.  Of course, I am still partial to The Pride of the Southland Marching Band but Michigan was worth the trip (maybe not the ticket, but the trip).

The Big House experience is a spectacle.  Despite the bag ban, the “you suck” chant, and the chilly reception given to outsiders it was fun and there is a lot of pretty to see.  The campus is lovely and the stadium, while huge and rowdy, is pretty and very manageable for its size.  I can’t say it converted me to a Michigan fan or even a Big Ten supporter, but I would go back.

Brave or Stupid

Since leaving home (again) for this solo adventure in the Midwest I have heard countless times from many people that I am “brave”.  I always smile, thank them, and quietly wonder whether I am brave or stupid. Sometimes I feel brave and other times not so much. I guess it really depends on what brave really looks like.

Brave is an adjective that is defined (according to my Macbook dictionary) as “ready to endure danger or pain; showing courage.”  Courage is defined as “the ability to do something that frightens one.”  Moving to a new part of the country, eight hours from your support system is frightening. The unknown always is frightening. Not knowing how you will fit in or if you will, if you will be successful, if you will have friends, where the grocery store is or where you will live are all frightening things. Dangerous or painful? I am not sure if I would use those words. Indiana isn’t that scary. Pain, well, I guess there is emotional pain. Pain of missing those I love. Pain of loneliness. Maybe by that definition I am brave.

But I am not sure I buy it. It is hard for me to wholeheartedly sign on to the idea because I have seen and heard of what living a life of bravery looks like. And comparatively, I am just living and trying to be happy everyday.

That doesn’t sound very brave. But If it is bravery, I get it honest – I come from a long line of tough broads.

My family is by unfortunate circumstances very matriarchal. Both my parents were raised by single mothers. Women who were by definition brave. Women who faced situations that left them to rely upon faith, themselves, and the kindness and support of others.  I am in awe of their relentless spirit and dedication to their families.

My maternal grandmother, Grandmommy, was approximately my age, in her early thirties, when her husband left. After years of traveling around the world supporting him in his military career and their household she found herself alone with a seven year old. It was 1955. During the next 10 years, through a divorce, she raised her daughter in a coal camp house she shared with her mother, my Nanny. The house had no indoor plumbing or other luxuries. It was cold in the winter and hot in the summer. That alone is harder than anything I have experienced.

Grandmommy also cared for her mother-in-law, father-in-law, and her ex-husband’s cousins and their children. She fed whomever was at her table. She put herself through nursing school and worked hard every day. In 1965 Grandmommy and Nanny bought a new home. A house that they loved. They remodeled it to include a full kitchen and bathroom. My parents lived there with my Grandmommy and Nanny after they married and after by sister was born. I would later renovate that house again and live in it for five years. It is a special place. Every one in my immediately family inhabited the home Grandmommy built at one time or another.

Grandmommy worked relentlessly to make a good and respectable life for her and my mother. She worked hard every day. After my Sister and I were born she spent all her free time trying to be with us and loving us. She never complained (to me) about her life – how hard it was, how lonely it was, or how sad parts of it had been. She just lived in the face of whatever was thrown at her. She never quit.

She loved and trusted God and shared that faith with others. Many people loved her  dearly. It seemed that she had an insatiable appetite for caring for others no matter what, although she did not suffer fools. If you needed a favor she would do it no questions asked.  If you need her to keep a secret then she was your vault. If you needed the truth then you came to the right place because that was all she spoke. In fact, one of your classic lines was “you have asked for my opinion, so now I am going to give it to you.” She had to live the life of both a man and a woman and she did it with integrity, grace, good humor, and with shoes that always matched her belt and handbag. She was brave.

My paternal grandmother, Granny, was widowed in 1955 at 42. She had four children between the ages of 3 and 10  (three boys and a girl) and a 19-year-old daughter who was married with a daughter. She wasn’t left with a lot, but she had a home and a way to make a living and that is what she did.

This little lady, she was four feet eleven inches tall, spent the rest of her life being her family’s sole provider by running a restaurant, caring for the four little ones, helping with grandchildren, and caring for her mother and brothers and sisters. My Auntie M affectionately refers to her as the “original social worker” – she took care of anyone who needed taken care of and she was a rock for many.

I have never heard a story from any of my aunts, uncles, or my Daddy indicating that they ever went without. Each of them and everyone that I know who knew Granny has a deep abiding respect for her. She provided at a time when most women were not providers.  She disciplined at a time when most women were not the family disciplinarians. All of her children grew up to have college degrees, families, and lots of successes. Sadly, I did not know Granny personally. I came along two years after she passed away, but I never tire of hearing stories about her and seeing her pictures. She was brave.

I think of the lives of these two great ladies often. They both endured tragic life transitions that made them the sole support for their families, including small children. They did not get a lot of choices about their lives. And in the face of those circumstances they built lives that mattered, lives worth remembering and talking about. Together they raised at least six children who became good, responsible people.

That is courage. That is brave.

I am grateful for the lives of these two women. Their legacy of bravery lives on in their children and, I hope, in their grandchildren.