Being a novel, all characters, events, dialogue and representations are fictional ... and in no way are meant to represent any real or living persons or events... except the few annual events that are used to move me through time. The opinions expressed are my own, and not necessarily those of my author. And the story is copyrighted, by my author of course. Oh, and from time to time I may include some real time events to keep the blog more authentic. Comments and suggestions will be appreciated and seriously considered as the story moves along.

If you are just joining us, start with the Prologue and Chapter One on March 1, 2011, in the Archives.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Chapters 36 and 37

      Doug led Sharon and me through the excited crowd, which got louder the closer we got to Jones Stadium at the northeast corner of campus. One of the first orders of business when I’d arrived last spring was to purchase a football season ticket next to Sharon and Doug’s usual seats. Deciding to walk the mile from my house to the stadium, knowing it would be quicker than fighting traffic in and around campus on the day of the first home football game, we were caught up in the enthusiasm as soon as we stepped on campus. The Goin’ Band from Raider Land marched smartly across campus with throngs of cheering, hopeful red-and-black-clad fans following in their wake, Sharon and Doug and I included. 
   This was the first game I’ve attended since my college days and I wondered if the magic would still be there. The ever-changing West Texas weather had cooperated, and the forecast was for sunshine and clear skies into the evening hours. In fact, it was still hot and dry. The little rain we have had lately came and went with the same haste, and every other system that moved our way seemed to split just before it got to Lubbock. Oh, for cool, wet weather! 
The game was scheduled to start in late afternoon, but it should still be hot enough to leave jackets at home. 
   As we were crossing Memorial Circle, I looked once again at the Will Rogers statue. Late Thursday evening, Saddle Tramps had wrapped the legendary man and horse in flowing red crepe paper, covering them head to hoof without so much as an inch of bronze showing. A close-up photo of the wrapping graces the latest issue of the alumni magazine, Texas Techsan. The photo, Soapsuds Dressed for Fall is by O’Jay R. Barbee. 
Wrapping is a tradition begun after my graduation, and on Friday I had stood by my office window to admire the transformed statue and watch Saddle Tramps, posted at each campus entrance, hand out red and black streamers for entering cars. They were fulfilling their roles as spirit leaders. 
   Steven had walked in at that point and I remarked on the Will Rogers’ wrapping.
“Yeah, it makes for great pictures. We just hope it doesn’t rain between Thursday nights and game times,” he said with a smile. “When wet, crepe paper can get pretty ugly pretty fast.”
   “Not much chance of rain this year. But with this drought, I bet they’d be willing to sacrifice the crepe paper. Do they always use red?” I asked.
   “For games, yes. But they wrap it in black for special mourning events, like the campus shooting at Virginia Tech a while back. It really symbolizes the mood.”
   “And no one ever messes with it? I vaguely remember Will being splashed one year with maroon paint when the Aggies came to town, but that was a long time ago.”
   “Nope. Saddle Tramps guard it 24/7 along with the Masked Rider statue closer to Jones Stadium, and of course the real Raider horse. No pranks in at least a decade, although I’m sure it’s not for lack of trying by some rival teams.” 
    On Saturday, once in our seats near the south 35-yard line, I scanned the crowds behind for Colin and Sean. Monsignor Fitzpatrick was probably at the game also, more than likely in a luxury suite high above the masses with one of the wealthier parishioners. Being a part of the crowd in the open air was more appealing to the Murphy brothers, who also had season tickets. I had agreed with them wholeheartedly and settled into the crowd, happy to be part of the enthusiastic unwashed public. 
   Still not seeing the brothers, I left my seat to find the nearest corny dog stand. I hadn’t had one since July the Fourth, and I hoped the stadium corny dogs were as good as I remembered from years ago, or at least as good as the ones from the street fair. 
   Concession stand lines were long, but moving quickly. When I reached the counter, I was pleasantly surprised to see Fern Arbuckle on the other side, sprightly stepping to fill orders. For a small lady in her late 70s, Fern was surprisingly quick, much like Jonathan Long, Boyle’s second-in-command, but in a calmer manner. 
   I gave Fern my order and asked about Russ. “He’s up in our suite with Tom, Julie and the boys,” Fern said. Then to my questioning look she added, smiling conspiratorially, “I don’t really care for football, but I love the excitement and the kids, so I volunteer at the concession counter while he talks football with the guys. It’s great fun! That’ll be seven bucks, please!”
   I returned to my seat to find Colin standing talking to Doug. Turning, he smiled at me, then noticed my corny dog. “You really like those things, don’t you?” He pulled a napkin from my hand, reaching up to gently wipe away a spot of mustard from the corner of my mouth. 
   Sharon noted the gesture seemed natural for both of them, as if they had been together for years. Interesting, she thought, tucking that piece of information away for later exploration. 
   I had already eaten half of the corny dog and swallowed my mouthful before answering in the affirmative. “Love ‘em. Where’re your seats?” I asked. 
  “Three rows up and in the next section over. Why not come up for a bit?” he asked hopefully. “Sean’s not here yet. Should be along mid-quarter, though.”
Pleased with the invitation, I looked questioningly at Sharon, who said, “Go ahead. We’ll see you when the priest kicks you out.”
   It was closer to the middle of the second quarter when Father Sean finally showed up, and I had spent nearly an hour comfortably next to Colin, enjoying the game, joining in the singing of the school alma mater, cheering the Red Raider black stallion racing across the field, and whooping with the crowd for two Tech touchdowns. I also groaned at the points scored by the opponent, Texas State. But there was plenty of time, and Tech had one heck of an offensive passing game. But mainly I was enjoying being with Colin, and marveled at how relaxed I felt.
  One of the long-standing traditions at Tech football games is the Saddle Tramp participation before and during the games. Before the game started, I craned my neck to spot the two Tramps I knew, Jamie and Josh, and found them easily among the red-shirted men on the field. They rang their cowbells as the team entered the field through the traditional Bell Circle. Standing at attention, they then led the students and fans in the Tech Alma Mater, guns up, another tradition that began just after Carol, Sharon and I graduated. The Raider Red mascot carries a six-shooter, so the Guns Up sign — thumb and forefinger extended in a pistol shape — is Tech’s answer to the rival University of Texas’ Hook ’em Horns sign. 
   As the band was leaving the field, Saddle Tramps fanned out to the sidelines to toss miniature red Tech footballs into the crowd, a tradition newly revisited from decades before.
   I stood, ready to catch one, but they weren’t coming anywhere near our section. “Will you reach for one if it’s close, Murphy?” I asked.
   He laughed. “I would, but the guys know where my seats are and make it a game to not throw any this way. They think it’s hilarious that I’ve never caught one in all these years.”
   “Poor thing,” I said feigning pity. “I caught one more than three decades ago. Want me to dig it out of storage for you?”
    “Thanks, but I can live without one ... Threw them way back in the dark ages, did they? Ooff!” he said as I elbowed his side in reply. 
    “Colin, do you know why they’re called Saddle Tramps?”
“I do,” he answered. I looked at him expectantly, but he was silent, ignoring me.
   Stomping my foot, she cried, “Murphy! Tell me why they’re called Saddle Tramps!”
“Oh, you wanted to know why? I thought you just wanted to know if I knew,” he teased.
I readied my elbow again, but he quickly said, “Mercy, woman! I’ll tell you.”
   “Today would be good, Professor,” I said as we sat down with the crowd to await the  impending kickoff. 
   “Saddle Tramps were started in 1936 by student Arch Lamb. He was a cheerleader and along with two others conceived the organization to channel students’ sometimes overly exuberant and unruly nature into more positive and productive activities. They thought the school needed a men’s organization to boost school spirit. It has grown in to a school spirit and service organization.”
   “And the name, Murphy?”
  “Oh, yes. Early Texas ranchers would hire a nomad saddle tramp for his ability and willingness to tackle any task assigned. Then he would move on after a while, having done all he could to contribute to the improvement of the ranch. That’s why Lamb named the group as he did. Saddle Tramps would be hard workers when in school at Tech, moving on after their college years were done.”
  “That fits,” I said. “Sounds like you recited it, though. Did you?”
“Most of it directly from the Tramp’s website.” He shrugged, “I have this extremely non-useful talent of being able to memorize text after only one or two readings and recall it at will.”
“Non-useful? You’re kidding, right? Didn’t it help in school?” I asked, immediately jealous of his peculiar talent.
“Oh, yeah, absolutely, and at other times later, but not much need for it now. Anyway, that’s the history. Let’s see, the website also says,” he put his hand over his heart, sitting up straight, “ ‘Saddle Tramps attend all men’s home football, basketball and baseball games. Our primary focus remains to further the spirit and uphold the traditions of Texas Tech University. Some of the traditions that we uphold are: Raider Red –the mascot – Wrapping of Will Rogers and Midnight Raiders, Homecoming Bonfire and Parade, Bell Circles, Victory Bells, Shotguns, UT/A&M Watch, Carol of Lights, Bangin’ Bertha –the traveling bell– and many more. Along with attending sports games, Saddle Tramps are also very involved in the Lubbock community by helping out with several local charities and ... and’ ... oh, yes, ‘philanthropy events annually.’ Hmm, think that needs to be changed to ‘philanthropic events,’ doesn’t it?”
“Fascinating,” I said, laughing.
   “Yeah, they’re a great bunch of guys. I enjoy working with ‘em.”
“No, I mean that you can memorize like that ...” 
   Colin shrugged as he stood with the crowd for the kickoff. 
Chapter 37
   By the time Father Sean arrived close to half time, and I returned to my own seat, I was stuffed with half of a second corny dog. Midway through devouring it, Colin, who had consumed his own dog quickly, eyed mine saying, “You gonna eat the rest of that?” I laughed and gave it up happily, knowing the calories would be distributed better on his large frame than on mine. 
   At the end of the game, a huge, almost embarrassing victory for Tech, Sharon and Doug asked the twin brothers to join us for a late casual dinner at the Nest, but Sean begged off, saying his sermon wasn’t quite ready for the next morning. Colin accepted, though, and walked with us as far as the Administration Building before heading in the other direction to his truck. We passed the tower where the victory bells were ringing, and would continue for 30 minutes, two Saddle Tramps fulfilling the duty call. 
   Once at home, I waited for Colin to get through traffic while my friends went to the Nest to light up the grill. I also fed Miss Priss. She still hasn’t let me touch her.
   This time, Colin’s truck was fairly clean on the outside. Still pristine on the inside. I climbed in, directing him to the home on 19th Street, on the way answering his query as to why my friends called it the Nest. 
   “Sharon’s mom is an avid birdwatcher,” I explained, spending every spare moment with the Houston Audubon Society, looking through binoculars to find and confirm new sightings, traveling to exotic places around the world hoping to discover new species. Her home is filled with everything birds, from photos to cutely decorated birdhouses, with expensive porcelain bird figurines on every possible flat surface. Old nests and jeweled birds with bright colors were the decorations for the family Christmas trees, and their back yard was the feeding station for hundreds of migrating species that enjoyed the pounds of birdseed put out each week, even though the Audubon Society frowned on the practice.    
   Sharon had grown up in the world of Audubon, and although she loved birds, too, she refused to decorate their Lubbock house with them. There was only one small bird feeder on the premises sporadically refilled by Doug.
At Christmas, birthdays and on her infrequent visits, Sharon’s mother inevitably presented bird-themed gifts, but they were all put away somewhere in the attic, gathering dust. To pacify his pseudo-mother-in-law, Doug started calling their home the Nest — a cozy, comfortable place to come home to after a busy day flying around campus, he’d told her.
   “That makes no sense,” Colin said. “I mean, how does that pacify the mother?”
   “You’re right, it doesn’t make sense. But some things about Sharon and Doug you just have to accept without questioning. Maybe Mrs. Phelps gets some satisfaction thinking of birds whenever they mention their Nest? I’ve no idea ... you’d have to ask Sharon, or Doug, or Mrs. Phelps, though she rarely visits since her husband died about five years ago,” I said, shaking my head. “Oh, and never bring them anything to do with birds. I made that mistake once — found a great Audubon print ... just a small one at Christmas one year. Sharon was speechless, but apparently not from joy. Never hung it up, at least not in any place where I’ve ever seen it. Probably in the attic, also gathering dust.”
  “So ... references to our fine feathered friends are out?’
   “No, ‘birds of a feather flock together.’ ’’ 
   I grinned, “No, definitely not.”
  “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush?”
  “How about ‘The early bird catches the worm’? ‘As the crow flies?’ ” he continued.
“No!” I said, giggling. “That’s enough.” “ ‘One swallow does not a summer make?’ ”
“Stop!” I demanded, stomping my foot and laughing.
  “Wise as an owl. Naked as a jaybird. Sitting duck?”
   “Colin, please!” I sputtered.
   “Out on a lark? A feather in your cap? Eagle eye? ”
   I was clutching my stomach and laughing hard. “Colin, sop!” I begged between gasping breaths. “It hurts!” 
   “Okay, I forgot your penchant for splitting your sides. I’ll stop,” he said with a straight face.
I took deep breaths and composed myself, or at least tried to until he added, “Guess my goose would be cooked if I tweeted more, huh, Grant?” I was too far away to elbow him, but vowed revenge.
   Casual dinner for Doug meant thick grilled steaks and baked potatoes, with juicy grilled corn on the cob. Since it was so late, the corny dogs were no longer an issue, and we all ate as if famished. Settling comfortably around the pool after dinner, we talked of Tech and our different departments — Music, Engineering, Communications and Design. Comparing challenges, I won the prize for having the most difficult boss, an honor I was not pleased to accept, but nevertheless did. 
   Lately, though, my new way to work has sort of worked, except that I still have no access to the new president. Hope that changes some day soon!
Cool front came in late last night... at least cool enough so it’s not over 100. Thank God for small miracles. Prayers, though for the families near Possum Kingdom Lake and near Bastrop who have lost their homes to wildfires in this drought-stricken state. 
Please, God, we need rain so badly. 

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