Childhood memories, the good ones, gleam and glimmer through the dense web of oblivion that comes with age. We may forget the names of coworkers, exes (hopefully) and neighbors, but the things of youth have undiminished power. We are most deeply marked by our earliest loves and hatreds. That’s why they say the child is father to the man.
It’s not that we stop evolving, and Lord knows some of us are unrecognizable from our earlier incarnations but the blueprint for our future selves is written on our childhood souls.
That’s especially true this Sunday.
Growing up, I was a girly-girl in almost every respect. Pictures from 1961 through 1971 show me decked out in the Simplicity-patterned confections my mother would make, spilling over with lace and cotton and in the case of my First Holy Communion dress, hundreds of seed pearls and crystals that she’d painstakingly sewn by hand. My favorite color was yellow, closely followed by pink (which is why I’m so ticked off at those feminists with their pussy hats who have completely ruined it for me).
There was nothing remotely tomboyish about this first-born big sister to three brothers except … my inexplicable passion for football. At the age of 10 or 11, I started spending Sunday afternoons watching the Eagles lose games. Losing was a given for us, except for the occasional upset over the Giants or the Cowboys when their respective starting lines were on dialysis or stationed in war zones.
I didn’t really understand much of what was going on at the beginning, beyond the fact that when the tall man named Harold (Carmichael) caught a pass, that was a good thing. And when the small man named Wilbert (Montgomery) started running, that was also a good thing. And when the guy from New York named Rich (Kotite) opened his mouth, that was a bad thing. I took my cues from my father, who anesthetized himself with Rolling Rock and the conviction that before he died, we’d win a championship.
Sadly, that didn’t happen, even though he was alive when the Eagles beat the Packers at Franklin Field for the 1960 NFL championship. This could have been enough for some tribes, but Daddy was a Philadelphian, and Philadelphians are greedy.
So he finally bought season tickets in 1973.
Here is where the most vivid childhood memories kick in. The time I was screamed at by a man with green war paint on his face, telling me to “sit down! Who the hell brings a girl to a Dallas game?!”
The time I was vomited on by a man in the row behind me, just close enough to the historic 700 level to be downwind of crushed hopes and hops.
The time my baby brother screamed, “He’s dead! He’s dead!” when a Giant or Cowboy or some other hated opponent was brutally tackled, only to have the longshoreman seated next to him say, “Not yet, kid, but it’s only the first half thank God.”
Yes, Sundays at the Vet provided the Old Testament twist to the more sober “turn the other cheek” lessons absorbed at morning Mass.
Ironically, my happiest memories of Eagles football don’t coincide with their years of glory. Instead, they intersect with the brief arc of time I had with my father, 10 years from the moment I fell in love with his love of the sport to the moment he passed away in 1982. There were greater players than Herman Edwards, but Daddy loved this miracle worker, and so did I. When Joe Pisarcik fumbled at the Miracle at the Meadowlands, we were sitting side by side on the couch. That’s a memory.
Watching that monolith of Gang Green named Bill Bergey taught me to appreciate the value of brawn over brain, although I’m sure he had a good one.
If I love Harold Carmichael, all 6-foot-8 of him, it’s because my 5-6 father thought there was something mystical in the grace of this wide receiver who almost touched the clouds.
And when Merrill Reese speaks, the groans and screams of distant Sundays reverberate in my ear.
Devotion to this team is intertwined with my DNA, making it impossible for me to look at this Sunday without feeling as if politics and women’s marches and threats of nuclear Armageddon are so utterly unimportant.
The Birds are in flight, and they carry all of us on their wings. Everything else can wait.