Maybe it’s Pleasantville after all

By Joy Carrico | Published Saturday, July 30, 2016

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Today is my birthday, and I had quite an experience this week. In order to tell the story, I need to provide some background information.

Joy Carrico

Joy Carrico

In 2013, the University of North Texas celebrated 100 years of football (1913-2013) by naming an All-Century team. They selected the “best” of 100 years of UNT football to fill the fantasy roster, and my dad was selected as an offensive lineman for that team.

He played for UNT (then NTSC) from 1958-1959. And football was a very different game back then. In his day, Dad was a big guy at 6 feet and 220 pounds. Today he’d get clobbered on the line at that size.

The celebration was a whirlwind affair, with a huge banquet, a tailgating party and a UNT game where the All-Century team was honored at halftime.

Throughout the weekend, people bought commemorative footballs and had them signed by the players.

My dad was a quiet man. After he stopped playing football, he became a teacher and coach. He spent almost his entire career in the same district. He was not famous by anyone’s imagination, except maybe to the kids he coached and taught. So seeing a line of middle-aged boys with footballs under their arms treating dad like he was the world’s most famous football player was an odd sight, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The university was supposed to give each of the players one of these signed footballs. My dad never got his.

My dad died this past Valentine’s Day.

As time has passed, I have felt disappointed with myself for not taking the opportunity to get one of those footballs when I had the chance. It didn’t even occur to me at the time that I would ever want one. But after Dad died, I was saddened not to have one as a representation of who my dad was and to remind me of some of what was best about him.

Fast forward to last week when I went to a yoga class with the Fella. Denton has a program which offers free and/or very inexpensive yoga classes. They are held all over Denton – wherever there’s a business willing to host one.

Point Bank in Denton hosts a yoga class on Wednesday nights, and we decided to go. We arrived and were waiting for class to start when the Fella told me there was an All-Century team football on one of the bookshelves in the back of the class. I got up and went to look at it. There was my dad’s signature, standing out among all the other players.

The Fella and I discussed the football. We wondered who it belonged to and we went on with our yoga class. I put it out of my mind and moved on with my week.

This Wednesday the Fella asked me if I wanted to skip yoga. It was an odd question, and I said, “no,” so we got ready to go. He then said he had to tell me something. He had contacted the bank and told them about my dad and the football. The bank let the owner of the football know and he agreed to meet the Fella at the yoga class to talk about selling it.

The Fella was hoping I would bow out of yoga because he wanted to surprise me for my birthday, and he didn’t want to get my hopes up in case he couldn’t afford the man’s price – there are some valuable signatures on it. But since I would be going to class, he didn’t know how he could keep me from finding out about the exchange, so he fessed up.

I told him I would not be upset if he couldn’t afford whatever the man wanted. It was enough for me that he made the effort, no matter the outcome. I also assured him I would walk away from the conversation when it came to negotiating a price. I did not want to know what it would cost him.

We got there and met the man named Ray. He was curious to know which player was my dad. So the Fella told him and introduced me. Before I could excuse myself from the conversation, Ray said, “I want you to just take the football. It will mean much more to you than it ever will to me.”

It’s easy for me to get caught up in thinking that the world is a cruel and dangerous place. Since my dad’s death, it has felt like I moved from Pleasantville to Gotham – and there is no Batman.

Recent events have not helped. Lately we have been bombarded with active shooters seeking to best each other in body counts, a new level of insanity in politics and terrorists bombing Europe as fast as they can. We barely have a chance to raise our flags all the way up the flagpole before we are obliged to bring them back down to halfstaff to mourn some new example of man’s inhumanity to man.

But it’s important for me to remember there are people in this world like Ray, like my Dad, and like the Fella, who care about others and seek to make the world a better place.

I wouldn’t begin to know how to find one of these footballs. So, coming across one seemingly at random, the Fella going to the trouble to buy it, and the kindness of a man I do not know, all in the week of my birthday, feels like a miracle.

And so I will treasure that football as long as I can. It not only represents my dad’s athletic excellence, but it evokes for me memories of his kindness to people as he signed it, his humility at feeling honored to be counted among the best. It also represents the love the Fella has for me, which is a nice addition. And finally, and maybe most importantly, it is there to remind me that the world can be a good place where good people do good things. A world I want to live in.

Only God could give such a dynamic birthday present.

Joy Carrico is a Messenger graphic artist.

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