The sport of keeping us together -- football
In December, espnW's weekly essay series will focus on family.
One of my earliest family memories finds me in a light blue house, sitting on a couch -- my legs pressed together, feet planted on the ground as I scarf down the food on the styrofoam plate in front of me. A plate full of all the fixings -- macaroni and cheese, cornbread, greens and meatloaf the way only my grandmother made it, with lots of flavor and care.
There is a football game on in the background.
My twin sister, Leah, my cousin and my grandmother are watching. My aunts and mother are too, but not with the same level of intensity. I don't remember who is playing, but my family members all have a team they are rooting for and sometimes those teams differ depending on the game in front of them. When the game is over we go back to eating before we find another or are too full to do anything, but close our eyes and let lazy smiles cross our faces.
Before my grandmother passed in 2009, my family and I spent the weekend just like this: At her house watching the Jets or the Browns or a Syracuse game.
My grandmother, a big Syracuse fan and a long-suffering Browns fan, took to changing the channel in frustration when it was clear that the teams we were rooting for would eventually lose. I say "we" because I always rooted for the teams she did because I believed that she always knew best. We sat in that house laughing, eating and being together unaware of what we would one day lose.
So when we lost her, we lost a bit of ourselves, and we lost watching the game together as a family.
Sports, in their comfort and familiarity, have been a driving force in my family. My cousins ran track and played football and basketball. At one point, our family's last name "Brown" was synonymous with sports achievements. My mother, aunts and uncles played various sports when they were in school, and they excelled. When I was in high school, I spent many gym periods walking past the names of my uncles Mikey and Scottie behind glass as record holders in their specific track and field events.
Five years after my grandmother died, my Uncle Scottie, her son, died from a rare form of cancer. A sports fan just like my grandmother, he attended almost every single one of my cousin Jeremy's football games. He was my cousin's biggest fan. He took such pride in watching the nieces and nephews he helped raise play their respective sports. My grandmother loved watching us thrive in sports, too. She couldn't make it out to the games but she was always willing to hear a play-by-play, always proud and encouraging us no matter the outcome. When the games were won or lost, we'd find ourselves back on my grandmother's green couch, a plate of food in our lap, and rooting for a football team.
Even though we no longer have my grandmother and Uncle Scottie on Earth with us, I feel them when we get together to watch my cousin Jeremy play football. He moves with the skill and precision that only passion can teach you, and it feels as though they are moving through him as he scores a touchdown.
We've lost a lot over the years, but when we come together we manage to find and keep laughter, joy, the ability to have a good time during a bad one, and the will to keep going even when we are hurting. Whether we are releasing balloons on the anniversary of my grandmother's death or throwing a party on what would have been my Uncle Scottie's 50th birthday, with music, a plate of food and the game.
We will keep each other the way the game kept us.
Keah Brown's work has appeared in Lenny Letter, Catapult, The Establishment and Femsplain, among other publications. She loves TV, good music and cheesecake. Follow her @Keah_Maria