Monday, August 11, 2014

Friday Night Lights, Mayberry Style

You know how, on Friday Night Lights, Buddy Garrity and his businessman cronies work tirelessly to recruit talent for the Dillon Panthers football team, despite the fact that doing so is highly unethical and borderline illegal? If you were like me, you watched that show and shook your head while thinking to yourself, "Self, that doesn't happen in high school sports, that's just ridiculous"., a funny thing happened at the family reunion...

While eating breakfast at the Denny's with my dad and some of his extended family, the conversation naturally turned to Dad's youth and how he had come to live in Mayberry, where he met my mother, fell in love, got married, and went on to birth the smartest girl in the history of brains...

...and, I learned a lot from the conversation, including how a character like Buddy Garrity could have been conceived of in the first place.

(I know that makes no sense right now but, trust me; it will all come together in the end.)

So, to set the scene: the year was 1958 and Dad, his parents, and younger sister had relocated from Amarillo, Texas to Mayberry, Colorado for the express purpose of opening a cold storage and butchering operation (And, to be closer to relatives who had moved to the area several years previously).

Dad was a sophomore in high school and, despite being the new kid on the block, was quickly adopted into the Jock Clique, due in no small part to the fact that he excelled in football, basketball, and baseball, making him a triple threat (and, in his senior year, earning him the Yearbook designation of Best Physique, but, I'm getting ahead of myself) and garnering a group of male friends to whom he would be close for the rest of his life. In addition to his male counterparts, Dad earned the affections of a pretty brunette cheerleader, who, despite being a year younger and the daughter of strict Catholic parents, became his girlfriend and frequent companion (and, eventual mother of his children, but I'm guessing you already figured that out).

Life was pretty sweet for our hero until, with the introduction of the home Deep Freeze, his life changed, completely. Once townsfolk purchased the freezers, the need for paid cold storage decreased, dramatically. And, with the availability and convenience of home freezing, the need to purchase freshly butchered meats decreased a well. Losing both income streams devastated the family business and my grandparents made the hard decision to move back to Amarillo.

Dad was reluctant to move back to Texas, but, what else can a sixteen year old kid do? So, the family packed up and made the trek back to the Lonestar State, where Dad would spend the summer, missing his friends and that pretty brunette cheerleader.

Meanwhile, Mayberry was struck by tragedy when a member of the Jock Clique (and a friend of Dad's), drowned in the local lake while swimming with friends. In addition to the void left in the hearts and souls of the townspeople, the young man's death left a void in the football, basketball, and baseball teams, which, is where the local businessmen come into our story.

Because my Dad wasn't privy to the discussions that would eventually lead to his return to Mayberry, I am forced to imagine them, and, in my mind, they look strangely similar to the meetings that Buddy Garrity held in the Dillon coffee shop: A group of small business owners meet over coffee at the local diner. News of the local tragedy has spread and rumors are running rampant around the small town, will the football team be strong enough to put up a winning season? Will the basketball team be able to conduct a strong full-court press? Is there any possibility of capturing that elusive state title in baseball?

In reality, I'm sure that the local Boosters recognized the need for an athletic player and, they saw both the heart and the potential in my Dad. So, stats were cited, details hammered out, and, ultimately a plan concocted and money pledged. The money would eventually be offered to the parents of one of Dad's closest friends as partial compensation for opening their home to my dad long enough for him to graduate from Mayberry High School; that he would play sports was never in doubt.

Once the details had been arranged, one of the businessmen called my grandparents to inquire as to whether they might be willing to allow Dad to return to Mayberry for the duration of his schooling. The businessman promised my grandparents that Dad would be supervised, cared for, and, above all else, educated, with the possibility of an eventual college scholarship dangled in front of them for good measure. I have to imagine that, given their finances at the time, the offer sounded as good as anything they were bound to be able to provide for my dad, so; the deal was struck and Dad returned to Mayberry to finish out his junior and senior years, living with his best friend, dating my Mom, and playing the sports that he loved.

A baseball scholarship to the college in Mount Pilot followed, and, in his second year of college, a wedding to that pretty brunette cheerleader, now a high school graduate, herself.

Those businessmen made a great investment in my Dad; not only did he lead his teams to numerous victories, but, he made his home in Mayberry, embracing the community and earning the respect of generations of athletes by coaching every team that came his way,  thus continuing the tradition of strong sports teams in Mayberry. He also spent a great deal of his free time playing baseball in the Old Timer's League, a fact that baffled me during my childhood but which I find perfectly reasonable now that I know the story; those businessmen eventually became friends and friends who play together, stay together.

So, now you know; there are actual Buddy Garritys in the world and I owe a few of them for my very existence on this planet. That's...kind of humbling given the fact that I scoffed at the very existence of men that sports-crazy just a mere weekend ago.

And, I learned that over a cup of coffee at a small town diner.

Sometimes, life really does imitate art, I guess.

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