The Varsity Blues


My mom died in 1997. My father called me at 6am and met me at the airport a few hours later.

When we walked in the door at home, it was already beginning to buzz with my mother’s close friends. Ann C and Ann P, our housekeeper Geraldine, Mrs. N. They were in the kitchen, mostly, doing I-don’t-know-what. Keeping busy. Trying to help.

By this time, I was drained, dazed, sad, yet relieved mom was no longer suffering. It had not been a matter of whether she would make it or not, but when she would go.

I didn’t really want to talk. What was there to say? I didn’t even need to cry. I was cried out. Watching the women at work, I felt a little lost.

The past few months my visits home had been about helping care for my mom, relieving my dad so that he could rest, and now there was nothing much for me to do.

He, too, seemed not to know what to do with himself. My mother always said, “Your father is good in a crisis.” Which is true. Those situations always bring out the best in him. But after the crisis? What is one supposed to do then? I think he picked up the newspaper and pretended to read. I wandered around the house trying to look occupied. Family would arrive soon enough. The house would fill up, and we would be busy with preparations for the funeral, but not yet.

There was a knock. My father’s friend Neal stood on our front porch with two boxes from The Varsity. Hamburgers, french fries, chili dogs, slaw dogs, pimento cheese burgers, onion rings. He presented his gifts and left a few minutes later.

It was such a small thing. Maybe it seems like an odd choice. But it was perfect for my dad and me. Neal read the situation exactly right. We didn’t need to talk it out. We didn’t need more “help.” We did need comfort. And Neal brought it to us, almost wordlessly, in a cardboard box.

The deviled eggs and casseroles would show up in their own good time. But I’ve never been happier to see that red box in my entire life. In my grief, I didn’t even realize I was starving.

 originally posted on March 15, 2012