When you get to be an old geezer like me, you look back, and at times remember really special occasions you did not expect to end up being so special.
Like what I experienced exactly 7 years ago.
That’s because September 6, 2014 was the date of my 40th high school reunion in Norfolk. That alone should have made the night special enough, because unlike earlier reunions where people try to impress their classmates with their success, 40th reunions don’t have such drama. The number one thing people are impressed with is that we all survived and are still standing. Nothing else really much matters.
But while I was reeling in the years hearing story after story from my friends, something else was going on. Virginia Tech was in the Horseshoe in Columbus playing Ohio State, and as anyone who knows me understands, my blood types are Type Orange and Type Maroon. I didn’t have great expectations for the Hokies, so it was being DVR’d back at my house in Ashburn, and I was going to get up early the next morning, drive home, and then watch what I thought would be athletic carnage.
But as I was donating my drink tickets to old friend Wendy Rieger (of NBC 4 fame here in the DC market), my phone started buzzing. Texts from multiple people – who happened to be in Columbus – filled my phone. Whatever I was doing, they all said, I needed to extract myself from what was going on and find a television.
The Hokies were beating the eventual National Champion Buckeyes.
This created a huge tug of war in my soul. I was seeing friends I hadn’t seen in a long time and probably wouldn’t ever see again. But this was Virginia Tech beating THE Ohio State Buckeyes. That also fell into the category of things I probably wouldn’t ever see again in my lifetime.
Fortunately, it seemed like a third of my graduating class in 1974 went to Virginia Tech, another third went to UVA, and the remain third spread about the country (with ODU leading that contingent). Those fellow Hokies were also getting similar text messages, so when one old friend whispered to me “if you head for the restroom but instead of turning right, you turn left, there’s a banquet room open that has a TV on in the background,” I suddenly developed a strong case of incontinence and had to search for the facilities.
I was able to see the last few minutes of the first half, which let me know I had another 15 minutes of being social before trying to get back to the game. Most of us were staying in a hotel right across from Old Dominion, and it had a sports bar on the first floor. “Why don’t,” I said to the circle of friends I knew best, “we go back to the bar, reminisce and have a few drinks?”
The motion passed unanimously via voice vote.
Then came the hour I’ll never forget. A dozen of us grabbed a table and we were immediately transported back to the days of Lake Taylor High School in the 70s. Lies were told, stories were recalled, opinions were voiced, all while I had a clear and direct view of the television at the corner of the bar, which was showing the Hokie game.
By the 4th quarter, I could no longer engage about anything other than the Hokies. My old friend Mark and I moved to the bar so we could direct all of our attention at the TV. The game would soon be tied at 21-21 and doubt had entered the chat room. But while preparing for the worse, Michael Brewer hit Bucky Hodges with the go-ahead touchdown pass, and then my nerves were completely calmed when Donovan Riley picked off an Ohio State pass and went 63 yards for the game-clinching score.
I might have climbed up on the bar with my arms held up high, saying something about “IT. IS. OVAH.”
We all high-fived, had another drink and enjoyed the rest of the evening. Mark and I had the usual reunion conversation about how we were going to stay in touch and talk to each other more often, and it seemed like nobody wanted the evening to end. So we stayed until they kicked us out.
Life, at that particular moment in time, was good.
I think about the evening every year, because it reminds me how fleeting such moments are, and to enjoy every moment IN the moment. After thinking this could be a great year for the Hokies with such a huge win, it only took one week for it all to begin to unravel. A week later, Virginia Tech came crashing down, losing to ECU and barely had a winning record in 2014.
By Christmas, cancer would claim one of my favorite classmates. Mark would pass away a few years later, as we never did reconnect and talk to each other more often. Frank Beamer would enjoy the spotlight of a huge victory, unaware that the next season would be his last.
And me? I text several classmates at 8 PM as I have done every year for the last seven years, reminding them of where we were and what we were doing on that warm September night in 2014.
All while also raising a glass to those I can no longer text.