by Eloise Hawking
My mother and Sam made it into the stadium just as the Huskies scored an early touchdown. The quarterback was a tall, lanky kid named Truman. He was the only son of a single mother, who was his biggest fan. I always wondered about his dad. Could he be in the stands somewhere, secretly rooting for a son he never knew?
According to Mom, Truman was a decent quarterback, but a little slow on the draw and a scaredy cat if he dropped too far out of the pocket, whatever that means. I repeated that to Mikey and his friends at lunch once and they seemed really impressed that I would know to say such a thing about the game.
The Huskies were off to a 7-0 early lead, I was sitting four rows back from my family, and Sam seemed to be content eating his popcorn for the time being. Mom and Grandma were engrossed in the game as usual, and I was with my friends. Life was good for the moment.
Rumble, rumble, rumble. A brief moment. That wasn’t the band.
A faint rumble of thunder could be heard in the distance and the wind seemed to be picking up. Grandma, who was almost deaf, had the hearing of a bat when it came to thunder. She said that she could sense it.
I saw Grandma’s head whip to the westerly direction. She leaned over and said something to my mom. My mom looked at her and said something back in a quick, clipped sentence. Even though I could only see my mother’s profile, I could still see a look of annoyance crossed her face.
“Ellen! Ellen!” Grandma was waving me down to our row. “Ellen! You better come down here! I hear thunder.”
“I thought your Grandma was deaf,” Emily said to me.
“She is,” I replied, giving no more explanation.
I crawled down the rows of bleachers and scooted in next to Grandma on the end. Sam suddenly remembered that I was at the game too. He had finished his entire box of popcorn and also the can of pop that my mom smuggled into the stadium inside her purse.
“Onion! There you are! Sit by me! Sit by me!”
“Just a minute Sam. I want to see the halftime ceremony. I can see better from here. They are going to crown the Homecoming Queen in a few minutes,” I told him.
The countdown clock read 3:51. We had the ball, the team was on the 40, and we were approaching field goal range. Mom and Grandma were arguing back and forth as to whether they should play it safe and go for the field goal, or if they should try for the first down.
Truman dropped back for a pass and hesitated. No one was open. But then a hole opened up in the line. An offensive lineman missed a tackle and a defensive player for the other team snuck through the hole and went on the attack of our QB.
Everyone started screaming and Mom was immediately on her feet as was most of the rest of the crowd. Truman was in a mad scramble. He tried to get away, but fell into a slide and got sacked—hard—which caused a fumble. The other team got the ball back with just under three minutes left in the first half.
The fans griped and protested and shouted things.
“You chicken shit!” Grandma yelled.
“It’s not his fault, Mom,” my mother yelled to Grandma. “That dumb lineman missed the tackle.”
“That dimwit probably was thinking about his date for the dance!” she yapped back at my mother. “Keep your head in the game!” Grandma yelled.
DE-FENSE! DE-FENSE! DE-FENSE!
The cheerleaders led the crowd in the chant as the defense ran onto the field. I can’t believe I heard it over the roar of the crowd, but I did—thunder again. This time it was a little closer. Maybe Grandma passed her special ability to me. Grandma was so caught up in the game, she didn’t notice it though.
“I have to go PEE! I have to go PEE right now!” Sam shouted, interrupting my thoughts.
Mom held up her index finger to him, eyes still fixed on the game. It was second down and the defense was doing a pretty good job holding the other team back.
“In a minute, Sam,” she said.
There are no “minutes” when Sam says he has to go pee---only seconds. I knew that the ball of the Pee Pee Game game was passed to me. I had to decide if I was going to slide like a chicken shit or make a run for it out of the pocket.
With just two minutes left until half time, I knew the line for the bathrooms would grow longer pretty quickly. My choices were either to take Sam right now, or suffer the consequences in a few minutes.
I saw the convertibles lining up and the five girls vying for Homecoming Queen were sitting on the backs of the seats. A couple of them turning to the west because I am sure they heard the thunder, too. They didn’t want the halftime show to be called off or worse, have their pretty dresses get all wet. It was truly a race against the weather.
I decided to make a break for it. “Come on Sam! I’ll take you, but let’s hurry. I don’t want to miss the half time ceremony.”
I grabbed Sam’s hand and mouthed “Bathroom” to my mother and she gave me a quick glance and nodded, then put her eyes quickly back out on the field. I half walked, half dragged Sam down the steps.
I was moving quickly because I knew we were in everyone’s line of sight and I wanted to get out of the way. With 1:45 left on the clock and it looked as though the defense would hold them. It was third and eight and there was one play left. It looked like the other team was going to have to punt it.
I kind of wanted to see what happened. I stopped a second to see if maybe I could catch a glimpse of the play from the lower level, but Sam just grabbed at the front of his pants and danced around and said, “Now, Onion! I have to go right NOW!”
The bathrooms were only ten yards away and I knew if I made a mad dash, Sam would make it in time. We walked quickly and I headed toward the restrooms.
I gave Sam a yank and headed into the Ladies Room. Sam noticed this right away and protested, “Hey! That person has a dress on!” pointing to the hairless stick figure on the restroom door. “This place is for girls! I’m a boy! I want to go to the Boys’ Room!”
My mom usually didn’t let Sam go into the Boy’s Room alone. My dad had to be with him, but I knew there was no way I could drag him into the Ladies’ Room myself. I sighed, rolled my eyes, and drug him to the Boy’s room doorway.
“Sam,” I said while bending down and looking at him right in the big blue eyes, “you need to be a big boy and go potty by yourself, then come right back out. Don’t even wash your hands. Mom has hand sanitizer in her purse and you can use that. Hurry.”
“Okay,” Sam said while holding his wiener and trotting through the doorway. I leaned on the bricks outside of the bathrooms and took a rest for a minute. I couldn’t see the activity on the field but I heard the crowd roar.
The other team decided to go for it to try to get some points on the board before half time and their plan failed. Interception by the Huskies on a short pass over the middle by the other team’s quarterback. We ran it back to our own 47 yard line and the home crowd was on their feet again.
As the clock ticked by, Sam seemed to be taking forever in the bathroom. I saw Kenny headed for the Men’s Room. Good God. Now what? I was caught between a rock and a hard place. I needed to check on Sam and full well couldn’t go in there myself. I waved Kenny over.
“Kenny! Over here!” I yelled. Kenny stepped toward me with his hands shoved in his pockets.
I continued, “Kenny! I need your help.” Kenny’s head snapped in my direction and a sly smile spread across his face.
I ignored the smile in my desperation. I continued, “My little brother went in there awhile ago and hasn’t come out yet. Can you check on him for me and come back out and tell me what he’s doing?”
“Maybe he’s pooping. Did you ever think of that, Ellen? Maybe he just needs a little more time to squeeze that tu….”
“Kenny! Please! Just do this for me.” Then in a stroke of genius, I added, “I passed on your stupid note about Skippy today. You owe me one.”
Kenny hesitated a minute and seemed to weigh this in his mind, nodded in affirmation and turned and went into the boys’ room. Kenny poked his head back out moments later to report to me that Sam was in there crying. I impatiently asked him to go try to find out what was wrong.
Kenny emerged in the next minute and he tried to tell me something and looked concerned, but I couldn’t hear him because there was yet another roar in the crowd. The Huskies had moved the ball even further down the field.
“What?” I said to Kenny, motioning to my ear that I couldn’t hear him. Kenny tried to say something again, but I still couldn’t make it out. He grinned at me with teeth in need of a serious brushing. This couldn’t be good.
“Just grab his hand and bring him out to me, please,” I directed my classmate impatiently.
Kenny once again retreated into the Men’s Room. Fifteen seconds later, Sam emerged with Kenny holding the hood of his sweatshirt.
Sam had a guilty look on his face. I figured he flushed gobs of toilet paper down the toilet again and got the whole system plugged up. Sam’s eyes were a little downcast and then I too, looked down. Oh no! He peed his pants! Great. Right in front of Kenny of all people.
“Sam!” I exclaimed. “What did you do?”
Sam’s eyes brimmed with tears and he said, “I couldn’t untie my sweat pants. I had to go so bad the pee just came out, Onion!”
I have to admit, I did feel sorry for him. Sam looked so ashamed. I said, “It’s ok, Buddy. Let’s go find mom and see if she has any extra pants in the car.”
I ignored Kenny’s idiotic cackle and shot him my nastiest glare. I took Sam’s hand and weaved my way through the intense crowd and found our row along the 30 yard like once again. I tried to hunch over to stay out of people’s way, but I am tall and no matter how small I try to smush myself, I never seem to be short enough.
When we got to our row mom scolded me. “Ellen! Can’t you see that people are trying to watch! Wait until the play is over before you come up through the stands!”
ROOAARRRRR! The crowd suddenly went wild.
I turned to look back at the field and saw that our great kicker, Sheppard #23 had just scored us a field goal with 17 seconds left on the clock. That made the score 10—0 against a very tough team. It was looking good for the Huskies tonight. Maybe not so good for Sam, but Mom was all smiles. I thought this would be a good time to tell her Sam had an accident.
“Mom!” She didn’t hear me because she was high fiving Grandma. “MOM!” I said again with a little more Ooomph. I pointed down to Sam’s pants.
Mom grimaced, but she seemed to be in a good mood because of the solid lead at half time. She sighed and told me that she’d take him back to the van to change. She was bummed because she’d probably miss the crowning of the Queen, but knew she’d get to see it on the school news channel on Monday.
“Couldn’t get that knot out in time, Ellen?” Mom asked of me, referring to the waist string on Sam's sweatpants.
I didn’t have time to respond because the team was coming off of the field. It was time to go slap their helmets. Mom grabbed Sam in a barrel hold and waved to me without even saying a word.
Grandma and I were old pros. We knew the deal. Mom and Sam would go slap helmets and shoulder pads of the boys on the way in and out of the locker room at half time, yelling words of encouragement.
Maybe that is what I forgot to do with Sam when I walked him to the bathroom. I should have yelled encouraging things to him through the doorway like, “You can do it!” “Come on, get that knot out!” “Shoot for the center of the bowl.”
Encouragement. That’s all anyone needed in life; just a little encouragement. Maybe that was The Key to All Things.