Sunday, October 24, 2010

Ultimate 'Homer'

I was keenly focused Friday night on an immediate task that needed completion. The Chelsea girls soccer team had just won their first playoff game - a frigid 5-0 victory that included intermittent snow squalls - and I needed to post the win on the schedule stuck to the fridge door.

Rummaging through a miscellaneous junk drawer in our kitchen, I found a pencil stub and prepared to write "W 5-0" in the left margin. And then it hit me...the feeling of pride in my daughter and her team...the short thick fingers recording game results...I was becoming "him." And this recognition created an immediate connection to someone I have missed greatly for more than 14 years...the man who embodied the word "homer."

While I am a big fan of Matt Groening's The Simpsons, don't be misled by the reference. In this case, I'm not referring to the dense, donut-eating, beer-drinking, chaos-causing patriach of the fictional family from Springfield.

My reference is one more closely aligned to the sports world and describes someone who "completely roots for and only talks about his favorite team." When I refer to Buster Begin as the "ultimate homer," it's a term of endearment.

During my teen years, those who visited our Winslow home could be assured of two tour stops. Stop one - a few feet into the kitchen - was the 11 x 17-inch team schedule given to area schools by the local Pepsi distributor. On it, my father meticulously jotted game results, noting wins and losses, final scores and other highlights. A clever man, he used the poster as a prop, a conversation starter between him and said visitor, allowing him to launch into detailed recaps of games.

Once that conversation ended, Dad guided the visitor to the Begin Family Shrine, otherwise known as our family den. It housed our one television and Dad's recliner, which made it a logical gathering spot. More important were the walls...adorned with trophy shelves that Dad had carefully installed years before and filled with the awards, game balls, medals and other assorted hardware and mementos my siblings and I earned over the years. As teenagers and young adults, the Shrine tour often was a source of embarassment for us but one of great importance to him.

As I aged to adulthood, I came to realize the significance of Dad's Shrine. For him, it meant the fulfillment of a promise he made to himself years before he became a husband and father.

Born in 1933, my father's childhood and young adulthood occurred during World War II and the years that followed. The third of four children and the only son, he grew up in a different era, a time marked by rationing and frugality, of struggles to feed, clothe and raise children. Like my father-in-law, Grampa Harry, he worked as a grocery store bagger and bowling lane pin-setter as soon as he was old enough to help earn money to support his family.

Their earnings augmented their families' meager resources and were used to help buy the basics. There was no money or time for luxuries like sports teams and afterschool activities. For Buster and Harry, this was their duty and they accepted it without question. Still, this "duty" filled my father with a sense of regret and sadness as he recalled his childhood years. He vowed his children would not have to work during their high school years - unless they chose to. They could join the teams, band, clubs and groups they wanted...and he'd do whatever was needed to provide this opportunity.

He worked overtime to pay for sneakers and cleats, for athletic gear and musical instruments and summer camps. He provided transportation to and from countless practices and followed his children to weeknight games at schools hours from home after working a full and physically tiring day. He adjusted his work schedule whenever possible, leaving the house by 6:30 a.m. so he could work his shift and leave in time to catch afternoon games and practices. And in return, he earned the right to be our number one booster - the "ultimate homer" - celebrating our personal and team victories and supporting us when we fell short, knowing that he had made good on his promise.

While I do not have any immediate plans to construct the next generation of the Begin Family Shrine, for which I'm sure my soon-to-be-teen daughter is immensely thankful, I will continue to embrace the budding similarities I've noticed between me and my "ultimate homer." His selflessness in support of his home team has left me with an example to which I can continually aspire.

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