MY FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS
by Steve Goldfinger
My parents were aghast when I strode home from school wearing a large, gold helmet, bowl-sized shoulder pads, and a huge purple shirt bearing the number 34. It hanged to my shins. At nine years old in Brownwood, Texas (population 12,000 or so), I was on Miss Wilson’s football team.
My dad was a doctor in the 13th Armored tank division, training here to join General Patton’s final push. We had come from Brooklyn to be with him. Miss Wilson was the principal of the grade school. She was also spelling teacher, math teacher, librarian, baseball and football coach.
I was in the 3rd grade when I arrived. After appearing in a class and answering a few simple questions about Africa, the topic of the week, I was promoted to the 4th. In short order, the 5th. And a few days later, the 6th. Was I really that bright?
Anyway, in the 6th grade, the guys automatically became Miss Wilson’s football team. Me included, shrimp that I was, who knew nothing about football. When I was playing line during practice scrimmages, I couldn’t understand why the kid across from me sometimes took a running jump over me when the ball was snapped and, at other times, just stood there looking down. I dIdn’t even know the difference between offense and defense.
I made it into one play during the season. It was a game played under the lights on a Friday night–yes, in 1944, this was a Texas tradition even for grade schools–and my dad brought a few of his fellow officers to join him in the stands. We were losing 35 to 0 and had the ball when Miss Wilson pushed me onto the field. “Tell them to pass, pass, and keep passing.” It took me a while to get out there. I repeated her words to our quarterback in a tremulous voice and got up to the line. I don’t remember what happened immediately after, but my father told me I appeared exceedingly brave after receiving smelling salts on the sidelines.
That was my football career.
When the baseball season came around, I was first up in the batting order–a cinch to draw a walk because of my measly size, even without crouching. And walk I did at the begining of our first game. The next pitch was thrown for a ball as I stood there when, all of a sudden, there was Miss Wilson charging at me.
“Why didn’t you steal?” she shouted.
“What do you mean?”
“You gotta steal on the first pitch!”
Really? I didn’t know that, but, on the next one, I followed her command. The ball beat me to the bag by about ten steps. The shortstop held it out at me, waist high, and I slid right under it into the base….safe!
There she was, charging again.
“What was that?!”
They had never heard of a slide inTexas! So this pipsqueak from the north had something to teach them.
When we returned to Brooklyn, it took a fair amount of persuasion by my mother to convince the principal of P.S. 234 to allow me to move ahead. He wanted to discount my Texas education altogether and send me back to the third grade where I belonged.
Since joining BOLLI two years ago, after a long career in medicine, Steve has been exploring his artistic side. He has been active in both the Writers Guild and CAST (Creativity in Acting, Storytelling, and Theatre) as well as the Book Group.