GROWING UP OKIE—And Trying to Kick It

By Bob Branson

okie(These scenes come from a larger work in which a boy grows up in Nickson, a middle-sized Oklahoma town. Boys were pressured to play football, basketball, baseball, do the field events in track, hunt, fish, and work. You have to learn a lot of skills to grow up Okie.)

Coach Ellis screams in my face, “For God’s sake Miller you can’t cross the line of scrimmage until the ball is snapped. You just cost us 5 yards. Gimme 15 push-ups.” I fear the coach’s words.

I drag myself up with a mouthful of pulverized dirt as fine as the talcum powder deodorizing my shoes. I am not hurt so I take a defensive stance and wait. Coach scares me when he comes beside me. “Wait till the ball moves. Do not! Repeat, do not try to anticipate the snap count. That quarterback will get your jock.”

On the next play I hold back for a one-count delay to confuse the blocker before crossing the line of scrimmage. I tackle the ball carrier hard. Coach yells, “You were slow Miller but you got him anyway. Good play.”

Damn, my hand hurts. Behind me, coach yells, “Okay Miller, get on the offense at left end and see if you can catch the ball.”

I go down and out on the first play and grab it for 8 yards. The second is across the middle and I grab that one for 10 yards, but the gang tackle hurts like hell. Tackling feels better than being tackled. The coach whistles the end of practice.

The code chipped in stone by the cavemen demands players to compete to make the first team, the starting lineup. Although I’m a sophomore, I want that position a senior has now. So I work my butt off during practice. My uncle Ed says I won’t make the starting lineup.

The Friday morning Nickson Daily Telegraph lists me as a starter. The printed lineup in the paper isn’t a guarantee. I am still thrilled at the mention.

Late Friday night when our bus returns to Nickson after our first victory against Muskogee Central, the cheerleaders hail us off the bus. While I am unloading my gear, Anne King surprises me. “Hey Miller, will you walk me home.”

A junior cheerleader! What a surprise! “Sure. Just let me put my gear away.” On the way to her house she snuggles and holds my arm over her shoulder. When we arrive she turns to me and puts her face up. After an intense good night kiss, she whispers, “Call me tomorrow.”

Walking home, I remember my sister’s prediction. “When you make the starting lineup those girls will be after you. Trust me.”

Blocking, tackling, and receiving are critical skills. Maybe even kissing. You had to know a lot to grow up Okie.

(To be continued)

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