“The Wild Rovers”
25 April 15
The car started with what seemed additional noise on that cold Sunday morning.
“Mom, please. Do we really have to go to grandpa’s? He smells like cheese and he doesn’t have WiFi,” I pleaded. “It’s a prison.”
“Yeah mom, cheese,” my sister chimed in from the back seat next to me.
“Be quiet you two. We’re going to grandpa’s because today is a special anniversary. Grandpa loves to talk about his college days at Rutgers and he wants to tell you a special story today”
“Enough. Grandpa doesn’t have much time left and we’re going to sit and be good and listen to him talk about the day he played against Monmouth Rugby.”
* * *
We pulled up and went into the dark, dank, mothball-and-Old-Spice smelling ranch. The curtains were drawn yet a single ray of fresh sunlight streamed through the dusty air, painting the stained seafoam green Berber carpeting. The light fell at the foot of the seated sage, bent with worry and sagged with age, as though great trouble had befallen him in the long eons of his wearied existence.
“Come,” was the single issued command.
And we did, as though pulled by unseen strings, seating ourselves before the withered husk of a man that was our grandfather. He began:
“The day was bright those long years ago; it echos through the ill-lit corridors of my loosening mind. We were Rutgers Rugby! We were hopeful and proud, in the very spring of our youth, full of verve and energy and confidence.
“That was our downfall.
“We had trust in our youth that we would easily overcome those hulking men we saw before us. Some were large, with distended bellies of fury dangling heavily over their waistbands. Others were lithe yet strong, barely filling their jerseys, with vision beyond the horizon.
“The battlefield was set and we started, but with the utmost quickness and efficiency, the Men of Monmouth ponced on us, working through to a try and a conversion, one of many to come.
“It was beautiful – the way they played. Yes, there were errors and faults and miscues and fumbles. But they fought through and fought together; where any other team would have been clawing each other over dropped passes, those paragons of sport seemed to stick tighter together, like a Chinese finger trap of fortitude, strengthening under duress and not breaking regardless of force.
“To be honest children, they knew they had won before they took the field; we never stood a chance.”
Grandpa cleared his throat. His vision blurred behind his rheumy eyes, tears welling in the deep-set cracks and wrinkles around those windows. He dozed for a spell. Our attention waned. My sister moved to get up and, in her stirring, roused the sleeping seer.
“They had a pack of steel and a back line of liquid lightning. Their forwards smashed us again and again. We were harried by one of our own, a former comrade, now grown out of schoolboy’s rugby. Ryan of the Green Wood they called him, an Adonis, his hair flowed like silken sunshine, his hits brought death.
“The forwards put in such work and fought so hard for their tries, yet it was a giant of a man who gobbled up try after try, striding over the line like a colossus after the work was done for him by the forwards. Son of Poul, Andrew of the Golden Hair, he was. ‘Cheap’ we named him that day, claiming for his own what rightfully belonged to the hard-working True Men of the Pack.
“The day did not turn well for us; they landed 2 and 60 against our 17, a valiant effort by us to score when we did but all for naught in the end.”
Grandpa turned away. My sister had fallen asleep by this point.
Just he and I remained.
In the seemingly long moments that passed, Grandpa turned his world-weary face to mine. He reached out his skeletal hand, arthritic fingers creaking with pain, nails uncut and pointed, and grabbed my jaw. He palmed my head and stared into my eyes.
I felt him in my very soul.
“Boy – now you know. Now you are a witness. Do not ever forget the day we played Monmouth Rugby.”
He released his deathly grip and broke his eye contact. His gaze dropped to his lap and then away to the window, out to the bright green grass outside where he once ran and played. And lost to the Wilde Rovers.