I was in a northeast Arkansas liquor store picking up four small bottles of wine for the mother of my college girlfriend of some 30 years ago when I realized I was making a memory.
I was heading to the mother’s home to watch the 2012 NCAA basketball championship game between Kansas and Kentucky. It was a spur of the moment thing that I thought would be a cool venture. The mother went to Kansas when Wilt Chamberlain was playing college ball there and I thought the experience of watching a national championship game with an alum would be entertaining.
We all put things that are bigger than our lives into our own perspective in a way to understand them on a closer level or to file them in our memories. If we’re old enough, we remember where we were when Kennedy was shot, or when the space shuttle Challenger exploded or when the Twin Towers collapsed.
I do the same with sports. I associate the game with where I was when I saw it, so to better remember it. Many of the NCAA basketball championships that I saw when I was younger was with my father. I saw the 1989 Michigan vs. Seton Hall game on a big screen television I had just bought. I caught the 1997 Arizona vs. Kentucky game on a kitchen television in the first home I purchased. North Carolina won its 2005 championship over Illinois while I watched in my wife’s hospital toward the end of her life.
I remember the games by the places where I’ve seen them.
So, this year was no different.
I created a memory again.
The mother of my former girlfriend doesn’t hate me for the fact that her daughter and I never made it. We’ve remained close; in fact, the former girlfriend and I are still friends. And her mother, at 77, is perhaps the most intelligent sports fan I know. I can't let that go.
I drove an hour toward the mother’s home before stopping to pick up the wine bottles. I know nothing about wine, so I asked one of the clerks for help.
“What kind do you want?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I replied. “I’m picking it up for someone.”
When he asked who, I could have just told him it was for a friend. Instead, and maybe this is because of my years as a reporter that I feel compelled to give the full story, I opened up.
“It’s for the mother of my former college girlfriend,” I told him. “I’m heading to her home to watch the game tonight.”
The clerk looked at me, silently.
“Kind of different, isn’t it?” I said.
”Yeah. We don’t get that much here,” he answered.
I motored on and made it to her home in time for the tip-off. She was wearing a blue Kansas tee-shirt and, despite Kentucky being a huge favorite, she held hope for her Jayhawks.
Kentucky built a large lead, but her hope remained and in the second half when Kansas tried to mount a comeback, her spirits soared. In the end, though, Kansas lost by eight points.
Still, it was a good game and the memory will stay with me. When I categorize the NCAA championships I remember, I’ll recall the hospital game, the ones with my dad, other ones in various places along my life's trek and the 2012 game I saw with my former girlfriend’s mom decked in her Kansas tee-shirt.