The Bastardis have just completed half of their semi-annual jaunt back to one of the lands of my youth: Texas.
I find that through business and relatives, I am down here quite often. Most of the time, I have to fly, but my wife, Jess, and I also take the long trips down here with the kids by car. For me, it is reenacting the trips of my youth, when my dad was getting his degree at Texas A&M, and we would come back northeast to mom and dad's home in Rhode Island between the summer and fall terms.
I have made no secret about the fact my mom and dad are tougher than me. Dad would drive straight through from College Station to Providence, a 33-hour jaunt. We really didn't have the money to stay in hotels. He would pull over for a couple of hours and sleep, and my mom would make sure he stayed awake when he was driving, but I never saw her take the wheel.
In our trips, Jess takes the wheel and then, at times, won't give it back to me. I actually work 'cause I have some high-powered MiFi (mobile Internet access) that can get computer signals from the moon, I think, and I sleep in the car at times. We made it to Oklahoma City in 18 hours. Nothing like seeing the speed limits at 70 or 75 mph. Of course, the big key is short bathroom breaks.
Funny that people think the eagle is the symbol of freedom in our country. I think it's the open roads and the car.
Why do this? I loved it as a kid, seeing my country. I think that my kids should see this country, too. Like me, they love coming upon the big cities, or crossing the rivers. There is a degree of bonding that goes on. Either you are at one another's throat or you are having a good time in the car.
While there have been some cases of snippiness, usually everyone is in a good mood. Garrett plays navigator like I did with my dad. The only person in the car who really gets upset at times is me, 'cause I can't understand why, in traveling through a place, I see 10 miles of cones on the road and single lanes when no one is working, nor does it look like the road is being worked on. If they are working, that is one thing. But Indiana this year was torture -- ironic since we got lost in some cornfields as we tried to cut around Indianapolis one year coming back from Texas.
So you see, other states have a state motto of "single lane next 26 miles" -- not just Pennsylvania. However, I realize that road work is a tough job. Working in searing heat or brutal cold is not fun.
This year we stopped at Oklahoma University and Texas A&M. Garrett has targeted both places for the intersection of meteorology and golf. I have yet to meet an OU grad in meteorology who doesn't know his stuff. Garrett is quite the golfer already: His team with his ringer cousin Kevin Williams, his uncle and Dane Young from the Elks Club captured the Nittany Lion Open. He and his chariot-of-fire buddy Ty Gates went at it with amazingly low scores in the Elks Club Junior Tournament the next day. Both shot in the 70s; this time Garrett came out on top with a 71. Those two both made the State College team the next day as freshmen and may really be a force on the course, as they push each other back and forth.
I stopped at A&M to show the kids the apartment I grew up in. Both golf courses there are brown, victims of the heat and drought in the south this year.
Back in 1963, my mom took a picture of my brother and I sitting on the porch of our apartment. So I had my kids create a similar image, with me, and sent it to mom and dad. (That photo is posted to the right of this column.)
Texas A&M is a lot like PSU. Both are land-grant schools that are heavily into agriculture and engineering. Both are heavily tradition-based, though, of course, a bit different as we have Paterno and they have the Corps of Cadets.
The huge difference, though, when I went to PSU, is that we were expected to win. At A&M, the crowds were much more loyal to their team because they bonded with the undermanned Aggies at the time. (Texas basically bought every great player in the state in the days of unlimited scholarships in the '60s.) And so a win was cherished much more.
Jackie Sherrill really tapped into that when he went there. As the Aggies got better, the grumbling at low-scoring games or losses started. I guess that is what happens when you win too much. In any case, my attitude of gratitude for any noble try on the gridiron was born in the suffering as a youth at College Station with loss after loss. And it's why when PSU had some rough times and people kept screaming for Joe to go, I would fly off the handle at the very notion of Joe Paterno not being the coach here.
We all compare and contrast things, and the fact A&M has no wrestling and women's gymnastics really bugged me over the years. I always hoped that A&M would start a women's gymnastics program, as the sport is huge in the south now. And believe me -- that would go over big there, as Texas is a hotbed of women's gymnastics clubs. (Recent PSU great Brandi Personett came out of Katy, Texas).
I wanted Jess to apply for that job -- the only place she would have left PSU for. You go to Bama and Georgia and you can't get into some meets, like it used to be here in the '70s and '80s. Arkansas has come from a start-up program and Oklahoma is great now, too. Kind of strange that women's gymnastics is not into the traditional Texas colleges, while wrestling is something that is big in high schools down there, but has not made it into colleges south of the Red River.
I used to argue with former PSU coach John Fritz that a dream job would be wrestling coach at A&M. He hated the Aggies 'cause he did not like Jackie Sherrill, a natural feeling for a PSU person. I argued that having 9.9 jarhead scholarship guys who wanted to do anything to win basically would mean he was coaching 9.9 John Fritzs with short hair cuts (John had a lot of hair in college). I suppose we will never know.
I know it may be hard for you to see the connection, but as the miles and years roll by, I can see it. There is a common thread to this land if you take the time to look for it, and cherish it.
I am in the late summer of my life but remember back to the spring, even to before where my kids are now. Perhaps it's a part of me that always took something from where I lived (Rhode Island, Texas, New Jersey and Pennsylvania) but always left something behind. And sometimes you can go back, and give thanks for the things you have seen and learned.
In a world that grows crazier every day, I guess I take comfort in seeing that there are still ways where someone can see the common thread in our country, even in such places and times as different as when I was a kid around Texas A&M, and where life has taken me after.
The "spirit" of Aggieland and the Glory of Old State somehow still make me believe those two kids of mine still have a chance to reach beyond their grasp, which, in the end, is what this country should be about.