The dreary cold of a Kentucky Saturday morning in winter was real. It wasn’t an easy time in the early 1980’s in rural Monroe County. We cut wood not for fun or to heat some rustic cabin built for vacation. No sir, we had to have it to stave off the bitter cold. We raised tobacco and depending on the day spent many a blustery day in a ramshackle hut that was inside by loose definition only stripping tobacco in our warmest used jeans, long handles, and coats. A sturdy old radio was plugged into an uncovered outlet and it brought one of two things, country music (on either the Beaver or WGGC) or the Cats.
Oh the days when Cawood Ledford and Joe B Hall’s boys would bring at least a speck of light to the stripping room. Or a welcome diversion from the work of cutting and loading wood onto an old GMC. Or a bit of further warmth to the toastiness of the house that stood in such contrast to the chill outside.
In other words, Cawood and Sam Bowie and Coach Hall were a welcomed fabric that bound my childhood together. They were as much a part of my life as watching the adults drink coffee and play pitch. As much a part of my life as church on Sunday morning and cold cereal for supper on Sunday night because mom had cooked all the rest of the week, every meal.
The times seemed simpler then. They weren’t. The worries my parents likely had were probably not much different than mine now. How to pay the bills, how to raise the children, how to live, just in general. I couldn’t relate then. In the mind of a young child it all was the way it was supposed to be. How would I have known any different?
Looking back, I am thankful for so many things. I think a lot about simple fate. After all, I didn’t choose where I was born or to whom. It is a point that I tend to dwell on, though I know I shouldn’t. Truth be told though, I could have been born in a thousand different eras, a thousand different places, to a million different families. But I was lucky.
I grew up in a loving, albeit modest, often imperfect home. I had the run of the land around me and many material things my parents never did. I had good friends and a good school with good teachers and enough work to do to keep me from being completely lazy. I had reading materials including but not limited to the King James Bible. My dad had a ton of good records so I was exposed to some of the best. Merle and George and Croce and Elvis. I pity those who didn’t live in a time so as to enjoy those folks.
And I pity those who didn’t get to grow up with those Kentucky Wildcats. Truth be told we arranged our calendar around them when we could. My dad kept a copy of the 1978 Sports Illustrated with Jack “Goose” Givens on the cover. The Goose Was Golden. No doubt. I read it probably a hundred times or more. Names like Moncrief and Spanarkel and Digger etched into my memory. But more importantly, Lee and Roby and Goose and Macy. And of course, Coach Joe B. Hall.
My mother is from Western Illinois. I remember once being up there and Kentucky was scheduled to play Villanova on national TV. Unlike now, most games were not televised so this was a big deal. But, up there no one seemed all that concerned with it. Imagine. I recall asking my cousin who he rooted for and he had a bit of a puzzled look. I could tell that no matter the answer, it didn’t make a difference the way it did to me. What a shame. That was my thought at the time.
These days, I just don’t get into it the way I did then. That is no shot at the current players or coaches. I have no issues with Cal or the state of the program. I am just older. Kids of my own and a life that is so much different now. The pace of life keeps me from enjoying it the way I did years ago as a child. But the exposure of it now has had a counter-intuitively negative impact as well. One would think that more exposure would be better. It isn’t. Every game televised live, endless blogs and shows analyzing it all 24/7/365. It has, to me at least, pulled back the curtain.
Back in the day I thought Coach Hall was other worldly. I deified him in my dreams. I know the reality of the time was that many did not. But he and his players were like gods to me. And so was Cawood. The memories of those cold days filled with his voice speaking to the whole Commonwealth on the most important thing going on, the Cats. Those days are long gone. I miss them. And I will miss Coach Hall.