A Piece of Heaven

Ray Bradbury Noun Twist List: This was a prompted story where nouns were randomly generated. A minimum of three nouns were required to be used. The list was generated by several friends off facebook who do not know each other. Each one gave me three nouns. The list: Georgia, money, football, dirt, cheese, shoelaces, Momma, WalMart, Doritoes, Canadian, field, grape

Living in Georgia, the land of summers so swelteringly hot that your shirt sticks to your body as you exit the door of your car, can be a trial to those not versed in the essentials: peanuts, peaches, and football. Now, my Momma used to tell me as a kid, when we only had three channels, that if I was to ever go to heaven, it would be through the arches at UGA when I got me a football scholarship. She used to say I’d ride on the backs of my team in glory and that way, I’d know just what heaven was. The pats on the back, the “Boo ya’s!” and the screams of the fans as I ran that winning touchdown. Yeah, Momma wasn’t no fool. She knew that I wasn’t never gonna be quarterback material, but man could I ever run! All I needed to learn was how to catch that ball!

So, she talked to the coach and found a local kid who knew how to throw pretty good and took me out to the dirt field where most kids played baseball, not me. I went there to run catches. We’d pretend we were in a huddle, just Josh and me, then I’d race off ducking and weaving for all I was worth seeing my opponents in the clumps of dirt at my feet. Looking back over my shoulder, I’d find that ball sailing, spiraling towards me. My hands would raise up to sweep it out of the air into that sweet spot where I’d tuck it in safe and sound. Running for the goal, I’d dive across that imaginary line nailing that last touchdown of the game, winning it every time in my head.

Junior High came and went with me joining the team, running the ball as fast as lightning down the field. Coach was real proud of me, praised my speed all the time until the track and baseball coaches came around. When they’d show up, he’d hide me away, put me doing something else so they wouldn’t steal me from him in the off season. Once they realized what he was doing, those coaches got smart and called me to their office for a talk. Turned out, they wanted me to run for them. As long as I was running, I didn’t care. So, I added track and baseball. I was GOOD at track, not so much baseball. Never was too good at hitting a perfectly good ball, not when I’d rather catch it.

High school came around and I was sure fire recruited for the teams. I was told that it was a no brainer. They all wanted me running for them, but I had to keep my grades up. Well, there was a small problem with that one. Remember when I said Momma knew I wasn’t quarterback material? High school proved that. First I ran into trouble with Reading. All those words just kept getting longer and longer. I couldn’t tell the difference in them anymore. I was convinced that if people would just write in plain English that I could have passed that class at least. Coach got me a tutor for Reading and I skinned my way through it.

Science and History, now, they were a different matter. Their words just got stranger and stranger to the point that they didn’t make a bit of sense. And the topics? Man, who wants to know about the migration habits of a Canadian Goose? What good was that gonna do for me in FOOTBALL? Coach found a couple more of those super smart guys to help me make it through those subjects.

It was my Junior year that Coach kept telling me to work hard, play hard, and study hard. He even bought a poster for me to put up on my wall at home. He told me that I could be the best player, but that no school would take me if I didn’t graduate. So I tried, I really did! But book stuff just didn’t do it for me. So, I kept working at it, studying at home when I could and going to practices every day. I was a huge success on the field, but a failure in the classroom. That’s when Coach’s daughter stepped in.

Toni was every boy’s dream. She was a girl that not only understood football but who could play better than most everyone hoped. She came up with the idea of quizzing me while I was playing, while I had a BALL in my hands! Her idea was to have me tell her definitions, words, equations even while tossing the ball back and forth. Oh man! I thought she was stupid when she suggested it. But after the first week when I went to take my test in History, well, I PASSED! I wasn’t guessing or doodling all over the test without a clue. I truly KNEW the words, the people, and the events.

After that, Toni and I worked every day getting me to learn the stuff I needed to know for each class. We studied for the SAT’s together even throwing the football, quizzing each other as we went. I scraped by on the SAT with an 810 but back then for most schools 800 was passing. Man oh man how I shouted when I opened that one up! Toni and I hugged onto each other and danced around so excited. I forgot to ask her how she did, but found out later that she scored over 1100. Makes sense, ya know?

Well, the day came for the UGA recruiter to watch the game. We’d been hearing that one was coming for a while, but each time it had panned out or it was some other school. That night, I ran for all I was worth. I caught that ball. I ran that ball and I scored touchdown after touchdown. We won and the team carried me back to the locker room on their shoulders. It was a piece of heaven.

It’s funny how life doesn’t always have the same plans for you that you do. My goal for years was to go to UGA. I wasn’t offered anything more than a pat on the back by the recruiter and a good job before he went over to our quarterback to talk him up. I wanted to shout, “Hey! Look at me!” but that’s not how it’s done. Instead I stood there, staring as the two walked over to the side. I think I would have still been there had Toni not come up to me, put her arms around me and made me look at her.

“They’re missing out on the best and don’t even know it!” Then she pulled my head down and kissed me.

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