Friday, October 28, 2011

Good Sports

The big shift in weather from summer to fall happened during the day last Thursday. When I went outside at about noon, I suddenly realized, all of a sudden October is here and is making itself known just before November takes over. I had one of those rare involuntary remembrances brought on by the weather: it was as if I got transported back to a fall day in Germany. And it was as if no time had elapsed.

The main thing I remember about my time at Hahn Air Base is the grayness of the atmosphere. There was abundant fog in the fall, snow in the winter, rain in the spring and an all too short season of sunshine in the summer. Thus, the German people and the American transplants alike longed for summer and stayed outside as much as possible when it was warm.

I don’t remember exactly how, but I somehow made friends with some locals down on the Mosel River, robust, red-cheeked young people who worked in the vineyards and enjoyed the fruit of their labor, having done so since childhood. As an American, I knew very little about soccer (they called it football) but, to be part of the group, I attempted to play the sport with them…badly, I’m afraid. I mean, I had trouble limiting the use of my hands, having grown up on American football. But they were good-natured about my ineptitude and kept inviting me back to their contests, played on a flat place atop a mountain.

They didn’t let me participate, though, when the competition was serious, as it became when they played a nearby town. It was a rivalry more intense than Auburn-Alabama, deeper than Arkansas-Texas, meaner than SAU-UAM. But I did watch the big game and root for my friends Erich, Deider, Hans and others. I remember one such game between my friends from Neef against their rivals over the mountain and across the river in Brimmen. Even though Neef played brilliantly and with vigor, the Brimmen boys overpowered them and won by a point.

At first, the Neef boys were downcast and self-accusatory. But, after a season of sampling the store in the cellar, their spirits brightened and Erich hatched the idea of going to the sportfest in Brimmen, a town-wide party celebrating their victory over Neef. My German was not very good at the time, but I understood what was going on and I felt appropriately cautious about actually showing up over there in enemy territory. But the adrenaline and the refreshments prevailed and off we drove, about 14 of us loaded onto a weird German vineyard tractor.

Erich drove us to the railroad tunnel, parked the machine and led us through the long dark passageway until we emerged in Brimmen. What really surprised me was that we were welcomed by the Brimmen team and I saw a glimpse of good sportsmanship I had not witnessed before. It was a great party and I left understanding that friendship can be stronger than ego.

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