Saturday, December 05, 2009

Of Cabbage Patch Kids and Hail Marys

“Turn that off. We have to go.”

It was the day after Thanksgiving, 1984. We were watching a football game, me and my brother our cousins Bill and Ben. We were resuming a custom, the four of us, visiting our Grandmother Grace at her home in Chester, S.C. for Thanksgiving. I don’t remember how we spent most of the day – probably helping her rake leaves – but now we had settled in to watch a football game, a good one, too, a real barn-burner between Boston College and Miami. The Hurricanes had just taken the lead with about a minute left. What would the Eagles do?

Thanks to Grandmother Grace, we weren’t going to find out. She had made us turn the game off, and we were off to the Rose’s store on the bypass. They had obtained a shipment of Cabbage Patch kids and were going to raffle one off every half hour. This was the year that Cabbage Patch kids had become a phenomenon and were practically unobtainable. One raffle ticket per customer, so Grandmother Grace was making us all come along with her to get more tickets. It wasn’t that Grandmother Grace herself was obsessed with getting a Cabbage Patch kid. She wanted one for her only granddaughter, our six-year-old cousin Jessica, who had requested one for – was it for her birthday or for Christmas? I forget. They happen to be the same day.

I cannot speak for my brother or my cousins, but the idea of participating in Grandmother Grace’s scheme stuck in my craw, and not just because I was having to miss the end of a football game. Though Grandmother Grace was always more than generous when it counted, she appeared to put as much thought into our birthday gifts as she did into the radio settings on her LTD. She was especially big on pen and pencil sets. Why the favoritism for Jessica? How was it that she rated a special trip to Rose’s instead of a last minute trip to the drugstore? Bill had theorized that we could discern our place in the grandchild pecking order by checking out the contents of a clear plastic cube Grandmother Grace had for displaying family pictures. When we visited, Bill liked to make a big show of seeing whether he had “made the cube.” Thanks to her cuteness and our Uncle Tom’s enthusiasm for photography, Jessica was dominating the cube. We boys strongly suspected that our age and gender were actually detriments to our image in Grandmother Grace’s eyes. Jessica was small and cute and sweet and – above all – a girl. As her less-exalted kin, we simply had to accept the fact that our chief value to Grandmother Grace at this particular point was that we increased the odds of her being able to deliver a Cabbage Patch kid to her angelic granddaughter.

That such a devout Presbyterian could gamble so calculatingly was impressive, I suppose. And her plan worked. We only had to mosey around Rose’s for an hour before my ticket number was called. Grandmother Grace exploded with the same kind of joy I used to see when she had a winning hand at Shang Hai. She gave me a bone-crunching hug and took the ticket off to claim the prize for Jessica. I have always felt that in that moment my worthiness in her eyes took a dramatic leap, almost compensating for my failure to play golf or take Latin.

It had been a mildly amusing evening, I suppose. No real inconvenience, and Grandmother Grace was happy. No skin off anybody’s nose. Or so we thought.

While Grandmother Grace and Ben and Rob went off to play golf the next day, Bill and I went out for pizza. We stopped to get a newspaper on the way back to the house. He got dibs on the sports section, and we retreated to opposite parts of the house to relax for a while.

The relaxation did not last long. Bill began bellowing profanely from downstairs, as though something truly horrible had happened. I thought he had injured himself.

“What is it? What is it?” I yelled.

“BOSTON COLLEGE WON!” he yelled back, shaking the sports page angrily.

It was true. While chasing down a Cabbage Patch Kid for Jessica, we had missed the greatest play in college football history.

It has been 25 years since Flutie's miracle pass. Our last Thanksgiving visit to Grandmother Grace's house was a long time ago - I miss those trips every year. Jessica is all grown-up now, a successful photographer, and she has taken our abuse about this incident over the years with more good humor than we deserve. It would be hard to argue at this point that Grandmother Grace did not exhibit good taste in choosing her favorite.

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