Monday, June 06, 2016
Last week, in a fit of spring cleaning fever, I decided to tackle our kitchen pantry. My dream is to one day convert it into a laundry room, so I figured if I could pare down the contents, I’d be that much closer to realizing my vision. For years, it had become a collection point for those bulky odds and ends that didn’t seem to make sense storing in linen, clothes or utility closets. I pulled out two dozen flower vases, large kitchen gadgets like a tomato grinder and a countertop apple/potato peeler of which I had two both unopened in their boxes, and scores of plastic storage containers. Mixed in with the canned goods and the cereals were picnic baskets, cheese boards, flashlights, and maintenance guides to every electrical product we’ve ever owned. Then, delightfully, I came across a collection of soccer trophies and patches tucked in a corner. Most of the boys’ trophies had found their way to cabinet shelves in their rooms displayed along with scarves, certificates and medallions. However, these had probably been set out on the kitchen table after tournaments from which I’d banished them to the pantry in a quick clean up, intending to retrieve them later to display upstairs. That obviously never happened.
Finding those soccer mementos reminded me of the good times surrounding the events the trophies and patches commemorated. I’ve been reminded a lot lately. We had a severe sewage backup in the basement, so everything had to be removed while the contractor repaired the damage. It gave me a good excuse to sort through all the photos, school art projects, soccer items and papers, and general memorabilia we’ve collected through the years. I’d always meant to organize the photos, separate things out for each of my four children, and label boxes, but life and inertia regularly intervened. Now that I was finally digging into it, I found myself cheerfully reliving some of our best family experiences. I found stacks of those tournament photos, regular photos, trophies, medals, certificates, news clippings, even World Cup items including bracket posters and sticker books. The boxes yielded a soccer bonanza.
Sometimes I wonder why we put so much effort in to holding on those scraps of our soccer past. Kids move on to other activities or just grow up and out of soccer. Yet those trophies, patches, and medals seem just too substantial and permanent to toss out. I’m not sure if my children will keep them long enough to share with their own children, but I really can’t bring myself to be the one to decide that by chucking them. They exist less as a symbol of achievement and more as a spark to memories. When I saw the faceplates and embossing I instantly remembered the event and all the contingent experiences: where we stayed, the various games, the players and their parents, and the adventures we had. One badge reminded me of the great Starbucks search a group of us parents held before there was an app for that. A handful of us began pulling up the regional Google map on our phones and attempting to navigate in an unfamiliar location to reach our caffeine connection only to look up from our screens to see three other parents crossing the pitch holding the familiar green-logoed cups. Not all memories have to be for the kids. Another trophy reminded me of the final game between Robbie’s old club team and the club team he would join the next year. He scored the one and only goal in that game, defeating a Chicago team who had never lost to his club. When he joined that Chicago team, that’s all the parents could talk about. While the trophy represented an accomplishment, it also represented the atmosphere he entered.
Going through the World Cup collectables I was reminded not only of the competitions dating back to 1998, but of the boys’ reaction to witnessing the matches. Early on they had country allegiances based on favorite players and their own heritage. However as they progressed in the sport they developed more sophisticated interests. Unrolling bracket posters revealed the evolving understanding of soccer the boys had. Rather than picking teams because they were familiar, the boys researched the various teams and chose based more on data than devotion (though England and the USA were always there). I found World Cup booklets filled with notes on things like player and team statistics, outcomes of friendly matches, and bracket analyses. In 2005, Thierry Henry began the Stand Up Speak Up campaign against racism. Nike created wristbands to support the movement, and I found one among the World Cup materials. It was a strong reminder of how important the issue of race was just 10 years ago, and more importantly how much it impacted youth players who witnessed fans taunting some of the best players in world because of their race. That’s not just soccer; it’s a history lesson triggered by a simple band.
Looking through the tournament books I discovered how much we all focused on the outcomes. The books held notes on all the teams in our bracket, their wins, losses and goal differential. The notes visibly demonstrated how we were working out the scenarios that would allow our teams to advance. In some cases the books didn’t print the rules of the tournament, so there were cryptic lines like “FIFA rules” or “unlimited subs” reminding me of those games where Robbie or Bryce played different positions or didn’t play at all because of the rules. The booklets also were a reminder of the level of competition. Both boys competed against players who now are professional and on the Men’s National Team. Seeing the ads posted by proud parents congratulating their child and their child’s team or looking at team photos showed how many great players the boys came across. On occasion they could brag that they defeated those players. At one tournament where the final game came to PKs, Bryce in goal faced a player who just a few weeks before had been on the cover of Sports Illustrated as the top high school prospect and stopped his shot. That moment wasn’t commemorated by a photo or even a news story, but it was remembered through a college coach’s card stuck between the pages. He’d seen the stop and had expressed interest in recruiting Bryce. A proud moment for sure.
The best reminders are always photos because they steal an instant of an event, which somehow tells a bigger story. There are the tournament photos captured by roving photographers. When I see pictures of Bryce frozen in mid-air going for a save, I am reminded of how intense and athletic he was. When Robbie had dreadlocks, his photos invariably showed them flying behind him which even in a static shot told of his impressive speed. I especially loved coming across the team photos with players holding their medals or trophies or just those wonderful photos taken every year so we could buy copies to send to relatives. The players are always either smiling or acting goofy (occasionally both) bookended by tall, sometimes stern coaches. Looking at them season upon season, I could watch the boys and their friends growing up and slowing turning into men. They were a special reminder of great times, significant friendships and grand adventures. I also love the individual photos kneeling next to a soccer ball or standing with a foot on the ball. Again they create a picture of an entire history of playing. Nothing that shows their abilities or triumphs; just a simple reminder that they grew up playing a sport they loved.
Sometimes when I looked at the piles of soccer keepsakes I had amassed, I would wonder why I so diligently preserved them. I even had stacks of news articles, one sheets of team rosters for high school games, and team schedules. It seemed anything remotely related to the boys’ playing soccer was ferreted away for another day. When I pulled it all out, I got very nostalgic and I was surprised that the boys, seeing some of the stuff, added details I hadn’t been privy to originally. Who knows if they will maintain the giant box of things I saved. They are moving on in their lives and will soon both be finished with playing except the odd pick-up game or recreational adult league. Yet soccer was a significant part of their growing up, so I hope they keep some of the bits and pieces as a way of remembering the best of what transpired. What I am most happy for is that I don’t have any regrets about missing some of the soccer reminders. We all need to bear in mind how easily we can throw things out, but how impossible it is to reconstruct them. So I urge parents to be hoarders. I’m glad I was because it is all here now, even if some of the things found their way to odd hiding places like the kitchen pantry or the garage storage chest. I’m sure that someday we’ll move, and in the winnowing out process I’ll come across other hidden treasures. When that happens they will once again prick my mind and bring me some memories of a wonderful life with my kids.