When I was in Junior High, our Language Arts class had to write a paragraph about our hero. I remember struggling to choose between Roger Staubach (the greatest Dallas Cowboy of all time) and my older brother, Dennis.
I chose Dennis.
Today is Dennis’s birthday. Dennis is a very affectionate person but a deeply private individual. While he never hangs up the phone without telling me that he loves me, he might not be thrilled for me to wax poetic about him. It is his special day but it’s my blog. So, at the risk of embarrassing him, I’d like to share one special story about my childhood hero.
Dennis is almost six years older than me. I was going into the awkward middle and junior high school years as he was shining on the high school stage. He was a stellar student and an exceptional athlete, starting point guard for the basketball team and stand-out second baseman on two Texas state baseball championship teams. One of the most popular kids at school with none of the attitude (more often than not).
I adored him.
I was an overweight kid with a terrible perm. We won’t spend any time discussing my athletic abilities or lack thereof. Dennis was likely to win MVP awards. I often won the Fighting Spirit award. I was socially awkward and never quite fit in at school. Kids weren’t mean to me but I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin and never found a group of friends in grade school. But I had one serious piece of social capital: my older brother Dennis.
Everyone knew Dennis.
Dennis was elected Homecoming King his senior year of high school. If you aren’t from the South or Texas, it’s hard to overstate the significance of Homecoming. Homecoming week is the biggest event on the fall calendar, culminating in the crowning of the Homecoming Queen during half time of the Friday night football game.
And, if you aren’t from Texas, you might not know about the Homecoming Mum. Honestly, I had no idea this was only a Texas thing until my son started high school. I remember texting other moms to get the line on where to purchase a mum for his Homecoming date.
No one, I mean no one, knew what I was talking about.
Well, in Texas, for the Friday night Homecoming football game, a boy gives his date a mum to wear to the game. It is the symbol of Homecoming: a large flower corsage worn at the shoulder with cascading ribbons and trinkets. Just Google it. The mums are out-of-control now.
But when we were kids, they were fairly simple: a large, fragrant white chrysanthemum with school color blue and gold ribbons.
I had plans to go to the football game. I knew I would feel awkward in the stands, but not as awkward as if I stayed home. I remember Dennis rushing to get ready for the game. As he ran out the door, he yelled out and told me he had left something in the garage refrigerator for me. Curious, I walked out to the garage, opened the avocado green door, and there was a white box. Inside was a Homecoming mum.
For all I knew, it was a leftover from the Student Council mum sale. It didn’t matter if he bought it or not. Dennis thought of me and grabbed the box. It was more than a flower, more than a Homecoming accoutrement.
It was confidence.
I squeezed into my too tight jeans, pinned the mum to my sweater, and took it, and my bad perm, to the game. Climbing the stands to the junior high section, I felt like Cinderella at the ball. I wasn’t wearing glass slippers or a ball gown. But I had a Homecoming mum. As a 7th grader, y’all! I can still see the looks on all the popular girls’ faces. Mouth aghast. Eyes wide.
I had arrived.
I remember sitting in the stands with my mum and watching Dennis escort the Homecoming Queen to the 50 yard line at half time. And I knew who my hero was.
Sorry, Mr. Staubach.
Dennis gave me flowers one other time. At my wedding. It was time to toss the bouquet and, for some reason, he decided to long snap the flowers to me. I’m not sure why we decided to do this. But it had been quite the party.
There are still times that I feel unloved. Or unwanted. Or socially awkward. Sometimes, I think of that Homecoming mum. I have it in a box somewhere in the attic. The petals are dried out, the ribbons faded and crushed. It was a simple gesture on the part of my older brother. I doubt he even remembers it. I will never forget.
Because it’s the stuff of heroes.
Happy Birthday, Dennis!