Owen picks his favorite uniform

Posted Sept. 19, 2010, at 7:51 p.m.

Two weeks ago, Dustin and I took the kids to a University of Maine football game for “Military Appreciation Night.” Events like this are exciting for the community in general (especially a community with a small military presence) and the spouses of military members (we get to see our husband in his nicest uniform). On this night, however, it was special for our family specifically.

Dustin arrived at the Black Bears’ football stadium in his “summer whites” uniform, which is, in layman’s terms, the “Tom Cruise one.” It is one of the sharper Navy uniforms, even if it does sometimes resemble a 1950s ice cream man, but it also is one of the hardest to keep clean. Dustin walking into a football stadium in his summer whites was equivalent in danger to a bride drinking red wine while wearing her wedding dress. And because the Army National Guard was giving out free orange sodas to the children, this analogy wasn’t too far off.

Besides the ever-present fear of stains, however, summer whites also bring with them a sense of responsibility. In uniform, Dustin represents the United States Navy. Therefore, I couldn’t pass up the chance to snap a picture of him with Bananas, the Black Bear mascot, who walked past just as Dustin was stepping out of the car. The two men in uniform, if you will, stood and faced each other. Bananas gave Dustin a salute. This might have been the highlight of our kids’ night, until we walked into the stadium and met another bear: Tuffy, in an orange and white pajama top and sleeping cap, whose image represents Tuffy Bear Furniture.

During each game, Tuffy Bear Furniture holds a drawing for a free seat upgrade. The winner can move from the crowded stadium to a comfy sofa on the field, just three feet away from the end zone. This was a chance Ford could not pass up. He entered his name, plus mine, Owen’s, Dustin’s and Lindell’s into the drawing. The undergraduates standing guard over the box of submitted names seemed taken aback by Ford’s enthusiasm. I don’t know if anyone has ever been so excited by the chance to win the Tuffy Bear upgrade.

“But remember, it’s only a chance,” I said to Ford. “Don’t be disappointed if they pick someone else’s name.”

Then, at the end of the first quarter, the announcer’s voice boomed through the speakers across the stadium: “Now for the winner of tonight’s Tuffy Bear seat upgrade: Ford Smiley from Bangor, Maine.”

Our section of the stadium, mostly filled with military members in uniform and their families, jumped to their feet and cheered like the audience on “The Price is Right.” Yet no one celebrated more than Ford. “I won, I won!” he shouted as he made his way through the crowd to the sofa on the field. When you are a kid who loves football, winning the drawing for the Tuffy Bear seat upgrade is possibly even better than winning the lottery.

For the next three quarters, we enjoyed prime viewing conditions from the end zone. Lindell crawled all over Dustin’s white uniform pants, and Ford and Owen jumped up and down with a full bottle of orange soda held precariously in their hands. Sitting in the stands will never be adequate again.

At halftime, while their dad performed a re-enlistment on the field, the boys caught balls kicked to them by the University of Maine kicker and then tossed them back. There were uniforms virtually everywhere: the band, the bear, the players, the military. So many images, so many ideas about what it means to be a grown-up.

The next night, the boys had a lot of questions about college: Do college students need a bathroom pass? Can college students take any class they want? Do college students really live without their moms for four years?

This last part bothered Owen considerably. He looked down at his dinner plate and said, “I don’t want to live away from you. I think I’ll go to the University of Maine.”

Good choice, I thought.

Owen’s face brightened. “And I’ve decided what I want to be when I grow up.”

The boys had seen so many images the night before, I didn’t know which one had impressed them most, but if I had to guess, it would have been the military or the football players.

And then, Owen said, “I want to be the mascot.”

The bear costume was not one that I had considered as being overly impressive. Then again, Owen, who is thin and flexible and loves to dance almost as much as he loves an audience, would make an excellent Bananas.

Ford started to laugh, but I shushed him. Not everyone wants to be the quarterback or wear summer whites.

Owen looked over at me. “That way, I can always come over to see you, Mom.”

“So long as you snowblow the driveway every now and then,” I said.

And Ford, who could no longer contain himself, said, “In your bear costume.”

Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. Her book, “I’m Just Saying …”, is available wherever books are sold. She may be reached at sarah@sarahsmiley.com.

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