I grew up in Canandaigua, New York. Close to Rochester, but not so close that we were a suburb or anything like that. It was a small town, but not real small. It was on the northern tip of Canandaigua Lake and there were lots of places to go and things to do. When we were younger we had the Goodie Shoppe on Main and the movie theatre where we could meet girls without having to ask them out and Little League baseball and Sonnenberg park where we played important character building games like tetherball and jarts, without any adult supervision.
When we moved on to high school we spent our summer days at Kershaw Beach where we could meet girls without having to ask them out and then later, when we had mastered the fake IDs, we could go to Clarkie’s Bar to meet girls or the drive-in theatre if we actually had a date. We also had high school football.
Our house was across the street from the football field. I started going to games when I was ten and, while I loved all sports, the one thing I wanted to do above all others was catch touchdown passes for the Canandaigua Academy Braves. I wasn’t crazy about the contact part of the sport – didn’t like getting hit all that much – but I loved to catch passes.
Sophomore year I was playing for the Junior Varsity, and the coach would have five or six of us JVs suit up for the Varsity game just to give us that experience. The first three games of the season I watched from the sidelines. But in the fourth game, we played Eastridge High School. They were overmatched. By the fourth quarter Canandaigua was ahead, 33-7, so the coach put the JVs in the game.
I can remember stepping on to the field for the first time. It felt like the field was electrified. My legs trembled. We ran a couple of inept running plays and lost about twenty yards. That pissed off our coach and he yanked the JV quarterback and re-inserted Tom Elliott, the varsity QB.
Elliott called a pass play to my side. I ran a corner route and I was wide open. Tom waved at me to go deeper and as he hurled the ball down the field. I remembered thinking, damn he's thrown it too far, but I leaped high and managed to tip it with one hand. I kept running and caught up to the ball and suddenly there was nobody between me and the goal line and I was going to score on my first varsity play, and I was preparing to celebrate when someone grabbed me from behind and I went down on the 13 yard line. It was a 63 yard pass play.
It was two more years before I actually caught a touchdown pass. I think, if I worked at it, I could attach some heavy metaphorical import to that catch, positive or negative depending on my mood, but I prefer to just remember the play.
A couple days ago for my sixtieth birthday my sisters presented me with a dvd, which they had made from my dad’s home movies. They extracted all of the footage he had taken of our football games. Dad was a good photographer, but he never got the hang of the movie camera and most of the film is pretty much unwatchable.
But he did have “the catch.”