A Pitchfork, a Pigskin, and Oliver Twist…

(Podcast is available for this post. To listen, click on the link at the top of the blog site)

This blog hasn’t even begun, and because of two words in the title, (pitchfork and pigskin) many of you are probably thinking that this will be about Aggie fans going scorched earth, ready to pillage and plunder Kyle Field, desperately trying to save their football season.

There will be some Aggie angst revealed in this post, but not in the way you might expect. So for now, the “pigskin” part of this will have to wait…

Now on to the pitchfork.

Whenever I think of a pitchfork, I always envision this painting:

Grant Wood’s “American Gothic.”

I have always loved this painting. Even though the couple in the artwork seem to be stoic and stiff, this painting always makes me think, and evokes within me a silent, or many times out-loud chuckle.

Whenever I view “American Gothic, I concentrate on the pitchfork. I also have to admit that it has been a long-time plan of mine, to one day re-create this pose with my husband Brian and put it on our Christmas card. For some reason, I think that would be absolutely hilarious.

In my effort to tie together “pitchforks,” and “pigskins,” and “Oliver Twist,” I investigated the story behind this famous painting. Here’s what I found:

“The father and daughter are set in rural America. The woman is in a colonial print apron and her father is holding a pitchfork, wearing overalls. They represent the people who live in the Midwest, their expressions meant to be representative of a form of strength. Their faces are stretched longer. In his words, Woods explained that he ‘imagined that American Gothic people with their faces stretched out long to go with this American Gothic house.’” (Mariah Gill, February 13, 2020)

Most importantly (aside from the fact that the two people are father and daughter, and not husband and wife) I learned that the painting wasn’t making fun of rural life, but rather was honoring the resilience of farmers who survived the Great Depression.

I’m sure at this point it seems like I’m chasing rabbits, and maybe I am. But I need you to clearly envision “pitchforks” before I explain their purpose in this post.

As you know, I am currently the counselor at an elementary school, and one of the highlights of my day is lunch. During this time, I am at the beck and call of almost two hundred students.

There are usually six adults who monitor, help, and wrangle students in Kindergarten, first and second grades. As I’ve mentioned before, we open milk cartons (which I have finally mastered), ketchup packets, Lunchables, Go-Gurt, and any other packaging that is difficult for their tiny hands to manipulate.

One of the most popular requests is that students need eating utensils. These commonly forgotten goods are available at the beginning of the cafeteria line, and consist of a spork, a napkin, and a straw, enveloped in plastic wrap. In school cafeterias, the “spork” is considered to be one of the greatest inventions of all times. It’s versatility as both a fork and a spoon eliminates the need for providing both forms of cutlery.

As cost-efficient and creative as this piece of modern plasticware is, it is eternally baffling to young children. They aren’t sure what to call it.

Is it a spoon? Is it a fork?

Or is it a “pitchfork”?

Yes, you read that correctly. That is a common term used when requesting this eating apparatus.

And the first time I received a request for a “pitchfork,” the painting “American Gothic” came to mind.

The man. The woman. The house. The Depression, and of course, the pitchfork.

As I giggle to myself at the thought of a pitchfork being used as silverware, I am at the same time a little sad. As I walk around the cafeteria each day, I am reminded of the plight of many of these young children. I am hit with the hard, and depressing truth of their real hunger for both food and attention. That in the hard times of the day, these children are dealing with their own economic or mental depression…

Due to the high rate of economically disadvantaged students who attend our school, our cafeteria provides free breakfast and lunch to ALL students. I’m not sure of all the “ins and outs” of this program, but I do know that for many of these children, the only real meals they have are ones provided by the school.

Every. Single. Day. I am reminded of how the basic needs of many young people aren’t being met at home. Without fail, each day that I’m in the cafeteria, young hands are raised, and I am summoned to them with the request, “Can I have some more?”

And I sadly have to reply, “I’m sorry, but I can’t get you more chicken nuggets,” or fruit, or green beans, or whatever it is they hunger for.

And in an instant, my mind moves from the thoughts of farmhouses and pitchforks, to Oliver Twist, and his brave, yet timid request: “Please sir, I want some more.”

It breaks my heart when I have to deny them their request. Oftentimes, another student at the table offers their “left-overs,” or uneaten portions. I can’t really condone this in the era of COVID, and in these moments, I choose the “what I don’t know, won’t hurt me,” rationale, and hurriedly walk away, knowing that offers and trades and deals of food exchanges are taking place.

As tough as it is to witness first-hand the struggles of many of these youngsters, I am always pleasantly surprised at the compassion and kindness that they bestow upon each other. From sharing, or giving of food, to including and inviting other kids to sit with them, these students exhibit behaviors and act in ways that adults should.

We live in a time where everyone wants more. Sadly, it seems that we are never satisfied. And I will be the first to admit, this holds true for me.

As we are five games into the college football, for Aggie fans, it seems the season is already over. In this day and time of the “College Play-off” and trying to get to or remain in the top 4 or 5, even one loss can crash your hopes of having a dream season.

And here we sit with two losses. More specifically, we’re 14 points from being a top 5 team.

While many programs dream of being in our position, Aggies are devastated. Fed-up. Even mad. It’s been said, “The only happy Aggie, is an unhappy Aggie,” and with each year that passes, I am closer to agreeing with this summation.

Our battle cry of “Wait ’til next year,” seems hollow and pathetic. Why can’t we catch a break? Or a pass for that matter?

Through my many years of being a coach’s wife, I’ve learned that to have a successful, championship season, you not only have to rely on talent, skill, coachability, and sheer “want to,” you have to also have a whole lot of luck. You have to get some breaks along the way, or in the case of the Aggies, avoid “breaks,” as in injuries that can make or break your season.

Yes, it’s frustrating. Yes, it’s disappointing. But the delusional, crazy thoughts of some of the fans, are becoming more and more ridiculous. And nine months after the Orange Bowl victory, many Aggies are blaming the coach. The same coach who led the team to a top bowl game and a 1 loss season in 2020. At least our players get it.

Please know that I’m frustrated too, and I certainly haven’t been the best sport. I have a long way to go with my attitude, as well. I must admit though, after two losses, the pressure is off, and my expectations have been tempered. I go into each week hoping for the best, and bracing for the worst. As my favorite character, Ted Lasso says, “It’s the hope that kills you.”

Over a month ago, I ordered a couple of pieces of Aggie gear online: a shirt for me, and a cap for my grandson Cooper. Let’s face it, no one rocks a baseball cap better than an adorable toddler. As far as the t-shirt for me goes, it was time to update my wardrobe, as my favorite lucky shirts had seen better days. I knew I was taking a risk in not wearing the same game day shirt, but I believed my team could win without it. Yikes! Maybe it’s all my fault!

As I perused the hundreds of shirts, nothing stuck out. I wanted something that represented the attitude of the team, and coach. I scrolled and scrolled through all the options, and reluctantly decided on this one:

My hesitancy to make this purchase was twofold: first, the use of “ain’t,” and second was the bold statement. After over-thinking this for far too long, I hit the button, added it to my cart, and finished my order.

That was September 5th. And here it is, the eighth day of October and I haven’t received my order. When I called, I was told this was their “busy” season. No kidding! I understand that supply issues might be a problem, but they never said that. Clearly, my order had been lost or misplaced.

And the realization that the shirt I haven’t received has already become ironic, hasn’t been lost on me.

I guess I can look at it with the attitude that we aren’t quitting. We will keep playing and fighting, and hoping for the best, while also praying for a little luck to come our way.

But this week is Bama.

Several years ago, I sat through a miserable game at Kyle Field against Alabama. The man next to us brought his granddaughter (an Alabama fan) to the game. This sounds like an endearing experience shared between the two. But I need to clarify. This wasn’t a sweet, bright-eyed youngster, it was a grownup woman who was without-a-doubt, the most obnoxious fan I’ve ever encountered.

It mattered not what the team did, she screamed out, “Roll Tide!”

They sacked our quarterback—“Roll Tide.”

Their quarterback was sacked—“Roll Tide.”

A flag was thrown—“Roll Tide.”

The Aggie band took the field—“Roll Tide.”

We weren’t victorious that day, but the fact that I didn’t end up in jail was a personal win. I would NEVER choose to sit in an opposing teams’ section, but if I had to, I would try to be a good sport. This woman made EVERYONE in section 406 miserable, and I’m positive she alone boosted alcohol sales in Brazos County that day.

So while I know going into this weekend, it will be an uphill battle, I still will support my team, and in my own childish way, I have put my own hex on Nick Saban:

Several years ago, Avery Johnson’s son had this photo signed by Saban for my son, Chris. At that time, Avery Sr. was the Basketball coach at Alabama. I didn’t actually deface the photo, I just taped the mustache on it, making Saban look a little a 70s movie star, hoping that Saturday night, Saban experiences, on 4th and 1, “the longest yard” against our defense, and, at the very least a “Boogie” night, while Achane, or Smith, or Spiller move like “White Lightning.”

The below photo was taken a couple of weeks ago, after the A&M/Arkansas game. It sums up the life of an Aggie. One of disappointment. The “wait ’til next year” mentality. As I think of my sweet Cooper, part of me wants to tell him not to step into the Aggie football life. It’s a black hole that will suck you in, and spit you out. It will break your heart. It will test your resolve and your resiliency. It will leave you wanting more…

But in a world of uncertainty, it’s the pitchforks, and pigskins, and Oliver Twists that build character, and strength. It’s the hard times, and struggles and disappointments that make you want more. These times make you work harder, and smarter, and give you the energy and fire to do better, and be better.

So I will proudly wear my t-shirt, and remind myself there are miles to go before I sleep. And when the world gets on my nerves, and the issues of the day wear me down, and make me feel hopeless and defeated, I will remember this about myself, my team, my country, and my God:

“We ain’t done yet.”

And the tide will turn…

****addendum to this post****

My t-shirt was waiting on my doorstep when I arrived home early Sunday morning ( 3:15 a.m.)

Oh, and in case you haven’t heard. We beat Bama. Yep. We did that.

So, my t-shirt is no longer ironic. Instead, maybe it’s prophetic.

Anyhoo, apparently, “we ain’t done yet.”


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