Our Mother’s Day Mantra
By BJ Bennett
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Shelve the flowers and fru-fru, Mother's Day at my house comes with charcoal and face paint.
Mother's Day, in most households, is an afternoon wrapped with ribbons and bows. With it being her day, mom proudly puts on her best and the boys begrudgingly do the same. From church to chocolate, Mother's Day is about celebrating the women who have always put us first. At the Bennett house, mom has always put us first-and-ten.
A little background information might help. Mom grew up in Central Florida, a middle child tomboy that split a large family of Bulldogs, Gators, Seminoles and Yellow Jackets. In college, she dated an Auburn Tiger lineman. In elementary school, she broke her kneecap in a game of tackle football; the culprit was a future Florida Gator linebacker. She grew up in the same neighborhood as the people who invented Gatorade. She stood on dumpsters as a small child watching the Gator Bowl over an eight-foot fence. She was teenage buddies with All-SEC talent Willie McClendon, the Georgia Bulldog great. Recently, she watched the Clemson/LSU Chick-fil-A Bowl alongside Georgia Tech record-holder Roddy Jones.
Mom is at the center of any football argument in the family. It’s gotten to the point where we won’t even watch games with her. Don’t let the 5’2’’ frame and constant sniffle fool you. Her last name might be Bennett, her first name might as well be Cornelius. Think Patrick Willis with glasses and a fanny pack. She has a strong, and growing, reputation. Coaches now ask me how she is when they call. Former Florida State assistant and NFL star Dexter Carter calls her mom. Ask former UF All-American tight end Ben Troupe about her and he will likely just laugh. We're not quite sure yet if it's out of amusement or fear.
She makes fun of my dad, a 6’2’’ military man, for not being intense enough when watching games. Her web of fervor has even been known to entangle others. Dad once had to get between her and another fan when she nearly started an upper deck brawl in the Orange Bowl. Years later, a bar fight almost ensued when mom challenged an older man for incorrectly citing the rules of the game. Slip up on Saturday, and she'll step up right in your face.
Mom loves football and, as the family linebacker, lives to engage any daring fullback in the proverbial open field. Around the house, her stature isn't even worth challenging. Her position as matriarch, though, isn't as well entrenched. She gets her affection for college football from her mother. It’s a family tradition of sorts, like Hank, Jr., minus the bottles and flasks. Sometimes you can see my grandmother in my mother. Not when she talks, not when she smiles.Rather, when she cheers. Their styles? Hilariously similar. Their passion? As deep as their bond.
My grandmother, who currently resides in a nursing home, is one of the most fun, quirky people in the history of civilization. Growing up, my brother and I wouldn’t want to spend the night with our friends -- we wanted to stay with her. Now dealing with a debilitating injury that has left her as a shell of her former self, she was once someone everyone fell in love with. "Mee-maw", as we call her, was Lewis Grizzard, Bear Bryant and Jimmy Buffett molded into a Mel Brooks movie character with egregious earrings and a gaudy purse.
An overzealous Florida Gator fan, Mee-maw obsessed over Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel. She called Wuerffel “Danny Boy” and routinely referenced him as “our cousin” when referred to at family functions. As for “Stevie Boy”, somehow, she found his meltdown faces and sideline tantrums adorable and warm.
An active socialite, Jenny Lee was well-known in the coastal communities of central and north Florida. She volunteered at the hospital, was involved in every non-profit organization listed in the phone book and was a fixture at chamber of commerce events. When you asked people if they knew her, they responded by saying her name with a rising pitch in their voice.
“Who, Jee—NNYYY?” they would ask with a smile.
That type of person.
Her Saturday gameday apparel was a makeshift Halloween costume. Mee-maw had orange Reebok’s she cut the toes out of and made into flip-flops. She had white capri pants with Gator emblems patterned all over them. She would wear an orange Florida shirt, a beaded necklace with a huge Gator fixture hanging at the bottom and bright UF earrings. This was just for staying at home. She was as tan as a leather couch as she spent 3-4 hours a day laying out by the pool in the hot southern sun. Her scoring reactions were both prompt and predictable. Following big plays, she would emerge shaking orange pom-poms singing “Go Gators…Woo…Woo…Woo.” She had this very distinct giggle that would always soon follow.
It was the type of sequence that would make you laugh, wince and wonder all at once.
Mee-maw was the perfect fan. She loved her Gators unconditionally. Win, lose or draw, she proudly wore her Florida gear and never talked bad about the players or coaches. Blasphemy. She talked of the team like family and used phrases like, “I’m so proud of them…”, “Well, they are trying their hardest…” and “Those poor boys…”. No criticism. No harsh commentary. Just support and concern. True, honest, support and concern. She would cringe when there was an injury on the field and would hold her hands together out of genuine concern. At the same time, however, she would root for injuries, minor mind you, for Florida’s opponents. Those admissions came sheepishly, as if she was whispering quietly and didn't want God to hear.
Mom is exactly the same in her enthusiasm, a little different in her approach. Maybe Mee-maw mellowed with age and we never saw her aggressive phase, but mom is, for lack of a better phrase, a more active fan. More rational than my father, but also more intense, she is strong in her football opinions. Mom has broken one bone as an adult -- it came after slamming her wrist on a table while watching her team lose on a missed kick.
My mother and my grandmother are both wonderful, caring people. They are also the epitome of all of the southern football stereotypes: my grandmother in her Gator garb and lipstick; my mother in her backwards cap and mean face. Upon that strong foundation, my football fanship has been built.
I’m a product of two unique women absolutely captivated by college football and the history, pageantry and tradition that comes with. Shelve the flowers and fru-fru, Mother's Day at my house comes with charcoal and face paint. On our calendar, it's just another day closer to kickoff.
In a family where school nicknames have all but replaced last names, it's a mom and a mee-maw who continue to lead us all out of the huddle.