It was 1977 in Charleston, SC. I was a freshman…a “knob” attending The Military College of South Carolina…or better known as The Citadel. I had been recruited to play quarterback and had moved up in the depth chart from 11th string quarterback to 2nd string quarterback just one week before our first game. Being part of the football team relieved me from much of the physical hazing that the rest of my classmates were enduring while I was at practice. However, from my vantage point, I was getting all I could handle in practice.
It happened to be my 18th birthday in early September of 1977. We had our last scrimmage before our first game. As I took the snap and executed an option play, the moment that I flicked the ball to my running back, my left palm was caught between two helmets that simultaneously sandwiched my palm and crushed the bones in my throwning hand…as well as my dreams.
Leaving the infirmary with a fresh cast on my left hand, I stopped by the post office on campus to pick up a birthday “care package” from my Mom. I knew it had to be something good and I rushed into the barracks and began the process of getting to my room.
The process for a “knob” to get to their room was no easy feat. We were required to double time around the perimeter of the barracks running only in two tile widths of area to one of four corners of the square barracks that marked our company staircase. Once at the bottom of the staircase, we were required to give ourselves a “shirt-tuck” which meant tightening our shirt both front and back. Then, if any upperclassman were on the stairs, we had to request permission of that upperclassman to use the stairs. Silly…but required.
The problem was that the rooms for the knobs were on the fourth floor of the barracks and getting to your room required having to run through a gauntlet of upperclassmen…and upperclassmen with nothing to do…were very dangerous.
Well, here I come with a broken hand, broken dreams and a box of goodies from my Mom and all I’m thinking about is getting to my room. Then it happens…the upperclassmen see the box….and they know by instinct that boxes carried by knobs most likely means…food.
I am confronted by a group of upperclassmen and am forced to open the box from my Mom. It contains a birthday card and a box of homemade chocolate chip cookies….contraband for knobs…a dream come true for hungry upperclassmen!
One of the upperclassmen that confronts me is Mr. Kipphut. He is one of many, but he takes my box of cookies and reminds me of the fact that knobs are not supposed to have “contraband” in the barracks and he and his friends are going to help me out. So they all take my cookies and leave one for me. However the one they leave me is crushed into crumbs and placed on the ground of the tiled walkway. It is there that they demand that I do push ups for violating the contraband policy. Since I have a broken hand, I am forced to do one-armed push ups which they have no sympathy. Each time I go down for a push up…I am allowed to eat a bite of the cookie crumbs that are on the ground and then I return back to the up position and sound off “one sir.” This goes one for 15 more times and then I am allowed to go to my room.
Happy 18th birthday to me….
Fast forward 38 years….and I attend a Citadel alumni function in Plano, TX. I walk in and one of the first people I see is my “old friend Mr. Kipphut.” By now his name is Mark. We exchange greetings and begin a warm and friendly exchange as we both begin to unpack the years that have gone by for each of us.
We both attended a recent alumni event and I shared with “Mark” the events of that fateful day in 1977 and the impact that it had on me. Mark was moved…however, I didn’t realize how much until today….
Today, I had lunch with Mark. We had agreed that we would get together and have lunch and today was the day. We both arrived at the restaurant at the same time and as I waited for Mark to get to the door, I noticed a box in his hand…. He met me and said, here…these are for you…. It was a box of chocolate chip cookies.
I cannot begin to explain how much this simple gesture meant to me. I was pretty much stunned when he gave them to me and it wasn’t until after our lunch and I was driving away that the story of our past became so vivid…again.
What a guy…to take the initiative to “right” a “wrong” that happened so long ago. What a guy… that would feel like this was an important thing to do…
Well it was….and as I sat in front of my TV tonight…I opened that box of cookies….and they were the best tasting things I think I’ve ever enjoyed.
38 year old cookies are the best…not because the cookie…but because the man behind the cookie… is now… my friend.