By Willie Sawyers
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — It’s called March Madness for a reason. Across the land, people are sitting on the edge of their seats as pressure-packed basketball games play out on the screen. Some people actually get to attend the games in person. But I don’t know any of those fortunate souls, so I can’t vouch for that fact.
Very little work gets done on game days. Studies show this intense stretch of tournament basketball games costs billions of dollars in lost worker productivity. But who’s counting? If our team is playing and the universally-hated Duke is losing, we are watching, no matter if the vehicle misses a few parts as it travels down the assembly line.
And the kids and grandkids become orphans.
That fact became clear to me Sunday during the nerve-wracking game between the Kentucky Wildcats and undefeated Wichita State. I was downstairs in my man cave glued to the television watching as the teams battled back and forth in the best game so far in this March Madness.
Then, my attention was disrupted by two little heads peering at me through the stair rails. It was my grandkids, Piper and Luka, who live next door. They are 5 and 4, and will one day be fervent Wildcat fans. But on this day, they just wanted to play.
According to Piper, she and her brother had abandoned their home because it had gotten too noisy and no one was paying them any attention.
“Daddy and Mommy are watching the basketball game and are jumping up and down and are so loud,” Piper said, in a sincere, innocent voice. “So we left.”
“Uh, huh,” Luka agreed. He’s always looking for adventure, whether it’s with his sister, his superhero friends or with a couple of sticks out in the yard.
Piper got up in my lap and was telling me some big story that I can’t recall, because about that time Julius Randle threw down a one-handed dunk off a rebound. With involuntary jubilation, I jumped from the chair, scaring Piper into thinking I was having a seizure.
“Papaw, can we wrestle?” I knew that was coming, because that’s all they want to do when they’re around me. I must admit, I’m a good wrestler of grandkids. I make it fun.
I’ll have them go hide in the house. I’ll track them down, throw them over my shoulder and toss them on the bed for hand-to-hand pillow combat. I will grab them by the ankles, turn them upside down and tell them I’m going to shake their liver out. Lately, they love being tossed about by a giant exercise ball I have downstairs.
But they always want to wrestle at inopportune times, like after I’ve eaten a big meal or the Cats are mounting a comeback. Plus, they’re not little anymore and the wrestling becomes physically taxing. Sometimes I think they’re going to shake my liver out.
If I don’t wrestle on command, Piper will go tell Nana on me, and the Papaw Police comes in and gives me the age-old spiel about how the grandkids won’t be little very long, and how they’ll forget all about me soon enough, and how I should cherish every moment with them.
This is the same woman that used to sing “The Cat’s in the Cradle” to me when she thought I wasn’t spending enough time with our own kids when they were growing up. (If you’re not familiar with the song, look up the lyrics on Google and you’ll find it’s pretty poignant in that regard.)
So, I got up out of the chair, grabbled the exercise ball and began wrestling with Piper and Luka. But it wasn’t long they sniffed out my deception. I couldn’t concentrate on the activity when I had one eye glued to the TV set. Plus, I had the overwhelming urge to bite my fingernails.
“Papaw, you’re not doing it right,” Piper said. I couldn’t help it. James Young had just swished a three to put Kentucky up by four with a few minutes to play.
When Wichita State cut it back to one point, the pressure got to me. I had to watch the thrilling end, so I feigned shortness of breath and needing a timeout. It was the first time I used that excuse surreptitiously.
Piper got frustrated with my lack of enthusiasm for her entertainment, so she grabbed Luka and went outside, I believe, to play in the road.
Just two more orphans set adrift during March Madness.