During the five or so years I spent in the tropics, people would often ask me what I missed from home. Leaving aside the obvious answers of family, friends and Dorothy Lynch, I would sometimes give the snappy reply of "I miss being cold." I do hail from more northerly climes, after all, and my aversion to the outdoors and extra layers of fat and fur should put me in good stead for the winter.
What a stupid I am. The past few days have dispelled any lingering haze of sentiment about low temperatures. I took in my first high school football game since leaving Hawaii on Friday, traveling to my old stomping grounds of Kenesaw to see the local team take on Amherst. It was nice to take a look around the site of many of my earliest memories -- even if the early sunset didn't leave much to see -- as was the chance to spend a few hours at the home of a family friend and former next-door neighbor who is in his 24th and last year of coaching the KHS football team. What was less nice was the reminder of just how bitterly cold nights can get this time of year. Mid-30s and a steady breeze tends to drain the fun from most festive occasions.
The game itself wasn't much of a contest. Amherst and Kenesaw were both 4-1 going into the night, but the former had varying success against four sub-.500 opponents before losing 72-14 at home to Shelton. Kenesaw, apparently still stinging from a 59-17 loss at Giltner last month, came in on the heels of successive shutouts of Lawrence-Nelson (84-0) and Wilcox-Hildreth (58-0). Amherst's attempt at an expansive, 11-on-11 approach failed in the face of Kenesaw's pass rush, and its mid-game switch to a misdirection running attack with two tight ends and two backs was even less productive. Only a touchdown in the dying minutes -- with Amherst's starters facing Kenesaw's reserves -- spoiled the shutout as the host won 66-6.
Watching the game, it was clear my sportswriter instincts had yet to completely wither as I gave silent thanks for considerate scheduling and the running clock. Kenesaw was kind enough to hold its Homecoming festivities prior to kickoff, sparing the shivering crowd the kind of interminable halftime that usually goes with such events (parade, present candidates, announce winners, coronation, etc.). As for the latter, back in 2006, Nebraska dropped its previous football mercy rule -- which halted games once the margin reached 45 points -- and instituted a running clock once a team led by 35 or more in the second half. Not only does it make lopsided games on frigid nights move faster, it also allows the reserves of both teams to still get valuable playing time. That's assuming the backups get in, of course -- I was told that Pleasanton's coach kept his starters in until the last play of his team's 62-12 loss at Kenesaw, only to yank the reserves and put the starters back in after the former group was spared a fumbled snap thanks to a false-start penalty. The extra time must not have done much for Pleasanton's starters as the team is a robust 1-5, but at least the coach can take solace in the fact that he made it publicly known that he is a Hard Man to Please.
I'd also forgotten just how small small-town football can get. Kenesaw (9-12 enrollment 59) is the second-largest high school in Class D-2, the smaller of the two 8-man football divisions and the smallest of Nebraska's six overall divisions (not counting the 14 teams in the unofficial 6-man league). There were about 25 players on the Kenesaw squad against Amherst -- not exactly bursting with depth. I sometimes wonder about the path my life would've taken had, in some Frank Capra-like twist, my dad stayed in Kenesaw rather than packing up the family and moving to Grand Island. Would I have played three sports during the school year and baseball during the summer (poorly, no doubt) like the other boys in my class? Would I have developed my wanderlust and curiosity about the world without Mrs. Rombach encouraging my geography nerdery in fourth grade? How would my personality have changed if I didn't have the various theatre groups in Grand Island to help coax me out of my shell? I'm fairly sure my newspaper career would've been different without being a stringer for the Grand Island Independent and all the experience that came with it. Also, Grand Island was a big enough place for mom and dad to live after they divorced, something you probably couldn't say about Kenesaw.
Six weeks after leaving Jakarta, life in The Bubble is starting to feel more normal. I'm not sure how I feel about that. It's great having ready access to just about any kind of food, hundreds of DirecTV channels and a banking system that doesn't make my eyes bleed, but at the same time I'm still restless and annoyed with myself for imposing on my dad's hospitality. Something needs to change, and that right soon. I've put out feelers for 10 jobs so far (not including Husker Harvest Days) and have yet to get a nibble. I'm at the point where moving to North Dakota just as winter is arriving seems like a good idea.