I have been waiting for this trip for the past twelve months. It’s Mecca for Stephen and myself. We make the trip to South Bend, Indiana every year to watch the Notre Dame football team go through their paces in an open practice. I think I enjoy walking the campus and seeing its beauty more than I enjoy the practice. Spending time with my son and enjoying the conversations we have is really what I look forward to.
We rose at 4:30 AM, showered and drove to Tim Hortons where I ordered an extra large black coffee. I love this time of day and woke easily.The smell of the coffee made me smile with anticipation. I drove to Erie, PA where I left the driving responsibilities to Stephen. This is difficult for me as I do not enjoy being out of control of my surroundings. As I settled into shotgun, I allowed our conversation, the music and my reading material to be my company.
We arrived in South Bend only twenty minutes before the start of the practice. We stopped first at the hotel where I found it necessary to change into long pants. I find as I grow older I am also less tolerant of colder temperatures; especially sitting in them. Meanwhile Stephen decided to remain in his shorts. We took the short drive to the campus,parked the car and enjoyed the walk to the stadium where we could hear cheers erupt. The Notre Dame fight song hung in the distance. A smile crossed my face and tears began to well up in my eyes.
Since the practice is general admission we had the opportunity to sit anywhere we liked. We decided a seat somewhere in the sun would be the best option as the cool breeze quickly reminded us that the calendar still read April. The weather this year remained better than last years where we were pounded by incessant rain; a rain which removed the fun from the practice.
Once the practice finished we strode across the campus to the Hammes Bookstore, purchased the 2012 “shirt.” Anyone who has any amount of familiarity with Notre Dame and ND Football understands the importance of “the shirt.” We had heard that 20 thousand shirts had already been pre-ordered prior to the unveiling. The campus bookstore is one remarkable model of efficiency. An individual first entering this store and seeing the throngs of people as well as the line which snakes through the shelving would immediately turn around and leave probably mumbling under their breath, “There’s no way I’m going into that store.” The check out line which one would anticipate would take at the very least 60-90 minutes to navigate took less than 10. Success! We headed toward the Basillica and the Grotto where a prayer was said for our safe arrival and safe return. We headed back to the hotel to decided where dinner would be eaten.
After dinner at Five Guys we patted our full stomachs and returned to the hotel. I exited the shower to find Stephen snoring on his bed. I sat on the edge of mine and watched him sleep, much as I had when he was a baby. A baby he is no more. I wrote in my journal and thought of our conversation and pondered where the last 20 years had gone. I woke him briefly before my eye lids began to flutter with the weight of sleep closed for the night. We agreed to wake at 5:30 the next morning and take a 6-mile run to the Notre Dame campus. I couldn’t wait to show him the beauty and the solitude of the campus at this time of day. I knew it would remain unspoiled by the noise and busyness of the day..
We woke Sunday morning and ran toward the campus stopping briefly to take several photographs. As we entered the campus through the main road pass the cemetery in all of it’s eerie darkness and silence. as we continued down the main road aptly named “Notre Dame Avenue” the golden dome of the administration building came into view. We stopped, the dome lit like the beacon that it is. We walked for a few minutes and pondered the souls lucky enough to attend such a university. Stephen had applied two years earlier and despite his grades and awards had been rejected as a prospect. We continued our run in silence turning down one of the sidewalks which ran in the direction of Notre Dame Stadium. Touch Down Jesus was now in full view; it too lit like the icon it is. Minutes later we had exited the campus; the brilliance of the golden dome fading behind us. Conversation found us and we ran back to the hotel in anticipation of a hardy breakfast and a return to the campus for more photographs.
We enjoyed breakfast together. Stephen didn’t know I enjoyed his company and conversation more than I did the meal. We walked the campus a final time enjoying the warm sun as it rose higher into the spring sky. Stephen pointed out several vantage points for photographs of different buildings. He has an amazing eye and he sees more than most people his age. A brief stop for a coffee for the ride home and we were on our way.
Stephen confidently drove the entire distance home and as we drove through Cleveland we knew approaching Erie that Buffalo would be our final stop. The sky had changed from sunny to mottled grey to a damp, dark rainy grey. We pulled into the driveway, emptied the car and enjoyed dinner with our family.
Another trip was in the books. I was excited to edit the hundreds of photos I had taken and share them with Stephen.