On Tuesday afternoon my parents made the two-hour drive from Janesville to Fulda to watch my 7th-grade niece’s basketball game. After that they made the short drive to Worthington to watch my uncle coach his women’s college basketball team. They saw my niece lose, my uncle win and then made the two-hour drive back home.
The thing is, they would have made that same drive even if they’d only gone to watch my niece play. Four hours of driving for 30 minutes of basketball, more turnovers than points.
There are people in Minnesota with more kids and grandkids who have seen more high school and college sports than my mom and dad and those people have also driven more miles. But when it comes to the percentage of games they’ve seen for family members, Pat and Cees Fury might be tops in the state.
It’s something of an illness.
This started long before they actually had kids. As a young couple they traveled to the games of their siblings. They then went to my sister’s games and then started going to mine.
From fourth grade until my second and final year of basketball at Worthington Community College, they missed two of my sporting events. I think this still bothers them too, as it mars the Gehrig-like dedication. One was a seventh-grade football game in Cleveland, Minnesota, and 25 years later no one’s really sure why they missed it. The other was a college game up in Fergus Falls. That game was played in the middle of the week and during a winter storm. They would have had to drive about four hours each way in a blizzard, and I guess the only reason I was surprised they missed it is because they actually have driven in similar conditions. That night they missed us losing on a halfcourt shot at the buzzer, so it was probably best they only had to hear it on the radio.
They went to terrible 9th grade football games, summer tennis tournaments and baseball games. They went if I was a starter and if I didn’t play a second. Before every game I’d look for their arrival and it brought a sense of comfort. Some people struggle to play in front of their folks, but I depended on it. No wonder we lost the two games they ever missed. We’d be in the layup line when my teammates at WCC would helpfully announce when Ma and Pa Fury arrived in some far-flung location and found their seats along with the 29 other people in attendance.
They get up at 6 a.m. for 8th grade basketball tournaments and used to get home at midnight from weekday college games, knowing the workday was only a few hours away.
For my basketball games they had a routine. They weren’t one of those couples that has to sit apart because the dad is too unbearable, but each had a role. Mom kept stats for every player — points, rebounds and assists, and she also checked her work against the tapes — while dad complained about turnovers, my missed free throws, a lack of defensive rebounding or the refs. If it was a road game, I think my mom heard those same complaints for an hour or two or three on the ride back home.
My uncle Mike’s been the basketball coach at Worthington for 30 years and outside of his wife and two daughters no one’s seen more of his games than my folks, who make the two-hour drive to Worthington or one-hour drives to Rochester and Austin, shorter ones to Mankato and longer ones to the Twin Cities. My uncle Jerry is the PA announcer for the colleges in Worthington and Marshall, but as far as I know my parents have never gone to a game for the sole purpose of hearing him introduce the starters.
They’ll go to any game, including their nephew’s soccer games (matches?), even though they’re not quite certain why a sport would use a ball that you can’t shoot, catch, throw or hit.
Now there’s the grandkids, five of them, the youngest one being my niece in seventh grade. Mom and dad have treated those games that are two hours away the same way they treated mine when they were 10 minutes away. Drive four hours to watch a grandson run in the mile? Sure.
But don’t think this is simply about blood relations. They support the local teams or go to find a game between two good ones. No one’s eaten more bad popcorn out of brown paper bags than these two people.
They have their war stories, most involving bad weather. Fog, snow, ice, rain, wind, all of that at once — they’ve seen it all and driven slowly through it all. Sometimes it’s the sun, which bakes them as they sit under it for an entire day as they pull a softball-baseball marathon for the grandkids.
It’s part of the Fury family tradition — we don’t hunt, fish, snowmobile or ski. We go to sporting events, and they lead the charge, hundreds of miles at a time.
A few years ago they visited us in New York City and dad came up to watch me play old man basketball. Instead of watching in-their-prime athletes run up and down the court he watched fat guys do it. But he also saw me make a few shots, including a game-winner. Even in my thirties, it felt right to have him watching, even though in his head he was probably still complaining about turnovers and bad defensive rebounding. I can’t tell you my exact stats, since mom stayed back in our apartment.
I guess she earned one night off.