Light blue or dark blue? Red or gold? In my family there is no room for indecision. By the time you could talk, you’d better be able to root for a college basketball team. We are not, nor have we ever been, a family united for one school – having instead flung our allegiances all over the state of North Carolina.
My great grandmother, Mae, was born in 1907 and was a very proper lady, as well as an enthusiastic NC State fan, so when she heard my aunt say, “Go to hell, Carolina” as a small child, everyone froze, waiting for her response. Finally, she said, “Well, I guess that’s alright when you say it like that.”
My great grandfather, James, went to NCSU, but did not graduate. He was a charter member of the Wolfpack Club, and held seasons tickets to both State and Duke basketball. “Sometimes I’d go to see one play in the afternoon and the other that same night. I don’t think I’d have ever known to do that if I hadn’t gone to college for awhile.”
When I picture their daughter, my granny, I see her sitting on her spot on the couch, wearing a Duke t-shirt, and smoking a cigarette as she shouts at the refs. One of my mom’s first memories is being dumped out of Granny’s lap during a tense beyond-mid-court shot at the buzzer.
My grandpa, a Wake Forest fan and a lawyer, used to file a Notice and Motion to Close the Office for the ACC Tournament. He served copies on all of the attorneys in the area and on the coaches for Wake Forest, Duke, Carolina, and State. He also sent copies to our area legislators, many of whom responded to the motion. One of the coaches filed a motion in support.
When my mother had a high fever and pneumonia my aunt helped get her into the car quickly so that no one would notice and make her stay home and miss a Duke game. When they figured it out they let her go anyhow, because no one would volunteer to stay home with her.
My other aunt, a skipped-a-generation NCSU fan, once sent a tearful letter to the head coach of State lamenting her isolation as a State fan in a sea of dark blue, conveniently forgetting that her grandparents were die-hard members of the Wolfpack club. He sent that poor, neglected child tickets to a game. She grew up and had a son who is a Carolina fan, probably karma from the time she tried to get a hotel maid to babysit him so she could go to a game.
My mom was known to sneak a radio into bed to listen to late games. On school days after a game night she would never complain, no matter how tired she was, because she wanted to go again.
When I was born my mom did not give too much thought to my path, assuming that I would follow in her dark blue footsteps. To her dismay I followed in my dad’s tarred heels instead. Leaving nothing to chance, she indoctrinated my sister early.
At eight years old my sister hid behind a chair during Laettner’s historic shot, not out of fear of the people in the room, but out of fear that he would miss. To this day she considers the time Grant Hill talked to her to be one of the best moments of her life.
During the Storm of the Century in 1993, I had plans A-C in place for watching the tournament; starting with cable tv, followed by my black-and-white rabbit-eared set, and finally a battery operated radio when the power went out completely. My bedroom was decorated with, pennants, shirts, and light blue soda cans.
My mom used to take us to the ACC senior all-star games, where I was reluctantly photographed standing awkwardly next to Christian Laettner and Bobby Hurley while wearing a Carolina shirt.
Our roots are twisted. My mom married a Carolina fan. My sister, a Duke fan, went to Carolina, and gave birth to an ECU fan. Despite being a Carolina fan I work at Duke, and married a Duke fan, so I worry I have tipped those scales for my children.
Lorelei has been to a UNC game in utero, and one Duke women’s game, but I will admit that over the past decade my attention has waned. We no longer have cable, or even reliable broadcast tv, and the viable alternatives seem to change constantly. Most pathetically, I can’t begin to stay up to watch 9pm games, and 7pm games come in the middle of dinner and bedtime. Then there is the clusterf$%k that has become the Atlantic Coast Conference. These aren’t meant to be excuses, but I do worry they are the beginning of an end.
We have passed these traditions down from one generation to the next. And while I knew most of these ancestors, if even for a short time, the oldest generations were gone before our kids came along. For them, this is a way to connect with their history, to be part of something that spans a century.
Tonight I will remind Lorelei and Rowan to say, “Go Heels!”