I pitched my helmet onto the shelf in the garage, hung my pads on a hook, and scuffed into the kitchen.
“What’s the problem?” Mom asked as I came in.
I flopped down on the nearest chair. “I was ten minutes late for practice and Coach Cooper gave me a lecture on being reliable and prompt.”
“Did you remember to take the bread over to Mr. Sams?” Mom asked as she poured me a glass of lemonade.
“Yes, and that’s why I was late,” I replied. “That old man just kept on talking and I couldn’t get away.”
“He’s rather lonely,” Mom said, “and seeing you in your football uniform probably reminded him of when he was a young man and able to play ball too.”
“If he’s so interested in the game, why doesn’t he come and watch us?” I asked. “The park is just around the corner, and the fresh air and exercise would be good for him.”
“He’s probably afraid to go down the stairs alone,” Mom said. “That’s how he broke his ankle last year.”
I took a big gulp of lemonade.
“Anyway,” I went on, “I was so late I don’t get to start in Saturday’s game. All the guys are mad at me because we’ll be playing the toughest team in the league.”
“Didn’t you tell Coach Cooper you were on an errand for me?” Mom asked.
“No,” I answered. “He would have said I was using you as an excuse, and then I’d get another lecture on responsibility.”
Just then the door opened and my nine-year old sister, Linda, stormed into the room.
“Why didn’t you help me out of that tree?” she demanded.
I just looked at her.
“You saw me,” she insisted. “Why didn’t you help me?”
“I didn’t know you needed help,” I said.
“You saw Ollie circling around the tree,” she went on, “just like his old beagle does to Casey’s cat. He had rocks in his hands. If I had even looked scared, he would have started throwing them at me.”
“If you needed help, all you had to do was ask for it,” I answered.
“Well, I have some pride!” she declared. “That would be admitting to Ollie that he really had me scared.”
Mom turned to me. “I think you should have helped your sister,” she said. And before I could say anything, she went on, “Sometimes, Tim, it’s necessary to listen with your eyes as well as your ears.”
It was a long three days before that big game, but Saturday finally arrived. I was up early that morning to straighten the garage and take out the trash. I even checked with Mom to make sure there wasn’t anything I had forgotten.
On Saturdays I usually take soup to Mr. Sams, so I left ten minutes early to allow some extra time to visit with him.
“Well, you’re early today,” Mr. Sams said when he opened the door.
“Yes, sir,” I answered as I carried the soup over to the stove in his kitchen. “Today is a big game and I don’t want to be late.”
“You’re right,” Mr. Sams began. “That would never do. Why, I remember when I played back in …”
He sat down by the table and motioned for me to join him. Then he started to tell me again about some of his experiences playing football years ago.
When I figured that the ten minutes were over, I slowly got up from the chair and said, “Mr. Sams, I’d better get going so I won’t be late. I’ll pick up the soup pot after the game.”
“I’ll bet you play a good game,” he said as I gathered up my gear. “You’re a strong-looking boy.”
“I do my best,” I replied, heading for the door. He hustled along after me.
“I remember once when I was playing,” he said. “We were up against the toughest team in the state. It was the third quarter. I remember it like it was yesterday! Jason Clemons, our left guard, was …”
“Why don’t you come over to the park and watch a game sometime, Mr. Sams,” I suggested.
“I’d like to,” he said, “but I don’t get out much anymore. I watch all the games on television, but it’s just not the same as watching a live game.”
When Mr. Sams said that, I looked at him for a minute and I thought he might start to cry. He turned his head away and stared out the window. I remembered Linda and how unhappy she had looked and what she had said about being proud.
Now I knew what Mom meant when she told me that sometimes you have to listen with your eyes.
“Look, Mr. Sams,” I blurted out. “Why don’t you get your sweater and come to the game with me right now?”
I was late again! The team was on the field warming up when I came through the gate with Mr. Sams walking beside me. Coach Cooper looked upset. I took Mr. Sams to the bleachers and got him seated. Then I ran to the dressing room and put on my gear.
Just as I reached the bench, the referees blew their whistles signaling the team to clear the field.
I won’t get to play anyway, I thought, so it doesn’t matter if I did miss the warm-up.
“Tim! Coach Cooper shouted, and I ran over to him. As I got closer, he lowered his voice and asked, “Were you late for practice the other day because of the old gentleman you brought with you today?”
I looked over at Mr. Sams. His whole face was covered with a big grin as he sat on the edge of his seat eager for the game to start.
“Yes,” I admitted, and I was actually glad about the whole thing.
“Why didn’t you say so?” Coach Cooper asked.
“I was afraid you wouldn’t understand,” I replied.
“I’m a lot more understanding than you think,” he assured me.
Then Coach Cooper motioned for the team to come and join us. After explaining the circumstances, he said I could play in the game after all. Everyone seemed pleased about that—especially me!
I waved to Mr. Sams as I ran out onto the field for the kickoff, and he was smiling bigger than ever as he waved back.
Mr. Sams didn’t make a sound, but I could hear his happiness all the way across the field.