Before I even knew what a "Notre Dame" was, I hated them.
My grandfather lived through the worst of it. He was a bulldog of a man, low to the ground, hard, unstoppable. He was, at various times, a sharpshooter, a moonshiner, a goat farmer, a carpenter, a politician, a rogue, and a saint.
And when he got his teeth into a grudge, by God, he was going to hold onto it as if it were his own arm. Facts be damned. Reason be damned. Once his course was set, break off the rudder because there's no turning back.
He rooted for Navy every year because "officers are assholes" and the Army shouldn't have drafted him. "You're no kind of soldier," his CO told him after he returned from yet another AWOL trip to Paris. "I could've told you that back in Alabama, sir, and saved the Army a lot of bother," he said on his way to the brig.
He voted Democrat every year because "Republicans are sons of bitches" and couldn't find their own asshole in an outhouse as far as he could tell. "Even Abe Lincoln?" his young grandson asked. "Lincoln was a Democrat, by God, or else some son of bitch wouldn't have shot him," he said.
He ate pork for breakfast every morning because "all machines need grease to run" and he figured the heart was no different. "You need to change your diet," his doctor said. So he started eating bacon at lunch too.
And he hated Notre Dame because they beat Alabama. He saw the close losses, the big losses, and most infuriatingly the losses even when Alabama won. The 1966 team never played Notre Dame but, as far as he was concerned, lost to them just the same. "Can't beat them Notre Dames," he said and, year after year, he was right.
After the adventuring of his youth was over, my grandfather didn't so much "settle down" as charge full-bore into domesticity. He gave up moonshining for matrimony and took to raising a family in the same manner a locomotive takes to tracks.
When his disapproving mother-in-law took ill, he moved her Primitive Baptist superstitions and her forbidden Zenith into the house he built so she could "not watch" I Love Lucy in peace until the end of her life. When his daughters couldn't sleep because monsters were living in the pear tree outside, he blasted two rounds of buckshot into it and told them, "No more monsters. Go to sleep."
And because he was from a pastoral upbringing, when he bought his own land, he went to market and came home with a small herd of goats. Initially, this was a utilitarian purchase, and the goats cleared the rough edges of the property. But even as the neighborhood changed, more houses were built in, and he had to buy feed and hay to maintain them, the goats stayed. A statement of permanence.
His love cared no more for reason than his grudges.
Those AWOL trips to Paris? He carried a black-and-white, wallet-sized photo of my grandmother with him and talked a painter through the process of turning it into a respectable portrait. Describing the colors and supervising the fellow as his mixed paints to get each one right. Her hair, her eyes, the tone of her skin, the worn fabric of her Sunday dress.
Despite the extra grease in his machine, he outlived her. His daughters all married and moved out. In the end, he was a tender of goats that had no purpose and, outside of those who knew him, there was little proof of his time on earth.
Some of this came to mind a couple of days ago as I coaxed and pulled and pushed a 250-lb. Nubian wether into the folded down backseat of my car. As a wether, he cannot be bred. As a male, he cannot be milked. From any rational viewpoint, he is utterly useless.
Like holding a grudge. Or loving a football team.
It is an odd sensation to realize one has been waiting for something useless one's entire life but, by God, I think we can beat them Notre Dames.