The oldest cliché in human relationships is that of the contentious mother-in-law. I luckily escaped that dynamic. I truly loved my wife’s mother, and we had wonderful times together. She lived in Denmark, so getting together wasn’t a matter of a neighborhood visit or a short road trip. Consequently, when she came to see us, it was usually a stay of a couple of months. She was an easy houseguest, and one we thoroughly enjoyed.
She didn’t like the hot southern summers, so her visits were invariably in the spring or fall. During one such stay, I introduced her to “March Madness.” In the mid 1980’s, the Georgetown Hoyas had a run of good seasons, and were routinely in the NCAA’s championship tournament. Elinor – Ellie – knew nothing of basketball, adopted them as her team. She was in fact, a soccer fan in Europe, so perhaps the spectacle of men in shorts chasing around a round ball resonated in some way. Maybe it was the blue and grey uniforms, which dated back to the civil war and signified the union of north and south – although she didn’t know much about that conflict, either. Ellie’s adoption of the Hoyas ran counter to popular sentiment. The team was often – perhaps because of its success and the swagger that goes with it – the one that everyone liked to dislike.
Georgetown’s coach, John Thompson –a giant of a man – captured her admiration. Perhaps his display of passion for the game and for his team appealed to her. He prowled the sideline during games with an ever-present towel over his shoulder.
In the spring of 1984, the Hoyas took it all. They polished off the Houston Cougars, and Ellie and I watched every game, usually with a beer or two. I didn’t make many attempts to explain the intricacies of the game. I’m not an expert in any case, and the athleticism and competitiveness of the contests spoke for themselves. When the final whistle sounded on the final game of the tournament, we both felt satisfied, but somehow incomplete – there would not be another round of basketball to look forward to. It would have to wait until the next year and the next March Madness. In those days, it was almost a given that Ellie’s Hoyas would be back – and Ellie would be back to cheer them on.
PS – in 1985, the Hoyas were back, and lost in the final game, a 62-64 nail-biter to Villanova.
Chuck Thurston is currently absorbed in the March Madness of 2017. We lost Ellie a few years ago, and the Hoyas are not the powerhouse they once were, but I believe we would have found a suitable replacement.