I was born and bred in Chicago. I come from a typical big Irish family, with a ton of aunts and uncles and cousins and siblings. The thing that is a little unusual is that I am literally the only girl that has been born into the Brigham clan in about 100 years. Really. I've got no female cousins, no sisters, and my aunts have all married into the family. You'd think that I'd be a girly-girl princess, with all of the other females in the clan fawning over me...but thank my higher deity, that didn't happen.
Nope. I am a tomboy. Are you kidding me? There is NO WAY that a girly-girl would have survived in my family. I spent my childhood running through the alleys playing kick-the-can and stickball, and then when we moved to the suburbs, climbing trees, jumping out of second-story windows, and riding a never-ending parade of secondhand bikes down dirt hills, over creeks, up ramps, and into fire hydrants.
My love of sports began early. My dad used to drag me to the park with a handful of his buddies so I could play catcher for their pick-up softball games. The thought was that I (and more importantly, my young knees) was much better suited to stay in a crouching position than were their decrepit 30-something knees.
Summer nights meant catching a baseball game on the tube with my Dad (never a Cubs home game though, because at that time Wrigley didn't have lights) and come fall, Sundays meant going back to the city and cramming all of the family into my grandmother's bungalow to watch football. The grown-ups got first pick of the furniture-Grandpa always got the only recliner, and the rest jockeyed for position on the one couch. The rest of us (usually the youngest uncles and all of the cousins and siblings) spread out on the back of the couch (when Grandma wasn't looking), the floor, up the stairs, and into the hallway. Grandma and the aunts were crammed into the galley kitchen making Sunday dinner, which was timed to be finished at the end of the football game, and not a minute before. After dinner, we'd all pile out into the backyard and play a pick-up game. There were enough of us to man a full team-11 on offense, 11 on defense-with some left over for injury rotation. To me, sports meant good times and family.
Back in the suburbs, I was always the only girl in the neighborhood football games-first as a running back. I was a heck of a running back because the boys were afraid to tackle me for fear that either their father or mine would whoop them for hitting a girl. Once Brian-from-next-door accidentally tackled me full on, and every kid froze in place as an eerie silence descended on the block. My father and Brian's father were watching us, shooting the breeze, and the boys were scared stiff. It took about five seconds, and my dad and Mr. Hillman erupted in hysterical laughter. I was not amused, as I knew that my run as a successful back was about to end.
"It's about damn time, boys!" my dad spit out between guffaws. "She's been running up the points on you for months. If she wants to play with the boys, she'd better be treated like the boys. If she's got the ball, tackle her! That's the way the game works!"
I spent the rest of that afternoon introducing various parts of my anatomy to the grass and gravel of our field. I came home with a split lip, road rash down my forearms, a cut on the underside of my chin, two scraped knees, and more bruises than I could count. As my mother was tending to my war wounds, she was screaming at my dad, "Why didn't you stop those boys? Look at her, she's been assaulted!" My mother was a bit of a drama queen, you see. My dad and I were just grinning.
"Kari, would you have liked me to stop those boys?"
"No! That was the best game ever!"
My mother stormed out of the bathroom. My dad and I high-fived, and from that point on, I played either an offensive tackle or a linebacker. God, did I love it! NO ONE got to my QB if I was on the O line. I'd let the kid run up to me, and fake a stutter left or right, acting like I was intimidated of him, and as soon as he let his guard down, I'd put my shoulder into his rib cage, wrap my arms around his waist, and push forward, bringing us down with a satisfying "TWUMP" as we hit the turf (playground rules being much looser than the NFL rules, this was perfectly acceptable). When those wimpy boys refused to play D against me, I moved to the D myself. Eventually the boys threatened to stop playing with me altogether, so I moved to QB. I was never a really effective QB, as I never could get a good passing game going (alas, my hands were too small to get a good grip on the ball, and I never could quite get it to spiral).
Then puberty hit.
Suddenly, the dynamic in my neighborhood changed. The games started getting less frequent before finally ceasing all together. I still wanted to tackle the boys, but with a much less innocent goal than merely stopping the football's forward progression. Brian-from-next-door became my first boyfriend, briefly. Our budding relationship screeched to a halt when, after showing me first-hand the beauty of scoring a double, stopped and said, "I can't do this. I don't think of you as a girl. This is just too...weird."
Your loss, Brian.
Now, you may be saying to yourself, nice story, but how does all of this explain your dual-city loyalty?
I'm getting there, loyal readers. I'm getting there. You have to understand my back story first. Check back a little later for the rest of my story.
Hey, the best stories always have to keep you hanging a little bit, don't they??