How many Texas Aggies does it take to screw in a light bulb? Actually, I think I may have told my last Aggie joke for a while. (Then again, “a while” is a very relative time frame that is subject to change.) One of the greatest responsibilities of becoming a T-Sip is the unmitigated grief we are supposed to give to our Aggie brethren about anything and everything. Since arriving in Austin in 1980 and leaving in 1984 (well, at least, most of us did), my friends and I make the Ags the brunt of our jokes every chance we get (and frankly, they are very easy targets).
To start with, their cheerleaders probably won’t be doing a spread in Playboy anytime soon. Those trend setting burr haircuts (on the female students, that is), have yet to catch on at other campuses across the country. Their mascot is a puppy dog (and not even a very ferocious dog at that). UT has had TAMU’s number athletically for a while (last football season notwithstanding) and we are hoping to continue to get much more leverage out of Coach Fran jokes for years to come. (Looks likeAlabama will get the last laugh there.) Billy Gillespie opted to leave luxurious College Station after just a few basketball seasons and, in fact, took over a program previously rejected by UT’s Coach Barnes (who couldn’t pull himself away from beautiful Austin). TAMU fans take sports losses so badly that they assume personal responsibility and hold “yell practices” following each defeat (and they’ve been doing a lot of practicing lately).
My dad was a loyal Former Student who took all of the good-natured ribbing in fun and rarely dished out any of his own (not that he had many opportunities). I even recall a few of my fellow Longhorns going too far at various times and directing their excessive Aggie criticisms at my dad, only to be greeted with a warm smile and an understated chuckle rather than a sarcastic rebuttal that would have been more than appropriate.
He had been a proud member of the Corp of Cadets. After graduating, he served his country in WWII. I even have his old Aggie Corp saber in my home (though the baby-proofers insisted we keep it out of Emmy’s reach). He respected all of the Aggie traditions (as strange as we may have found them) and even struggled with the Administration’s decision to eliminate the Bonfire after the tragedy in 1999. At the time, I was amazed that this extremely conservative man (in demeanor and actions, not in politics) could defend a tradition that cost several students their lives. And, yet, Dad was so strong in his support of the Texas A&M traditions and what they represented that he could not bear the thought that one dating back 90 years could be disregarded without a comprehensive discussion and examination of the pros and cons.
Turning the clock back a few years, I grew up as much more of an Aggie fan than a Longhorn (it took me about 25 years to admit that). Our family attended several games a year at Kyle Field where I rooted on the defensive exploits of DaveElmondorf, Ed Simonini, Lester (stick-em) Hayes, and Pat Thomas. I “wooed” the running ability of George Woodard and hoped that Skip Walker and Bubba Bean would lead that Emory Bellard wishbone attack to prominence. (Of course, the wins were few and far between before the Jackie Sherrill “cheating” era.) I knew that Aggie War Hymn by memory and loved swaying in the stands to “Saw Varsity’s Horns off” as my folks shared a peck on the cheek following each (rare) Aggie score. We celebrated near-victories (after yell practice, of course) at the Hillel House where my dad served on the exec board and even furnished the place with new furniture. I aspired to follow in his footsteps and wear the proud maroon and white during my college years as well until peer pressure (and a dose of reality) set in during my senior year in high school. (That and I prefer my cheerleaders without burr haircuts.)
A TIME-HONORED TRADITION
A few weeks ago, my family and I participated in another Aggie tradition that I’m sure my friends and I have ridiculed in the past (certainly because of our lack of understanding of its spirit and meaning). Each year on April 21, current and Former Students gather in various venues across the world for Aggie Muster, “the roll call for the absent.” This tradition dates back to 1883, but gained national prominence in 1942 when a group of WWII soldiers came together in the Philippines and “mustered in the dim recesses of the rock and answered ‘here’ for their dead classmates.” Since that time, Muster has represented a time to honor the memory of those Aggies who had passed away during the previous 12 months. A family member, friend, or classmate rises when the name of each deceased is called and answers “HERE” to indicate that, while these men and women may be gone, they are never forgotten. Through Muster, they are forever remembered, not only by their loved ones, but also by their Aggie family.
I must admit, I was not particularly looking forward to attending a function where I would be surrounded by men/woman in crew cuts and maroon slacks, yelling “wup” every few minutes, while still reliving every single play from last year’s UT/TAMU football game. Get a life!!! (Do they not remember that our quarterback was injured, the weather was horrendous, and we were subject to some incredibly poor officiating that afternoon?) Instead I found a room filled with heartfelt memories and moving tributes about those recently deceased individuals and the love they felt for their University. The program handout listed the names of all the local Aggies who had died over the previous 12 months. I was struck by the number of “kids” who gave their lives in defense of their country in Iraq and Afghanistan. NASA Astronaut Michael Fossum (Texas A&M Class of ’80) kicked off the evening with an entertaining presentation about his recent space mission (that included more than a handful of “wups” from the crowd). And then the roll call began. Our family friends have a son currently attending Texas A&M; he asked if he could honor Dad by rising, answering “HERE,” and illuminating the memorial candle/flashlight when his name was called. He was so proud to participate in this time-honored tradition and fulfill his Aggie mission. Indeed, we were moved by his heartfelt actions.
We watched the ceremony with tears in our eyes as, one by one, individuals rose to answer for their loved ones. Some cried; some smiled; some stood emotionless; all displayed a sense of pride for their school that I believe very few (non-Ags) feel. Sure, we T-Sips (and alums at other schools) revel in our team’s athletic accomplishments and the bragging rights that accompany them. We cheer the prominent magazines’ academic rankings that lend credibility to the quality of our educations. We share memories of frat parties and favorite watering holes and burger joints, but few of us experience the feeling of being a Texas A&M Former Student. We don’t understand the meanings of their traditions or share in that sense of brotherhood and family that come with an Aggie’s love and devotion for his/her school and each other. Throughout his life, my dad experienced that feeling: the pride, the love, the devotion, the brotherhood.
Tomorrow I will again be telling Aggie jokes, laughing at the burr haircuts (on the women), and ridiculing the “silly” traditions. I will (hopefully) again have the upper hand in athletic bragging rights and tease my TAMU friends about the quality of life in Austin vs. College Station. But, for a brief moment on April 21, 2007, I understood the pride that current and Former Students feel (and Dad felt) and became a “loyal” Aggie for a day (about 27 years too late). WUP!!! WUP!!!