Every year like clockwork, the sounds and smells come around, stirring familiarity and deep rooted memories of joy and belonging. The brown snow melting into clumps of mud on the sidewalk while tender bulbs gasp for the first fresh air they have had in months, waiting to display their glorious golden trumpets. While inside, it fluctuates between windows beginning to crack and the gas fireplace roaring. Time is marked by the fog horn buzzing on the stop clock, serenaded by the NCAA theme song. Throats aren’t typically sore from spring colds in the Wilson house, but from screaming at the TV and anyone in a baby blue uniform with dirty feet.
This is a monumental, marked moment every year in my life. These signal the start of a new season, a new year of my life. These are the sights and sounds of my birthday. You see, I was born in the great state of North Carolina, where basketball- especially college basketball- is greater than life itself. It ranks up there with football in Texas and Hockey in Canada. In the late 80s, my mom worked at Duke University, in Durham, North Carolina, where she quickly was ushered into being a super fan. She dragged my dad along with her and they haven’t ever turned back.
The whole month of March is crazy with basketball, but for Duke, the first half always holds a special amount of tension, because before the nation goes to the national championships, each division plays in their own championship tournament. In Duke’s case, it is the ACC tournament. Every year, teeth are grinding to see who will have bragging rights over the other between Duke and University of North Carolina (UNC), one of the biggest college rivalries ever. The ACC tournament always happens over my birthday.
Imagine the entire town divided over which shade of blue and out for blood. It’s not just a sport. It is a way of life.
So on March 10, 1989, Duke and UNC played the first bracket of games for the ACC tournament, building an insane amount of tension. The Duke game was set for 2pm that afternoon and the OBGYN begged my mom to give birth before then, as he was a season ticket holder and had to be there. My mom was determined. So fueled by the upcoming excitement of a basketball game, the help of contractions and an epidural, I was brought into this world, into a loving family, into an enduring tradition. Duke won that day. I’d say my parents won even more.
When my parents loaded me up in the car to drive me home for the first time a few days later, all of Durham was buzzing with electricity. But as my dad pulled into the driveway, my mom noticed that the bonneted heads of determined daffodils had made their way out from hibernation to greet my presence into the world and my new home.
A few years later, my little family moved north to New York so my dad could go back to college, but every year, like clockwork, there would be a bouquet of daffodils on the table while squeaky Duke sneakers ran up and down the court.