The Fisher of Stories

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maybe, maybe, maybe
you’ll find something that’s enough to keep you
but if the bright lights don’t receive you,
then turn yourself around and come on home.
 Matchbox Twenty

Sixty hours ago I was throwing my backpack into my truck and headed to go get Nate. 
As we made the trip to the State Fairgrounds, I kept checking Facebook and seeing all the statuses about heading to Oklahoma City and how excited everyone was.
I was excited too.
The State Tournament. The Big House. And the Okay Mustangs.
Those words aren’t used together every year. Volleyball, maybe, but not basketball.
Since no one bothered to tell us about the massive construction project on I-40 (shoutout to all you chumps), we got to the game just a few minutes before it started. Okay vs. Velma-Alma, two schools that, had you conducted a poll anywhere but there, no one would have heard of.
Our boys made it look easy.
That’s not slighting the Comets, that’s simply a testament to the shooting performance our boys gave. Shots were dropping like gas prices during an election year, and it was fun. After a certain point, it didn’t even seem real anymore.
I’ll be perfectly honest with you and tell you I wasn’t sure how they’d handle the big stage.
Turns out they didn’t need me to believe in them.
A twenty-point win and a drive back to the hotel, where I swam in the pool and thought about the game. Where I thought about Chad, and how he was back where it started for him in 1998. About that time I played thirty seconds in a state tournament game and had one rebound and one turnover.
I seriously think I told that story to whoever would listen. I was pulling hotel maids into the room and reenacting the rebound, making Hayden and Nate play defense every time I told it.
Enter day two. 
A 10:30 a.m. game against the number three team in the state. A team that had also been up by twenty points in their first game.
I was, yet again, worried, because that’s what I do.
Turns out they didn’t need me to believe in them.
The shooting performance they put on Friday made Thursday’s show look like me trying to dip two McNuggets into a painfully small hot mustard packet.
I honestly think at one point I made a three. And if I live long enough I’m sure that’s how the story will go one day. Three-pointers were flying through the nets like a…well, listen, I’ve watched my two favorite teams lose today, so I’m at a loss for a simile.
They got hot.
They won by ten, but it was really by twenty.
In the meantime, Fort Cobb-Broxton was busily winding their way through the bracket, making it look as though the OSSAA had mistakenly assigned a 5A team to the A tourney.
And then today happened. Day three. The championship game. 
A Facebook post informed me earlier that Okay has been a school district for 97 years. In 97 years we’ve never once had a basketball team in a state championship game.
But by God we did today.
I was worried. I watched Fort Cobb play both nights and I was worried. I tried to contain what I felt but my celebrations were muted, my conversations heavy with the weight of my pessimism.
Turns out, they didn’t need me to believe in them.
Our boys—Our Okay Mustangs—went out onto that floor and from the very first tip worked their butts off to bring home a gold ball for our town. They ran off screens, they dealt with bumps, they hustled for loose balls—all for us. All for Okay.
Those shots that fell the first two games didn’t fall today. And you know what? That’s okay, and here’s why.
My children teach me things all the time. Just when I think I’m the smartest person in the family, one of them will innocently say something so full of wisdom that I know The Lord is trying to knock me over the head with a lesson.
I pulled into the driveway this evening, emotionally exhausted, upset, and proud all at the same time.
Aven, my eight-year-old, was playing in the yard and came up to the truck as I got out.
“How was basketball?” he asked. 
“It was a lot of fun,” I replied. 
“Did you win it all?” 
“No, son, we lost in the championship game.” 
“Oh…well, that’s really that bad though, right?” 
I looked up, and saw my beautiful wife, who I’d missed very much, coming outside to kiss me hello.
In that moment, the entire weekend sped through my mind like a highlight reel on fast forward. The jump shots. The three-pointers. The conversations with people I’d grown up with. The celebrations. The hustle. The silver ball. The first second-place state tournament ever for our basketball program. The beautiful game of basketball that I love, played by young men that I love, coached by two men I admire and respect, administrated by a principal and superintendent that I think the world of. It all came over me, baptizing me in the sheer fun of the weekend.
And I realized that my son is wiser than I am.
“No, Aven, it’s really not that bad.” 
Book the hotel rooms, Mustang fans. We’ll be back next year. And I hope Fort Cobb-Broxton is there in the final, Goliath vs. Goliath, four or five moments away from another shot at a gold ball.
Thank you, boys. Thank you, Chad and Steve. Thank you to the fans, to the town that raised me, and the town that is letting me help raise their students.
November can’t get here quick enough.
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“Mom, when is dad coming home?” 

Those are the first words I remember coming out of my baby brother’s mouth. I’m sure if I took a minute and really focused, I could come up with something else, but that’s what I remember. 

Our dad had been dead only a few hours when he asked that question. ***

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Four of a kind: Sloats.

I’ll never forget letting him drive my car for the first time. I’ve blogged about it before, but I can condense it here for those who haven’t heard the story.

Josh could not have been more than 10 years old. I needed to move my car a few feet from the driveway to the patio to do something stupid to it, like add subwoofers or crappy undercarriage lights.
Josh wanted to drive. I thought, “eh, what’s the worst that could happen?” and I let him hop behind the wheel, scoot the seat up, and give it a go. The car rolled a few inches then caught the lip of the patio and wouldn’t move.
“Alright, Josh. I want you to reach down and just tap, just TAP the gas. You understand?” “Yeah!”
He floored it.
The car jumped over the lip, hit a picnic table we had on the patio, shoved it off and directly to our pool, which it would have destroyed had I not jumped into the car and mashed the brakes with my hand.
Josh looked at me, eyes wide, breathing hard, not scared at all.
“THAT. WAS. AWESOME!”
***
He called me one night about six months ago.
“Travis, I’m going to join the Marines.”
I laughed at him.
“No you’re not, it’s not that bad at home.”
To tell the truth, I was kind of upset with him. For those of you who aren’t intimately connected with my family history, my dad had three brothers, just like me. Out of those four boys, one died at the age of 9, the other at the age of 20, and my dad at the age of 40.
Four brothers. Now one. The oldest is still alive. I am also the oldest.
I am absolutely petrified of losing one of my brothers. One of my biggest requests to the Lord is that He’d take me home first, to spare me the pain of losing any more of my family. I am scared to death at the thought of one of them dying before me.
As for military service, I’ve always supported it, but never really seriously considered any one of my brothers joining. Brad talked about it some, but never did. Jordan and I never really even considered it. It’s one of those things where you think “Oh, that’s fine for other people, but not for us.”
Well, it turns out Josh was serious. All three of us tried to talk him out of it. We insulted him, laughed at him, and told him how the Marines would eat his lunch. He’s a small town kid from Okay, Oklahoma. He wouldn’t know anyone. He has authority issues. People would stick bars of soap in pillow cases and make him their girlfriend.
We probably overdid it.
But he joined up. Then he left us for three months so he could go to boot camp.
He wrote the family a letter the other day, his last one before graduation from boot camp in San Diego.
Jordan tried to read it.
It took Brad, faithful, strong, dependent Brad to read it.
“I got my Sloat name bar the other day. I think dad would be proud of me.”
I can’t even fully comprehend how proud our dad would be of you, Josh. I’m proud of you. Mom is proud of you. Aven and Akeeli are proud of. EVERYONE here is proud of you.
Tomorrow I’m going to wake up and head to my mom’s house, where I’ll meet Jordan, my mom, and Josh’s girlfriend Miesha. We are going to get in a van and drive 24 hours to San Diego. The Missus will fly out on Wednesday evening, and we’ll all be watching Josh walk across the stage and become a Marine.
I’ll cry. It’s what I do.
I’m going to post a few more things about Josh this week. Give him a blog dedication of sorts. I think he deserves it. Truthfully, all of my brothers deserve it. We are Sloats.
Sloats rule.

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The night before he left. I’m praying they didn’t take his sense of humor.