Written by Lydia Benedict.

Last week I celebrated my 45th birthday by attending a Monday night football game. That morning dawned sunny and mild on the farm. As we loaded overnight bags in the car, the goats bleated at us from their nearby pasture and the roosters crowed. If it weren’t for the leaf-littered ground beneath mostly bare trees—the bright green grass looked deceptively like spring. I kissed the kids (not the goats) goodbye. (They were in great hands with their new tutor.) Then we headed north.

Clara learning to count money with tutor, Brittany Weisler

It was after five o’clock when we arrived outside the Eagles football stadium in Philadelphia. We went straight to the ESPN trailers and waited for our pass—Steve Young. My husband has spent a lot of time working with Steve over the past two years. But I’d only got to meet him once. So Jeff arranged for both of us to be with Steve on the sidelines of the Eagles – Panthers game for my birthday.

Lydia with Steve Young

Soon Steve emerged from inside the stadium and greeted us both with a hug. Then he handed us each a media pass. Not only was the name on the pass not mine, but I wasn’t sure how to pronounce it. Apparently it didn’t matter: we followed Steve through security without difficulty. Soon we were on the field.

Jeff and Lydia inside the Eagles Football Stadium

I hadn’t been in an NFL stadium in over 20 years. The last time I went to an NFL game was in Massachusetts. It was a Patriots-Dolphins game. The thing I remembered most was how cold those bleacher seats were and the shirtless fans painted solid blue.

Jeff and Lydia with Steve

This time was much different. For one thing, we didn’t even have a seat. Instead, Jeff and I hung out with Steve on the sidelines for hours.

Steve chatted, joked, autographed memorabilia and posed with fans in between airtime on the ESPN Pre-Game Show.

Lydia with Challenger: America’s Free-Flying Bald Eagle

After about three hours on the sidelines, I was cold. I met a woman who was also on the sidelines with a friend on the ESPN show. She gave me her heavy sweatshirt and told me to keep it. Then an ESPN camera man gave me some hand-warmers. I guess I looked pretty cold!

My favorite part of the game—since I’m not a football fan—was the National Anthem. The American flag was stretched over the entire football field by the National Guard and other military men and women. A corporal was singing.

“…and the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.

From somewhere at the top of the stadium, a bald eagle swooped down and then soared over the massive flag.

Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”

Then the majestic bird landed on the trainer’s leather-clad arm near the field. The stadium erupted.

Lydia with Challenger: America’s Free-Flying Bald Eagle

I was glad when Steve announced it was time to go to the ESPN trailer. As we walked the length of the football field, fans chanted Steve’s name. There we were surrounded by Eagles fans chanting, “Steve, Steve, Steve…”

Back in the ESPN trailer, Steve immediately got us cups of hot cocoa. And we stayed in the trailer talking while the game was on the big TV screen. We talked about our children and the fact that some of Steve’s children are the same age as mine. He asked about the garden and I told him what was left in the ground (beets and carrots); what already came out of the ground (potatoes, sweet potatoes, green tomatoes, etc); and the work that still awaited me back home.

It was partway into the third quarter when Steve got up to head back to the field. I said to him, “I have just one question for you, Steve.” I looked at my media pass, “Who is Harv Barenz?”

Steve laughed. “He’s a relative,” he said. “Now go get some dinner. Why would you want to spend your birthday here anyway?” And he sent us off with a hug.

It was after midnight when we got back to our hotel. The next morning we jumped in the car and raced home. An hour after reaching home, Jeff and my 12-year-old daughter headed to the airport. (This time Maggie was going with Jeff on a trip: Jeff had several speeches to give in Idaho.) And I went to work.

The weather was mild, but freezing temperatures were coming in 48 hours. I grabbed a rake and started on the thick layer of leaves coating the yard and hillside. Three hours later I was still going. My son, Clancy joined me with the leaf blower. I had thought about using the blower, but after almost six hours in a car, I needed the exercise.

Clancy with the leaf blower

Then our friends the goat farmers came to pick up the goats: it was processing time. No more goats until spring. It will be much quieter without the goats, but our dog Caspian now has very large yard in the off-season.

Caspian enjoying his new yard; Photo by Clancy Benedict

I didn’t stop to see the goats off. Too much work; I kept raking. My shoulders started to tire, but I kept going. My son asked if I was ready to stop, but I kept going. The light began to fade, but I kept raking and Clancy kept blowing. I raked until I couldn’t see anymore. Half the hill was done.

Photo by Clancy Benedict

The next day my hired hand (and friend) Billy Campbell loaded the leaves on a 10’x20’ tarp and hauled it to a pile to burn. The following day, Clancy and I finished the rest of the hill while a few snowflakes fell. Between that hill and part of the yard (that I raked the previous Saturday), there were at least 40 tarp loads! And the trees weren’t even done dropping yet.

Photo by Clancy Benedict


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