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Last night, I met up with my longtime friend Tony for dinner and to catch up. It was much needed.

Tony is one of those true blue kind of friends that you know will always be there for you when you need him. Over delicious cheesecake, sweet potato fries, and mozzarella moons, we discussed what we’ve been up to, who we’ve spoken with as of recent, and just general nonsense that always makes you smile when you think about it. Conversations like those are what I love most – the kind where it just feels nice to interact with someone, smile, laugh, listen, and respond.

During our meet up, Tony got a text from another friend about the Old Shoe Game, asking if we’d like to go. I had never been to the Old Shoe Game before so I said, “let’s go!” It was below 30 degrees and the grass was completely frost covered by the time we got over to Lake-Lehman.

Time for some back story. Both Tony and I met in junior high school  in the Lake-Lehman School District. We were library aides and had a few mutual friends. In high school, we were both involved with chorus, theatre, and track – all at Lake-Lehman HS. Now, the LLHS football team during my time was notorious for being well, horrible. The Old Shoe Game was considered by the entire school to be the most important football game of the season. It was always against our rival, Dallas High School, and the prize: an old shoe bronzed sometime before disco became popular. For decades, Lehman and Dallas fought over the chance to take that shoe back to  its respective trophy case. During my time, we never won the shoe or ever expected to win it. It wasn’t until a year or two ago that Lehman finally got to return the shoe to the trophy case after what seemed like an endless losing streak. Last night, the Old Shoe was up for grabs – and again, we weren’t expected to win – but this particular game was going to be special. It was Homecoming. Anyway, returning to the alma mater for a football game wasn’t something I was expecting – yet, it was a great surprise.

When we arrived, the stands were packed. Absolutely packed. Neither Tony or I had any cash so we grabbed some candy corn that I had left in my car (thanks Tricia!) and we stuffed our pockets in case we were questioned. I’m still not sure if they would have accepted candy corn in lieu of US Dollars but it was worth a try. Plan B was to jump the fence as usual.

We didn’t get asked to buy a ticket, so we just kept walking through the crowds of people till we go to the field. I found my cousins, two uncles, an aunt, and a few classmates in the process. It was unexpected, but again, a great surprise. We chatted then we kept moving – mainly because if we didn’t, we’d probably freeze. Once my knees started to go numb it was time to go. We only saw a handful of plays – none of which were that important. Tony and I said our “see ya laters” and then I headed back to Scranton. This is when I got my final – and most important – surprise of the evening.

As I was driving, I looked around at the place that I had once called home only four years ago. Lehman, PA was where I spent a lot of my time growing up. For the first time since I’ve left, I felt a little nostalgic about the whole experience. I saw the dark windows of Cook’s general store and thought about the size of their turkey sandwiches and how I used to stop there for PopTarts pretty much before every physics class during my senior year. I saw the dimmed lights of my friend Elizabeth’s house, where I had spent countless hours working on National History Day. I saw the Post Office where my Dad would wait to pick me up after I worked volunteer shifts at the Lehman Haunted Barn. I saw the old baseball field and the cross country hill where I’d spent two summers at field hockey camp, sweaty and usually covered in mud. I saw the rubber track where I qualified for districts and spent countless hours after school. I saw into the windows of the school. Lockers. Lockers that were once filled with my books, really smelly running shoes, and play scripts. In the sophomore hall, my locker was once filled with confetti and calendar pages for Valentine’s Day. Matt and Tony had the combination. They always left me surprises. I saw hallways too. Hallways that were once filled with too many students and trash cans when it rained so that when the ceiling leaked, there’d be something there to catch the water. I also saw Route 118, the road I drove each and every morning, Monday through Friday, to get my education. It was a quiet drive.

I saw a lot of things driving home, but they were all things I needed to see. I was reminded, as I switched on my blinker to turn right at the stop sign in front of Cook’s, that it was okay for me to come back, but I still need to keep looking towards the future. Home.

P.S. – Dallas won last night.

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