It’s not quite 10 am, and the Hamlet of Hattiesburg is already blowing things up. He has walked the grounds of his Monticello-on-the-Mayberry spread in Mississippi and dispatched two possums with his shotgun. “They were acting weird,” he reasoned. “Maybe they had ray-bees.” That was productive. He then returned an e-mail to an ESPN reporter. That didn’t work out so hot.
Three miles down U.S. Route 98, a visitor sits in the empty waiting room of a two-story office building. It belongs to Brett Favre‘s agent. There are no magazines. There are no pictures of the prince. The visitor waits. And he waits. He watches a paint crew arrive. He watches a paint crew depart. He watches paint dry.
But he hears things. Phones ringing. Phones slamming. Cussing. Lots of cussing. An hour passes. A secretary apologizes for the delay. Finally, a Southern almost-gentleman appears. He’s the man behind the salty phone voice, and his face and ears are beet red. There’s no suit. Rather, he’s dressed in the uniform of the affluent adult child – shorts, sneakers, and golf shirt. He sticks out his hand.
“Bus Cook. I know you’re media, but do you know who I hate? The goddamn media! You watch ESPN this morning?”
“Brett talked to goddamned Ed Werder at ESPN, says he needs ankle surgery. Now why did he do that? I’ve got Childress calling. I’ve got reporters calling all damn morning. Goddammit, why does he have to be such a goddamned drama queen? Play, don’t play, goddamn, people are getting sick of it. I’m getting sick of it! Why does he have to talk to these people? What good does it do? Ed Werder at ESPN! What’s he ever done for anybody other than say, ‘Look, look, Mommy, I got this first, ain’t I special?’ You got problems with surgery, talk to your wife. Why talk to goddamned Ed Werder?”
A giant white pickup truck rumbles into the parking lot. The driver gingerly steps down from his perch. Cook looks out the window. He mulishly paws the rug with his sneakers.
“Goddamn, there’s Brett. This is going to be interesting.”
The silver-haired Favre is dressed in shorts and a sleeveless T-shirt, looking simultaneously like a kid and the grandpa he has just become. As he comes in the front door, his ruddy face breaks into a sheepish grin, one he’s flashed a thousand times, chinstrap undone, at head coaches after throwing across his body into double coverage. He didn’t flash it the last time he tried that maneuver on New Orleans turf. He was too tired, too broken. Actually, we may never see that smile again. That’s why we are here.
“Hey, Bus,” says Favre.
He speaks slowly, a boy trying to delay a spanking.
“I guess I screwed up. I didn’t think it was a big deal. I just told him that I might need surgery. He made it into a big thing.” Bus stares him down, but his face crumples into an exasperated grin.
“Jesus, Brett. You never learn. You guys go talk. I’ve got goddamn phone calls to make.” He pokes a finger at Brett. “Thanks to you.”
Favre eases himself into a chair with the slight, obligatory groan of the middle-aged. (He turns 41 in October.) He knows what you’re thinking. On the field, you want him drawing plays up in the dirt, making things happen without a plan. You don’t want to know that’s how Favre lives the rest of his life. The ankle surgery kerfuffle – getting the procedure done, the speculation goes, may indicate he’s coming back – is just the latest production number in year three of “Will He or Won’t He Play,” Favre’s one-man show. At this point everyone is counting ceiling tiles and looking at their watches.
“You’d think I’d know better by now,” he says. He offers a different kind of smile: sad and weary. “I’ve learned a lot through the years. What I haven’t learned is what I’ll do and when I’ll do it.”Brett Favre likes to tell stories. He thinks you’d understand him better if he could tell you three of them as we move along. Maybe we’ll call them the good, the bad, and the sad. Here’s the first one.
The Good: You remember last year. You had a strong opinion. Everyone did. Hell, Minneapolis’s ‘Star Tribune’ wrote an editorial the day Favre signed, saying, in nice language, that the Vikings were wusses and Favre was a big baby. (Four months later, they were printing bonus sections starring Favre’s grizzly face.) Brett Favre agreed with you. He thought he’d made a big mistake by coming back a second time after saying six months earlier that he was really, really retiring and, no, this time he meant it.
“I was driving into training camp and I’m saying, ‘God, what was I thinking,’?” recalls Favre. “I thought, This is a mistake.”
For a moment he wanted to bolt. But he changed into the unfamiliar purple and gold, trotted out to the practice field and called “22 Texas,” handed off to Adrian Peterson, and all the doubt melted away.
Less than six weeks later, it’s the Vikings home opener at the Metrodome, a place that devoured Favre during his Packer years. Many of the weirdos in long beards and horn hats still can’t stand him. The team is down by four, with 12 seconds to go, stuck at the 49ers’ 32-yard line. No time-outs. Vikings fans stand in the aisles, ready to make a dash to their Vikingmobiles. Sports radio is up on speed dial; Brett-bashing beginning in 4, 3, 2, 1. . . .
Favre rolls out to his right. He buys some time. Time to let it go. He throws a pass toward the end zone. He gets clobbered. How to describe the pass? It moves like a smart bomb through defenders, wasting no extra time in the air. A receiver named Greg Lewis tiptoeing along the back line of the end zone catches it.
“I hear the crowd roaring, and I said, ‘You’ve got to be shitting me,’?” says Favre. “The guys pile on me, and I’m happy but cramping up. I pissed at 11:30 before the game and I didn’t piss again till 12:30 am. I was that dehydrated.”
He shakes his head in wonder. He looks like a little kid remembering his first trip to the circus.
“I thought, That’s a helluva way to start the season.”“C’mon, Brett, goddammit, can’t keep those good folks waiting.”
Bus and Brett pile into Cook’s Escalade for a drive over to a Mississippi state park for Favre’s annual shoot of a Wrangler Jeans commercial, an exercise as repetitive as the yearly retirement talk.
“Man, the setting is kind of beating a dead horse,” says Brett. “I mean, how many times can you go out and throw the football? They’re starting to run together. People say, ‘Was that commercial from this year or the year before?’.”
“Shee-et,” says Bus.
Bus’s Christian name is James. It’s best not to call him that. To know Bus is to understand Brett. Brett grew up in Kiln, Mississippi, down on the bayou, son of Irvin, football coach and driver’s ed instructor. “He was exactly like Sergeant Carter on Gomer Pyle,” says Favre. “He had a crew cut, he was always screaming, always raising hell.” Bus, 62, grew up in a West Virginia holler, born to a coal miner’s wife who was 13 when she married.
“I went there once,” says Favre, playfully jabbing Cook. “I think that’s where they film the Feed the Children commercials – just awful.”
“Shee-et,” says Bus.
They met in 1990, three years after Favre won his first start at Southern Miss while battling a hangover. Brett was foisted on Bus at Hattiesburg Country Club, where Cook, a real estate lawyer, was a hotshot member. “We played 18 holes and then we went back to the clubhouse,” says Favre. “He started buying me vodka-and-grapefruits, doing card tricks, and next thing he’s my agent for life.”
They’ve been a duo ever since, the country lawyer and the hick quarterback. Surrogate daddy, surrogate son. Bus has seen his boy throw for more than 39 miles in yardage, he’s seen most of the 497 touchdown passes, and he’s muttered “goddammit” during the 317 interceptions, all NFL records. Bus helped Brett bury a father, a stepfather-in-law, and a brother-in-law who died on Favre’s land. Currently he is swerving the Escalade around a dead chicken snake in the road. Brett reaches across from the passenger side and puts his arm around Bus.
“My daddy wasn’t the type to ever do that,” says Brett quietly. “He thought giving compliments would make me complacent. He loved to ride to the stadium with me and on the way home tell me what mistakes I made. I mean, for him, moving from the option to the wing-T my senior year was progress. He had some sharp edges.”
“Shee-et. His edges would cut you in half.”
Some say Bus is Brett’s enabler. All say Bus is the Patton of practical jokes. We pull into the state park, and Bus flashes the devil’s smile and dials the Wrangler-shoot coordinator.
“Jeannie, hey. It’s Bus. I tried to reach you earlier, but the call wouldn’t go through. Brett’s got a sinus thing; he’s at the hospital.”
“Bus, don’t pull this shit,” whispers Brett while giggling.
Bus waits until the Wrangler woman is hyperventilating on the phone. “Sweetheart, we’ll be there in two minutes.”
The autograph hounds are already out. Bus drives the last winding mile, passing middle-aged men waving Sharpies. Brett talks about Jerry Glanville, his head coach in Atlanta for a season before he was traded to the Packers. “First day of practice, Glanville comes up to me and says, ‘Mississippi, where you go to college?’ I said, ‘Southern Miss,’ and he says, ‘Shit, we drafted the wrong guy. I wanted the guy from Mississippi State.’ I thought, What an asshole. It was funny unless you were me.”
Favre didn’t play much that year but couldn’t bring himself to get too excited about Chris Miller, the guy starting ahead of him.
“Miller would throw a TD, and I’d give the golf clap but deep down inside I’m thinking, I hope he sucks.” He chuckles before getting out of the car. “I don’t mean that negatively. I just wanted to play so damn bad.”The Bad: So the vikings go 8–0 at home, 12–4 overall. Favre put up a season for the ages at age 40. He beat the Packers twice, causing angina all across cheese land. He threw 33 TD passes and only seven interceptions – a shock to most football folks, since over the previous four seasons Favre had almost as many interceptions as touchdowns. Matter of fact, no one was more baffled than Favre himself. “Shit, I’ve had games when I almost threw seven picks,” he says with a laugh. “It was unreal. Before last year, I’d reached a point where I was sitting in meetings with guys 15 years younger than me thinking, What the hell am I doing here? Football became work. But last year it went back to being a game.”
“It’s destiny,” he was told by Deanna, the wife who has stood by his side through rehab, retirements, and a Gothic number of family tragedies, including her own battle with breast cancer. “You’re going to make it to the Super Bowl.”
And she was almost right. Only one game to go before the Super Bowl. They just had to get past the Saints in the Superdome, two hours from Hattiesburg. It’s a ragged game – fumbles, interceptions, and Favre getting the tar kicked out of him. Some hits are legal, some are WWF style. His left ankle is twisted; his right thigh is swelling up like an overripe melon.
“I didn’t have a side I could limp on,” says Favre.
But it’s in his hands at the end. Saints 38-yard line with 19 seconds to go. Game is tied. Third down. He just needs maybe five yards, and a field goal will win it. Something safe. The ball is snapped. He stumbles more than scrambles to the right. Maybe he can run for the five yards, maybe there’s a safe pass to the halfback. Everyone knows that’s not going to happen. He throws the ball across his body, across the field, toward Sidney Rice.
“The previous week against the Cowboys, we did the same exact play to Rice,” says Favre. He adds a relevant detail. “We were up about 25 at the time, so it was different. He came back to me on a broken play, and we got 20 yards. This time, when I let it go, I’m thinking he’s going to come back to me. As he drifted farther and farther away, I could see the corner come in from the other side, and I’m thinking, Oh, shit.”
The ball is intercepted, the second time in three seasons that Favre tossed a year-killing interception in the NFC Championship Game.
“As a player you’ve got to pull the trigger,” he says. “You can’t say, Well, is he going to do what I think he’s going to do? He wasn’t wrong, and in some ways, I wasn’t either.”
Most everyone disagrees with that assessment. Broadcasters and media pooh-bahs proclaim the interception unforgivable and predestined, part of Favre’s pathology. Some say it’s the Football Gods settling the score for his yearly tease.
“I don’t give a shit about that,” claims Favre. “They were the same people who said I’d suck all season. I don’t worry about that. A lot of plays go into a game; that was just one of them.”
But on another day, apropos of nothing in particular, Brett Favre is on his farm and says, “Sometimes I say to myself, An interception? A whole year of making great decisions and it ends on an interception? You have got to be kidding me.”
The shoot, as feared, is exactly like last year. It’s all hokey Americana; there’s a chocolate Lab, a red pickup truck, a fishing boat, and an unintentional homoerotic moment when Brett pushes a sculpted young man into a lake with all his clothes on. It will end with a twilight scrimmage. Bus disappears to call Vikings coach Brad Childress, telling him the ankle surgery is minor and won’t be the deciding factor in whether Favre plays in 2010. There are costume changes and camera fixes, so there’s plenty of time for Brett to pontificate. It’s been two years since the Packers unloaded him to the Jets, and he’s still pretty pissed off about it.
“I’ll admit I made the mistake of retiring early,” he says, tearing into a giant cupcake. “But I felt they were pushing me toward it.”
After Favre reversed that first retirement in August 2008, there was a meeting between Team Brett and the Packers front office at Favre’s Green Bay home to discuss what to do with him. The Packers didn’t want him back; they were committed to going with Aaron Rodgers, a promising young quarterback. But they couldn’t just release Favre for salary cap reasons. That meant a trade. Deanna, Bus, and Brett sat on one side of the table; Packer GM Ted Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy sat on the other side.
“There was just silence,” remembers Favre. He inhales the rest of the cupcake. “I said, ‘Well, what are we gonna do?’ They made it pretty clear I wasn’t going to play there, and I said, ‘How about the Vikings or even the Lions?’ I wanted to stay in the same division. They said that wasn’t going to happen, but maybe Tampa.” He swallows the remnant of his snack, but frosting is still smeared in his stubble. “I said, ‘Fine, trade me to Tampa. I’ll whip your asses in week four.’ “
He laughs. “Maybe that was a mistake. I’m flying back to Hattiesburg thinking I’m going to the Bucs, and I get off the plane and Bus tells me I’ve been traded to the Jets. I said, ‘Bullshit,’ but they were smart; they released the news so I’d look like an ass if I backed out.”
Favre walks onto the phony field. The commercial crew has choreographed razzle-dazzle plays they want Brett to run through in the simulated pickup game. The other guys – a mix of actors and local extras – are mostly a decade younger. They’re getting into it, working up a sweat, high-fiving each other between plays. Favre indulges them and joins in, repeatedly screaming, “Incoming!” – making his teammates flinch, thinking that a returning football is about to bash them in the head. Somehow they fall for the joke five times. Then, one pretty boy makes a couple of nifty catches. He makes the mistake of telling Favre he never drops a pass.
Brett just nods and winks at me on the sideline. The camera rolls again. He drops back and unleashes a throw at approximately 10 times the velocity of his previous tosses. The ball hits Pretty Boy’s chest like a concussion grenade. Pretty Boy falls over. Pretty Boy doesn’t catch the ball. Pretty Boy will have an imprint of laces on his sternum in the morning.
The Sad: It’s the NFC Championship Game, tied 28–28 at the end of regulation. The Saints win the coin toss and march to a winning field goal. The game’s over. Favre has a cry with his family. They stay and drive back to Hattiesburg without him. Favre heads to Minneapolis with his teammates. The adrenaline has worn off, and his body screams. He used to be a Vicodin and vodka addict, but now there’s nothing stronger than Advil in him. The flight drags on. He stands up. He sits down. He tries to catch his breath. The plane lands, there’s a bus to Vikings headquarters, and then an eight-minute drive back to an empty house.
He pulls into the garage of his rented home. There’s nothing to greet him except two stinky trash cans. The future Hall of Famer begins pushing the cans down the icy driveway. He begins to slide. His legs lock up. He’s got no strength left. He just holds on, hoping he doesn’t topple over onto the ice, crack his head open, and freeze to death.
“I got to the bottom, took a deep breath, and slowly slid back up.”
He tries to explain the meaning of the story. “I know people say they’d kill to trade places with me now just to throw one touchdown pass,” he says in a soft voice. “But the same people might see me limping around at 55. They’re going to say, ‘Man, that’s pathetic. I don’t want to have anything to do with that.’?”
Favre stops talking and his eyes get a little glassy. He shrugs his shoulders and throws his palms upward. “Playing another year probably isn’t going to make a difference; the damage has already been done.”Twilight falls, and Favre now tosses easily between takes. He playfully holds the ball low. “I’m doing it Tim Tebow style,” he says with a laugh. “They can say they’re fixing his motion, but let’s see if he falls back into bad habits when the rush is coming.”
Favre’s post-Pack exile with the Jets began well with an 8–3 start, but his shoulder ached throughout the last third of the season. The team lost four of their final five and didn’t make the playoffs. Favre never seemed comfortable, vexed by everything from terminology (“Everything meant the opposite of what it meant in Green Bay”) to the media hordes (Favre refused to do one-on-one interviews during the season) to the long drive from the Jets practice facility to the airport (“It took us longer to get to Newark than it takes to fly from Green Bay to Chicago”). Coach Eric Mangini sucked up to his QB by giving his newborn son the middle name of Brett. In December, when he should have benched Favre because of his shoulder injury, he caved to the legend hell-bent on keeping his consecutive start streak intact, now at 287.
“I liked all the guys there, but I’m not a New York guy,” says Favre, as two assistants distress a T-shirt that he’s already wearing. “When I got there, I was exhausted, and then they flew me into the city in a helicopter to get a key to the city from the mayor.” Favre shakes his head in horror. “I mean, Jesus Christ, a helicopter! I don’t need a damn key to the city.”
Bus taps his watch. Time for Brett to go. A pickup truck drives him back to the Busmobile. The driver, the navigator, and an old lady who runs along next to the car before losing her race with the internal-combustion engine thrust footballs, posters, and Sharpies at Favre. Favre signs wearily and good-naturedly until we pull up next to Bus’s Escalade.
A fat man in a windbreaker approaches Favre. “Brett, will you sign my shirt?” he asks. Brett nods until the fat man opens his windbreaker to reveal a Super Bowl shirt covered with the faces of Drew Brees and other Saints stars. Brett recoils and walks away. He jumps into Bus’s car and locks the door. He tells Bus about the Saints fan. Bus laughs.
“Jesus, people are crazy,” says Brett. “What world is that guy living in?”
Bus tries to lighten the mood by telling a probably apocryphal tale about buying his mom a burial plot for Christmas in 2008.
“This year I didn’t get her anything, and she said, ‘Why didn’t I get anything for Christmas?’ I said, ‘Momma, that’s because you didn’t use what I got you last year.’ “
Brett lets out a snort but continues to look out the window. There’s a silence. Just before we pull back into the parking lot where the day started, Favre grimaces.
“I can’t believe that guy wanted me to sign his Saints jersey.”It’s the next morning. A black wrought-iron fence with a regal letter F opens, and a car makes its way up a winding driveway past idle tractors and a guesthouse before coming to the main home. Brett Favre’s 11-year-old daughter, Breleigh, pokes her head outside. She points into the woods. “My daddy’s out there somewhere,” she says.
Daddy pulls up a minute later. He looks like a goddamned Wrangler ad. He’s in a Jeep, still unshaven, and trailed by his chocolate Lab, Sam. There are morning chores to do. He drives the 465-acre perimeter.
“We got our land for about equal to what Bus paid for his land,” says Favre, shifting into a lower gear as he rolls through mud. “He has a beautiful place. A lot of the stuff I’ve done out here has been after I’ve seen it at his place. He’s a manicurist.”
Brett slows and points at a trap. “See over there? I trapped a coyote. They keep digging under my fence. Usually, I just shoot them once they’re trapped, but somebody wanted a live one – this guy who’s training dogs to run coyotes.”
Favre wants to show me something else. Bus has bamboo on his property, and Favre thought it would look good lining his fence as well. He bought some but planted it wrong. “I thought it was just like a tree,” he says, laughing at his own idiocy. “There are a lot of times when I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. But Bus told me, ‘Just pull up the roots. Don’t worry about the stalk; find the root.’ It’s like a vine; you just pull it out and throw dirt over it. See over there? It’s coming up nice.”
We drive some more, past a wild hog’s hole, past dead trees ripped down by Katrina, Sam trotting ahead.
“Every year it becomes harder to leave this place,” says Favre. “If you told me when I was younger I’d be into weed-eating, fixing fences, I’d have said, ‘Screw that.’ But I love it.”
It’s not an exaggeration to say the property turned Favre from a boy into a man. It was here that he stopped drinking back in 1999. “I thought I didn’t have a problem because I wasn’t doing it all the time,” he explains. “But I’d go on two-day vodka-drinking binges. Finally, I just knew it was time to quit. AA works for some people, but if I need to rely on calling someone else at 3 am, then I’m screwed. Some people just know when it’s time and say, ‘I’m done.’ That was me.”
We come into a clearing where there’s a large guesthouse and a big barn. The grass is manicured, Bus-quality. Favre goes quiet and stops the Jeep by two well-maintained benches. Back in 2004 Favre’s brother-in-law Casey was staying on the farm while on a break from his oil-rig job. One afternoon, Casey tried to ride Brett’s ATV through a gravel pile, flipped the vehicle, and suffered traumatic head injuries. A helicopter airlifted him to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
“I still feel guilty and think about what would have happened had I not had this place,” says Favre. “You build a haven, a refuge where you feel safe and where everyone else feels safe, and if you want to go out and ride you should be safe. That obviously wasn’t the case.” He points at the two benches. “He was killed right here. His girlfriend was eight months pregnant.”
Favre parks the Jeep in the barn. He waves to Johnny, a contractor who is hauling soil around the property. We grab Cokes out of a well-stocked fridge. He points at the guesthouse up on a hill where Deanna’s mother and his stepfather-in-law, Rocky, used to live. Brett cracks a big smile.
“When I first met Rocky, he had a rat tail. He was an old biker, and he looked after the place for me. We didn’t know what the hell we were doing. We’d break something and shrug and Rocky would say, ‘All right, I’ll fix it.’ There might be some duct tape involved. I was as close to him as to my dad, maybe closer. I could tell him things I couldn’t tell anyone. When I would leave every year, he would cry and I would cry. I loved him. Then he up and passed away. He was in his mid-50s, great shape, not an ounce of fat, going to the doctor regularly, doing everything right.”
Favre angrily rubs at his eyes and squints into the morning sun. “I don’t know, for a while it just seemed every time I left, something bad happened. My dad died during the season. Katrina hit. Casey. Rocky. And I was gone.”
I ask him if one of the reasons he keeps playing is because the memories of the ones he has lost are all intertwined around football weekends and steak dinners late on Sunday evenings after his work was done.
“That’s probably part of it,” he admits, “but I think part of the reason I thought about stopping playing was just fear. I just hated the idea of walking away and people saying, ‘He stayed too long.’ I worked so hard, and I don’t want people left with that.”
He breaks into a shit-eating grin.
“Then last year happened. I mean, 33 touchdowns and only seven interceptions! Jesus!” For a moment, there’s just pure joy on his face, amazement at what he has done. Then his brow creases and his brain wavers in real time. “But what are the odds that I have another season like that, even if I play real well?”
At this very moment, a TV crew is waiting outside of a Habitat for Humanity project in Hattiesburg, where Deanna is volunteering; they’re hoping for some news. Favre cranks up the Jeep. “C’mon, Sam, let’s go.” He looks over at me. “So, with all that in my mind, I have no idea what I’m going to do this year.”
And he laughs the saddest laugh I’ve ever heard.That afternoon I drive 70 miles south to Favre’s hometown of Kiln. The locals know it as “The Kill.” Katrina knocked trees down and tossed cars around in Hattiesburg, but down here it was as bad as New Orleans. Two dozen relatives took refuge at the Favres’ place, and Brett had to rebuild his mother’s house from the ground up. It’s now been five years, but the storm’s detritus remains. Five miles from the bayou, I drive by a small fishing boat in the middle of a farmer’s field, surrounded by grazing goats.
It was a late spring day, and the oyster and shrimp men waited patiently for the Gulf oil spill to snuff out their livelihoods. There’s a gas station where the side used to be painted with a big Packers helmet, but Favre’s late-career meanderings meant that had to be replaced by smaller renderings of his multiple teams. Across the road is the Broke Spoke, a dark biker bar where the ceiling is decorated with the bras and panties of Packer fans who for more than a decade made the trip down to Favre’s hometown bar. Big Dave, a ponytailed, bearded bartender with a cane and an episode of Cops blaring, remembers the year the Packers won the Super Bowl in New Orleans. Green Bay fans blocked the streets of Kiln for miles. “I’d make a thousand dollars in a night,” says Dave. “I played for his daddy, too. A tough son-of-a-gun. Brett used to come in here with shorts, no shoes, and no money.”
But times change. Last year the Broke Spoke divided the bar into Saints and Vikings sections, and the nearby Saints had more rooters. And that’s okay with Favre. He’s fine with the legend. “I love those guys,” he says. “But I swear I may have been in the Broke Spoke three times.”
Visitors are often directed to Hancock High, where a statue of Favre now stands. But that’s not where Brett played. His high school years were spent eight miles back up the road at the old high school now deemed too small for that use. It’s now a grammar school. The green grass of Favre’s youth is yellow and weedy. But visiting the Favre statue at the new place isn’t without value. Under the bronzed Favre is a particularly apt inscription from Vince Lombardi: The Good Lord gave you a body that can stand most anything. It’s your mind you have to convince.I was originally scheduled to have dinner with Bus my last night in Hattiesburg, but Favre mock-shuddered at that possibility.
“Let me save you from that; we’re grilling steaks.”
The wrought-iron gate opens again. But this time the property is aglow and there are six or seven cars parked in the driveway. Inside, it’s Southern Rockwell. Favre’s 21-year-old daughter, Brittany, cradles her newborn son, Parker, while Deanna plays with her grandson’s tiny fingers. There are friends, a brother-in-law, and a veterinarian who is telling the story of a hound dog that got a possum’s jawbone lodged in its gullet.
Cajun sausage is served, chased by sirloins wrapped in bacon. Everyone is telling tales. “I remember we were at a Bears game in Chicago when I was 17,” says Brittany, burping the only boy with a grandfather playing in the NFL. “Everyone seated around us seemed to have googled our family’s problems. They knew everything we’d done wrong. It was just rude.”
Brett tells a hunting story that involves baying dogs, some chicken wire, and a companion with a pistol in his waistband. That cracks everyone up.
“Oh, God, please don’t tell that story,” says Deanna, half-joking. “We don’t want to get in trouble with the ASPCA.”
And then Bus appears. He’s been on the golf course most of the day, his eyes long gone rheumy. Favre’s face lights up.
“C’mon, Bus, do your card tricks! You’ve got to do your card tricks!”
Bus grumbles, eats a steak, and then cards magically appear. He’s good, guessing my card over and over again. Brett starts to rub his hands together.
“Bus, are you going to call the Wizard? I think it’s time to call the Wizard!”
Bus picks up his cell phone and dials a number. He asks for the Wizard. Favre’s eyes are the size of saucers. “This is a good one!”
Bus shushes him.
“Hello, Wizard? Okay. You sure? Thanks, Wizard.”
Bus hands me the phone. A voice says, “This is the Wizard. Your card is the five of clubs.”
Actually it was the four of clubs.
Brett looks crestfallen. Deanna pats Bus on the shoulder.
“I think that works better if you call the Wizard from the land line.”
It’s getting late and time to go. I try and find my way out but blunder into Brett’s weight room. I bump into Bus, who is leaving, too.
“Shee-et, that’s the least-used room in this house.” He chuckles and heads into the night. In three weeks, he and Brett will head to Florida to have the ankle surgery done.
I loop back to the kitchen and say goodbye again. Brett waves and then goes back to telling a story. It’s the hunting tale he told earlier, but there are some new listeners. The Hamlet of Hattiesburg is adding details and fresh twists, improvising as he goes along.
At this moment, not even he knows how the story ends.
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