Grace in the Bleachers

by DanWolgemuth on May 6, 2022

I was a freshman at Wheaton Central High School. A newly minted Tiger, and a member of the wrestling team. More specifically, an 80-pound member of the team, with high school weight classes starting at 98 pounds.

Midway through the season, I was elevated to the sophomore team, which meant an inaugural match against our arch nemesis, Dekalb High School. A rural conference foe with a storied and ferocious wrestling program. Even the Dekalb mascot speaks to their unique toughness and their rural roots. The Barbs. Turns out that Dekalb is where barbed wire was invented, so why not the mascot?

My wrestling opponent on that Friday night in our home gym was a Dekalb sophomore by the name of Dan Cliff. Little did I know that Dan Cliff would ultimately become a two-time state champion and achieve national championship status as a collegiate athlete at Northern Illinois University.

On this Friday night, my Mom, Grace Wolgemuth, was in the crowd. In my memory, this was the only high school wrestling match that she ever attended. This wasn’t because she didn’t care about me, or my extra-curricular activities… just that she had them in proper perspective and priority. She welcomed me home after every match with open and loving arms, regardless of the outcome.

But on this one night in the winter of 1969, Grace was sitting among the Tiger throng, watching. Perhaps, more accurately, enduring. I made it into the second period against Dan Cliff, but just barely. At that point in the match, I had amassed one point against Dan. That point had been awarded to me as a penalty when my opponent carried me off the mat and deposited me on the hardwood floor.

Dan was my introduction to a wrestling move called the guillotine. In real time.

Between the first and second period of the match, I glanced into the bleachers. There, sitting in the middle of the Wheaton faithful was Grace. My Mom. And streaming down her cheeks were tears. Perhaps this is the primary explanation for why she didn’t attend my matches after that.

Grace cried tears that I felt constrained to shed. That’s what great mothers do.

Everything inside of my 80-pound frame wanted to cry… but I couldn’t. So Grace did. My body ached, and her heart followed suit.

Her tears provided comfort. Resolve. Courage. Release.

Halfway through the second period, the match was over. Dan Cliff’s hand was raised in victory, and I made my way to the bench to wallow in the humiliation.

But I never doubted. Never wondered. Never questioned… whether I was loved or lifted or cared for. By my Mom. By Grace. Win or lose. Even a devastating loss.

Mother’s Day. A time to remember. A time to give thanks. And yes, a time to be inspired by the memory of a woman who cried tears when I couldn’t. Who laughed when I wasn’t funny. And who served when I wasn’t grateful. Grace…

Twelve years in heaven, but never far away.

Happy Mother’s Day.

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