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"There's nothing we can do," said his parents.
"Then let's leave some money next to him."
"We can't. Someone else will take it." Everyone climbed into the car and forgot about it. Not Willie. He burst into tears.
Andree entered law school when Willie was five and Andrew was three. Four children, a husband, and two hours in the car each day, round-trip, to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. It beat reading in the bathroom. Truth is, Andree had no real affinity for law.
"But I had to get another degree of some kind," she says. "In my family, if you only have a B.A., you feel like a dropout." She became a partner in the firm of Walker, Roaf, Campbell, Ivory and Dunklin.
The Roaf boys, by then, had heard the legend of their father's high school football days. They pestered him to come out and play with them, but Cliff refused.
"Play with your buddies," he would say. He wasn't going to push the sport, not with Andree watching through the kitchen window, not with the sting of his wounded amour for the game still sharp, not with the memory of how swiftly a young man's dream could be shattered. Besides, he was too busy for children's games, too busy burning away the guilt he had felt since that day when a group of MSU students who were freedom riders had started recruiting students to go south and challenge the segregation laws. One of the riders had recognized him as he bicycled to class—Cliff Roaf! Conic back! Come join us!—but he had pedaled away, ears aflame, pretending not to hear. He would redeem himself for that day. He ended up a permanent fixture on the school board, the Arkansas State Board of Higher Education, the local boards of Easter Seals, United Way and Red Cross, rushing from molars to meetings and then to knock on doors for every one of Bill Clinton's gubernatorial campaigns.
But Cliff couldn't help noticing, when Willie started playing peewee and junior high football, what the kid did to anyone across the line of scrimmage from him. Cliff couldn't help acting like a lunatic in the stands, screaming so loudly that sometimes Andree had to walk away from this stranger she had married, this quiet, dignified community bastion turned banshee. On a couple of Friday nights Cliff had to quarantine himself in his own house, where he could sit by the radio, listen to his son's high school games, scream at the walls, and live out his lopped-off dream. "I'll tell you," Cliff told his wife one day, "if this kid keeps growing and improving, he could be a pro football player. He has what it takes."
Andree scoffed. But like it or not, if her child was going to play a football game, she was going to be there—with a book in her lap to thumb open whenever Willie wasn't on the field—an instinctive loner compelled to act according to her own mother's first commandment: Family, family, family. Shhhh, want to know a secret? Part of Andree was grateful. All those football practices kept Willie out of her hair. Out of her chandelier.
His grades, decent in his early years, deteriorated in high school. People reminded him how brilliant his sisters were. "I knew I could never match them," he says. He was far from dumb, but not from lazy. Andree couldn't bear it. She sat over him and his homework at the dining table. She corrected every bit of bungled grammar when he was talking with his homeboys in the kitchen. She yanked him off the basketball team in his junior year, overriding the coach's pleas, so he could concentrate ' on studies. She dangled rewards. She had her grandfather's scholarship to Yale framed and nailed to Willie's bedroom wall, hoping it might rub off. "Four generations of this family have gotten college degrees!" she cried one day. "You can't be the one to break the chain."