There’s a saying about Aggies and Aggieland: From the outside looking in, you can never understand it. From the inside looking out, you can never explain it. That’s precisely what makes this blog so very hard to write. Because if you aren’t an Aggie, you probably will never truly understand.
Ten years ago, I was a freshman in college. I’d opted to attend Temple College for two years before transferring to Texas A&M University, despite having being accepted at TAMU. So, when I say Bonfire collapsed my freshman year, I have to give you that little bit of disclaimer. As I was not there to watch the Bonfire being built prior to that fateful night. I would, however, occasionally check in on a live webcam someone had set up to document the growing stack.
I had made plans with my best friend since Kindergarten who was already at TAMU to attend Bonfire with her, and then go to the big game: University of Texas vs. Texas A&M. I was more excited about it than I could possibly ever tell you.
I still remember, though, how numb I felt when my mom told me that Bonfire had collapsed and that there were fatalities. I had classes that day, and I went on to school. I tuned in to KAGG 96.1 FM… Aggie 96… all the way to school, and I sat listening to the reports in my truck prior to going to class.
Eight days before, I’d come far too close to losing my own brother in an auto accident. And here I was listening to reports of my Aggie family having lost members, and I felt the sharp ache in my heart.
Me & Lindsey at the game in 1999
A week later, I went to the candlelight memorial at the site of stack, the night it was supposed to burn. We made the trek over to Kyle Field, where a video of a previous Bonfire burning was being shown on the jumbotron. I will never forget how quiet it got, nor the way groups huddled together for comfort. I will never forget the feeling of unity. The way everyone leaned on one another, not afraid to show the hurt, sadness and weakness that permeated everyone’s souls.
The next day, we went and witnessed “The 12 Man’s Finest Hour” when the Aggies took the win over the Longhorns: 20 – 16. I also witnessed one of Texas’ most classy moments as well: when the Longhorn band held Texas A&M flags and performed “Amazing Grace.”
Bonfire’s collapse had not only affected Aggies, but it had brought in an outpouring of love and respect from even our greatest rivals.
I know that in the years since, lawsuits and studies, finger pointing and fear have all mired the memory of Bonfire and what it truly meant to so many Aggies: a time to gather in camaraderie prior to the biggest game of the year. It wasn’t as much about UT as it was about being an Aggie and experiencing a tradition that was 90 years in the making.
Ten years later, on what would have been the 100th Anniversary of Bonfire, Aggies came together to remember that fateful night in which 12 Aggies were killed, and many others injured. The place where Bonfire had once been built, and today a beautiful memorial stands, thousands gathered at the moment of collapse in a candlelight vigil.
Nashville Aggies gathered tonight
I was able to watch part of that memorial thanks to a live feed from KBTX, the local CBS affiliate. I clutched my husbands hand, and as I expected would happen… as the images flashed in front of my eyes, and I listened to the stories, I felt the sobs build in my chest and the tears fall. My heart was very much in Aggieland at that moment. I can never in a million years explain what this meant to me… what this means to Aggies everywhere.
I was blessed this evening to be surrounded by Aggies locally. I invited Aggies to join me for dinner, and to my delight several came out. We poured over a recent Texas Monthly, and the day’s Battalion. We shared a good bit of good bull from our days in Aggieland, and about our days here in Nashville.
In this one night, friendships that had begun over time at Game Watching Parties and Happy Hours seemed to truly solidify. By the end of the night, plans for Christmas were being made, and once again, hundreds of miles from where the Bonfire once burned, its true spirit was sparked once again. Aggie camaraderie stood strong and shined. It burned brightly… just as it was always meant to do.