Someone once said you can live with a woman for 50 years and never really know what secrets she hides behind that smile. Bill Clinton, I think.

She, when I married her, never expressed an interest in sports of any kind. Her idea of a ball was a costume affair on New Year’s Eve. Or so she said.

So imagine my surprise when in the twilight years of our marriage, she has become a fan of the Patriots — not those who are occupying that federal building in Oregon, but those New England guys in the tight pants with that L.L. Bean model who throws the ball.

Today, as I am still digesting this surprise, I read of the Maine Film Center’s annual Cinema Exploration series held at the Railroad Square Cinema in Waterville. It kicks off (no pun intended) with a wonderful documentary “Bounce: How the Ball Taught the World to Play.” Yes, I’m sure it did.

Someone once said, “Give a boy a ball, and he will play for hours. Teach a boy to play football and he will grow up to marry several models and make $250 million a year.” Tom Brady, I think.

I’m sure I’ve told you this story before, but in light of this new era of around-the-clock sports programming, it bears repeating.

I was always small for my age, and as Rosemary De Branco thought, a bit fragile. I was a reader, a tiny comedian, and not given to contact sports like wrestling or kick boxing.

In the summers of my early childhood, my sister and her friends would stage little dramas on an outside stage in Joan Power’s yard, and I was often conscripted to fill the male roles, mostly because it never entered the minds of even my close street friends to include me in sports games.

Despite my dread of being physically hurt and possibly losing my looks, I wanted to be included. My brothers bought me two pairs of Chuck Taylor high-tops, T-shirts, sweat socks and a St. Louis Cardinals baseball cap. I learned to curse and spit.

I would follow the other guys to Carondelet Park and stand on the bench, so they could see me. They all liked me, and so as not to hurt my feelings, they made me “ball boy,” the kid who chases balls that go into the tall weeds.

You see, the truth is, I never met a ball that didn’t hurt me. And when a ball hit me, like Paddy Carr’s line drive to my left knee (somewhere I have the picture of the scar) I would scream and moan like I had been hit by a car. The other guys would stand and stare for a minute and then walk away.

When my brothers, the neighborhood sports masters, got wind of this, and then found out that I was the male lead in my sisters’ plays, they feared that needlepoint might be next, and intervened with instruction.

They thought their game of soccer would be a good place to start. Kenny set me up as goalie. I assumed the pose he taught me. Then he let one fly right at me. It caught me directly in the nose. No one outside of those who landed on Omaha Beach in 1945 ever saw so much blood. Matt, who was sitting on the fence drinking a Pepsi-Cola and watching, shouted, “The kid’s a bleeder.”

Yes, and for the rest of my life I would be a bleeder even when soccer was mentioned.

In the eighth grade, when a soccer team was formed, Harold Erb, now deceased, kindly suggested me for goalie.

His brother shook his head.

“Why not?” Harold asked.

“Jerry’s a bleeder.”

I had forgotten that he was in the alley that day I took a hit from Kenny. True story. If both brothers were alive today, they would deny it.

In freshman year of high school, Allan Seegar, the class clown and amateur banjo player, threw a softball and shouted, “DEVINE, CATCH.”

I didn’t.

The ball hit me somewhere between the nose and the upper lip. To this day, whenever someone shouts “CATCH,” I get a nosebleed.

OK, I’m a big boy now, and I have to put on my big boy pants and let the past go.

She’s in there now watching as Mr. Brady gets sacked and floored.

I hope he bleeds.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer and author of “Will Write for Food,” a collection of his best Morning Sentinel columns.


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