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April 29, 2021

Vince Lombardi and the Holy Roman Empire

Lea Geller, recipient of the 2019 Kathryn Gurfein Writing Fellowship at Sarah Lawrence College, is the author of two novels: TROPHY LIFE and her latest, THE TRUTH AND OTHER HIDDEN THINGS, which is about one woman’s secret life, the stories she tells, and the thrill and notoriety of being noticed. When her two sons were younger, Lea would read to them at night to ensure that they would get into their beds and cause as little trouble as possible. However, when it came time to read them A LITTLE HISTORY OF THE WORLD by Ernst Gombrich (a book that she highly recommends), the reaction she got from her boys wasn’t quite what she had hoped for or expected, as she explains in her hilarious blog post.


My two oldest children are boys. Although they are now 17 and 19, when they were younger the only way I could get them into their beds and sleeping was if I read to them. If I skipped a night or waited to see what would happen if they put themselves to sleep, all would be very quiet in their room for about 30 minutes. I’d spend that time congratulating myself on finally sleep training 10- and 12-year-old boys.

Then, at minute 30, I’d hear a crash. Inevitably, the crash would be a result of the dressers being emptied out and piled on top of each other so one boy could climb up while the other tried to knock him off. On one occasion, I recall that curtains were removed and used as weapons. Ditto for a shower rod. For this very reason, I read to them every single night all through middle school, often reading them the books they had been assigned to read in school but just could not bring themselves to read.

Among the best books I read them was A LITTLE HISTORY OF THE WORLD by Ernst Gombrich, a book I cannot recommend enough. You may think that world history beginning with the cavemen and working through the Second World War, via the Dark Ages, the Renaissance and Confucius, would not enthrall young boys who barely could sit still for long enough to say “Second World War,” but they loved this book.

There were, however, some chapters that were more challenging than others.

The boys played what they thought was a truly hysterical game with poor old Charlemagne, founder of the Holy Roman Empire and famous uniter of Europe. While they tossed a ball between their beds (a trick that I learned early on was to keep them physically busy while I read so that they didn’t get restless and find something else to do), I read about all of Charlemagne’s remarkable achievements, which included uniting what is now Italy, France and Germany.

However, every time I read the word “Lombard” (a region of Italy), they would holler “VINCE LOMBARDI” and throw the football at each other and then at me. As I dropped the book and scrambled to catch the ball, failing each and every time, they would scream with laughter, while one of them then rattled off a useless factoid about Mr. Lombardi, which was neither interesting to me nor likely to be true.


I plowed on, moving through my own Charlemagne factoids, making sure to avoid the word “Lombard,” but those boys were no fools. Each time I read the word “unite,” they both shrieked “JOHNNY UNITAS” at full volume and tossed the ball my way again. (Another football player, presumably, but at the time I had never heard of this man, and for all I knew, he could have been the name of the next King of France.) When I threatened to leave, they begged me to stay, and I soldiered on, skipping all references to Lombard and finding as many euphemisms for “unite” as possible, which isn’t as easy as you think.

At some point, they yelled out questions: “Where in Italy was he?” (Not as dumb as I look), “What was Charlemagne famous for?” (I refused to fall for it) or “What's a better word for bringing people together?” (Not gonna do it).

I barely managed to finish the chapter and then crawled out of their room, exhausted. On that night, instead of reading them into submission and then sleep, I succeeded only in riling them up. As I left, a small plastic football hit me on the side of my head.

All I could think was, “Damn you Johnny Unitas, whoever you are.”

Note: The image above of Charlemagne and Pope Adrian I is courtesy of Wikipedia.