Like a lot of Kiwi males, I was exposed to a rugby ball before I started school with, of course, no memories of that nor of a single game in the many years of primary school. But something sticks, buries itself in your soul, becomes like a reliable friend that can be counted on at all times.
Yes, it's the culture of rugby I'm talking about. Soccer fans call their sport The Beautiful Game. That's because none know about rugby and how good a game it is; they know nothing of the culture it has bred and of each generation inheriting it like a most precious heirloom. Yeah, I'm talking about The Ultimate Game.
A game best portrayed from an experience I had last week in France, a simple touch tournament between four teams, of Kiwis versus French. The ages represented went from 11 to a few in their mid-60s. My visiting stepson from Christchurch played. What a wonderful evening.
The standard of passing - including Sonny Bill-invented offloads - was surprisingly high. The first games started off friendly and then male competitive spirit came into it and it was game on.
Yours truly was on cooking duty and anyway, long past galloping around.
By the second half of game one, the teams had figured out patterns and angles to run. One of our Kiwi mates, aged 61, ran on as a replacement to show what a strong, sneak-attack bench means by scoring within 20 seconds. The cries of delight delightful in themselves, and so was his ear-to-ear grin.
My boy got stronger and by game two he looked on fire playing alongside a top division Bayonne legend, a monstrous hulk of Maori muscle and skill, a year retired and back where his heart ached to be: chucking a rugby ball around, being with other males enjoying a game they love.
Another of the Kiwis had his athlete supreme daughter out there and, when he wasn't on the field, yelling instructions. Not as a father from hell - God no. This tough old coot formerly of the Counties region could not be a more loving father.
But, hey, this is our beloved game and even if the sole teenage girl among mostly men, she has to do it properly. "When you see the gap, go for it, Bubba!" he called. His endearing term for his baby girl who is in the top echelon of pentathletes in France, as well the 400 metres. And, girl, could she play.
Mums on the sideline watching dads playing with sons; the lamb legs from New Zealand cooking on several barbecues with another Kiwi in charge; my pork spare ribs pre-cooked; a former Wellington rugby rep's spuds and kumara with spices in foil cooking while he belied his late 40s blazing around the paddock; and your columnist with a bottle of red assisting the forming of this column.
The hills of Spain in the distance, Pay Basque hills with the distinctive Basque style houses all around us as the sun went down; a Kiwi couple turning up late just to say gidday. That natural warmth Kiwi rugby nuts give off. We're all the same, mate.
The husband latecomer came from Auckland as a young player of Samoan heritage who would gain selection for France. A son of one of the referees, a part-Maori, is a French petanque champion and represented France's Under 15 rugby team. Our mate's three France-raised boys greet Kiwis with a hongi.
The camaraderie after the match is as important as the game. A few drinks, players teasing each other about dropped and wild passes, tries scored; people with the game in common catching up.
In an interview at the Frankfurt Book Fair a few years ago, I stated that rugby defines our country, us as a people, before anything does. That doesn't wash with the cultural elite, but who cares about them. Elitism and rugby culture are opposites.
I've said it before that rugby either ended or tamed racism in our country. You can be a KKK supporter but the rugby person in you compels cheering for every player wearing the black jersey with silver fern. From our mighty Buck demanding the haka be done properly, to Fitzy, Tana, Richie and now Reado, Kiwis of every colour, creed and outlook become one when it's our beloved game.
Unlike soccer there are no groups of violent louts, no riots. Their game is an outlet and excuse for being poor. Ours reflects the richness, the life principles the game has given us.