Friday, August 14, 2009

Tennis, Anyone?

(image from

Last weekend Elizabeth and I held a yard sale "down the hill" at Keith's sister Karen's home in El Cajon, a major suburb east of San Diego. We didn't do all that well financially: Karen made $18 and we made $45, enough to mostly fill up the van with gas for the coming week at least.

When the kids were pulling out all the yard sale items which had been stored in my closet in the boys' room (we have no closets in our sloped-ceiling attic bedroom), they unearthed a couple of relics of my high school and college days: our bowling balls and tennis racquets.

During our engagement, Keith and I bowled in a league with his brother, Kevin, and Kevin's girlfriend at the time each Sunday night before Keith drove me back to my dorm at Point Loma Nazarene University. It was my freshman year of college, and I was sort of living "on my own," if "on my own" means being squashed into one dorm room with three other young women. My dad picked me up from the university late every Friday afternoon and drove me home to El Cajon -- about a 45-minute drive -- so that I could work Saturday and Sunday at the now-extinct B. Dalton Booksellers. After Sunday dinner with my family, Keith and I headed to the bowling alley where he was bowled in the 170's while I dragged us into the losing column week after week with my sad 135 average. But we laughed and had a good time despite our dismal win/loss ratio. After bowling, Keith drove me back out to the coast, barely getting me back before the 11 PM freshman curfew at my dorm.

Last week we put the bowling bags with our oh-so-attractive bowling shoes and personalized bowling balls (his silver and black swirls, mine midnight blue) into the "sell pile" - my fingers are too swollen from arthritis to fit into the custom-drilled holes, and we haven't used the bowling balls since about 1990. They didn't sell last week -- I hope they do this week.

The tennis racquets, however, are another story. I greeted my old wood-framed tennis racquet as it emerged from the back corner of my closet as an old friend. Nearly every summer day during high school I hopped onto my yellow three-speed bicycle, tennis racquet and a can of fuzzy neon balls sprung onto the bookrack behind my seat, and pedaled to the courts at Kennedy Park, midway between Montgomery Middle School and Granite Hills High School. There I met Catherine, also on her bike and also armed with her racquet and tennis balls. We usually had our choice of the six tennis courts, two of which were colored with green courts and red out-of-bounds, a nice change from the remaining four blacktop courts. There Catherine and I played for hours almost every summer day, I imagining that I was Tracy Austin whom I had seen play once.

Temperatures in El Cajon summers often spiked over 100 degrees, but we still played through the heat of the afternoon, stopping once in a while to rest in the shade. I often won the match, and was a fairly sore loser when I didn't. After playing a full match of the best of three sets, Catherine and I would either bicycle to her air-conditioned house or to my un-air-conditioned house with the saving grace of a kidney-shaped swimming pool and cool off after a couple of hours on the sweltering courts. Biking, playing tennis, and swimming were wonderful ways to spend the hot summer days, ways to remain active without feeling like it was work. It was PLAY, and the best kind.

(image from

I also played tennis with my high school boyfriends -- with Leigh first, who was good but not toooooo good, so I could and did beat him often. Bob played a little but badly, and I enjoyed trouncing him. But when I met Keith, I also met my match in more ways than one. He was good player, and his strokes were powerful. His strategy was excellent, and I rarely won a set, much less a match. But it was good for me (although I wouldn't admit it then) for me to lose at tennis once in a while....

But now that our kids have unearthed these tennis relics, they wanted to learn to play. So on Monday I accompanied them to the single tennis court at the county park, a five-minute walk from our home. I taught them the rudiments of serving, of forehand and backhand strokes, etc. We'll work on keeping the score later; right now we're working on the fundamentals. They've played a fair bit of badminton, so teaching them to follow-through on their tennis strokes has been a major component of their lessons. I demonstrated a few serves and strokes for them, and it felt wonderful to be on a tennis court again, something I haven't done since the early days of our marriage. The racquet nestled into my palm as if it had never left, and the heft of the old wooden racquet felt right somehow. Stroking the ball both forehand and backhand felt wonderful, and my left hand immediately joined my right for my two-handed backhand without conscious thought on my part.

I didn't play more than a few minutes because I knew I would be sore. Because of rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia, I can do activities for a short while, but the pain of overdoing arrives later. But those few minutes on the court felt absolutely wonderful -- freeing, in fact. I felt as if I were sixteen again, judging the neon green ball coming toward me and automatically taking a step back to align racquet to ball.

The boys found an old, mostly dead tennis ball in the park on Monday that we used for several evenings until Keith brought home a can of generic tennis balls last night. The boys went to the park Tuesday night and met up with our piano teacher's husband who had been the tennis coach at Sports Camp last week, and he gave them some pointers and practice. On Wednesday evening, Keith and I walked over to the park to see how the kids were progressing in their tennis adventures, and Elizabeth was now involved with Timothy teaching her how to serve. Keith joined the kids almost immediately, playing for fifteen minutes with each of our four kids and teaching them a few finer points while they played. I joined in and played for a couple of minutes (which I am still paying for now on Friday afternoon). The kids had SO much fun playing tennis with Keith; in fact, Timothy said that it was the most fun he had had all summer! (Either that comment marks how much fun he had or how little we've done this summer, but at least he had a wonderful time.)

Keith and I walked over last night again, and, sitting, I leaned against the chain-link fence on the sun-warmed pavement and watched him teach Elizabeth how to serve and hit the ball while the boys joined the local youth group on the soccer field for a four-team capture-the-flag game. When the boys finished running around on the grass, they plopped onto the pavement near me, each waiting for his turn to play Keith as the sun sank further and further behind the western pines. While one boy played with Keith, the others were "ball boys," one standing at the net to run across and grab any balls and the other poised on his bike to chase down stray balls that flew over the chain-link fence. Benjamin is only nine and a small nine at that, but his unique power-serve is excellent, and he's learning quickly. Jonathan is really good, getting into a couple of lengthy rallies with Keith; he's the natural athlete of our family. Timothy enjoys the strategy of the game; he's learning very quickly that the game is played 75% in the mind and 25% on the court.

At 7:30 when the park closes, the kids rode their bikes home, tennis racquets and the can of balls stuffed into Jonathan's backpack with the grips poking up. Keith and I walked home slowly behind them: across the deep green park lawns, through the pedestrian gate next to the post office, across the post office/charter school parking lot, then home through the large expanse of brown-gold meadow as the sun crept further and further behind the mountains, the gloaming marked with a few birds and bats fluttering above our heads as we trudged homeward along the dusty road.

It's been a wonderful week, seeing my kids with my old wooden tennis racquet in hand, learning the game that consumed so many summer days in my teen years. With this being our last school year with Elizabeth at home, how many more of these precious family evenings will we have together with all four kids playing tennis with their dad, their mom watching proudly from courtside?


CC said...

It sounds like a wonderful, wonderful evening! I can really picture you and Keith walking home together. It seems like yesterday that I went to your baby shower before Elizabeth was born!

Jane D. said...

You paint a beautiful picture here Susanne, laying down good memories for your kids future I am sure x.

Susanne Barrett said...

They grow far too fast, Carmen! :)

Thanks always for your kind and encouraging comments, Jane. :)


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