Sunday, January 30, 2011

Tennis on a Winter Day

I played tennis today, if hitting a ball against a plywood wall qualifies. There is an indoor court on the farm. It lurks, lonely and mostly neglected these days, at the far end of the farm.

Tennis is a large part of my family, though neither my sister nor I play. I was supposed to be taught many, many moons ago, but it was not meant to be.

When I was eight, the summer before my sister left for college, my parents sent me to visit my aunt, who happened to live on the island of Maui. My aunt was the school nurse at a boarding school high on the slopes of Haleakala Crater. She was also an avid tennis player. In fact, she was nationally ranked as an amateur. The plan was for her to teach me to play the sport so loved by my mother and her sister.

I got off the plane, we drove across the island to the house where I would spend the next two months, I dumped my bags, and hastily changed into my bathing suit. The school had a lovely pool only a short stroll across a horse pasture. And swimmng was one of my favorite sports.

We headed across the field. I ran ahead, loosing the energy I had pent up during the nine hour flight. A cry and a curse filled the air. My aunt had stepped in a hole. People came to help-it was a small community. Funny, the adults took her to the hospital. I still got my swim. But my future in tennis disappeared.

Upon such things are our fates decided. Subsequent to the accident, my aunt, scrambling to find something to keep me occupied for the summer, signed me up to take horseback riding lessons from the school nutritionist.

Still, tennis was always in the background. Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, the red clay of the French Open, all watched, recorded and discussed. The favorites: Evert, Navratilova, King, Connors, McEnroe, Agassi, and, my mother's obsession, Pete Sampras.

Don't get me wrong, my friends and I slapped balls around the local court. And I used to hit balls against the brick wall of my elementary school, but I never took a lesson, never played a game outside of gym class. Never hit a ball with my mother or my aunt.

Now, I live in a place with access to a climate-controlled indoor court. I can only imagine what they would have said or how they would have reacted to that tidbit of my new life. I promised myself that someday I would play on that court, if only in tribute to their memories. Part of my aunt's legacy was a large quantity of tennis balls. A large quantity. Partially as a memorial and partly to do something with this inheritance, I set a bag filled with unopened cans of tennis balls, emblazoned with my aunt's nickname, in a room just outside the court.

Today, on a whim, I grabbed a can, popped the top, enjoyed the whoosh of air, filled myself with the scent of fresh felt, grabbed my racket(a racket given to my by the father of a childhood friend- he worked for Prince-a nice racket for a rank beginner), tied my sneakers, flipped the lights and entered the court.

As I hit the ball, I heard my aunt's voice. She reminded me of all those things about tennis I'd picked up through osmosis; all of those tidbits I'd heard in a lifetime of exposure flooded my head. "Hold the racket firmly, like you are shaking hands," "step into your stroke," "wrist locked, follow through," and on and on.

My first tennis lesson.

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