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Lessons on the court

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The advances of today can soon become the antiques of tomorrow.

I wasn’t thinking of that this weekend when one of Ted’s friends from college and his family visited. Their kids are a couple of years younger than Ted and Erica’s twins, but that didn’t matter. They soon were playing and off doing things, like swimming and walking in the woods.

Swims and walks can last only so long and, by Saturday afternoon, most of the gang was ready to explore the environs and do a bit of shopping. That definitely appealed to the girls, but Arthur and his son, Arthur III [he reminded me he is the third] weren’t that interested.

I suggested we try tennis on a clay court that had had more deer traffic – their hove prints pocked the surface – than players.

Arthur, as I discovered, is a good player although he said he hadn’t played in years and had a bad shoulder. Arthur III thought it was a great idea, although this would be a first for him. He’s in fourth grade.

The first of our challenges was finding rackets and balls. Surprisingly, I found an unopened can of Dunlaps, surely a hold over from years past when my parents played on the same court. Back then the court was lovingly maintained by my father who vigilantly pulled weeds and rolled and brushed it.

There were also plenty of rackets in the closet. Many were wood frames and one or two were in presses, which my father was fastidious about using. While the fames were not warped, the strings were in rough shape. The same was true for the most recent of models including the newest of them all, a composite racket I had given him years ago. Back then the racket, with its wide head and light frame, was all the rage and the gift was as much to reaffirm his love of tennis as it was a statement that, even in his 80s, he was never too old to be introduced to new technology.

Then I found the two Head aluminum rackets that belonged to my mother. One still had the plastic label with her name we had made with one of those wheel-like handheld devises that were also a one-time rage. Just about everything ended up with a label until, of course, you ran out of the tape.

Strings to both rackets were intact, though surely they had lost the proper tension – whatever that was at the time. The frames of both rackets were worn down from my mother’s habit of using the racket to pick up balls. There was no question they had been hers. Labels weren’t needed.

“Well, we have these,” I said showing the rackets to the two Arthurs. The heads of the rackets were tiny compared to what they are today, and round like pie plates.

Armed, we headed to the court, each of us gripping and turning the rackets to gain their feel. They felt stiff and clunky, a stretch from the innovations that succeeded them.

My tennis was no better – stiff and clunky.

Arthur sent a ball over the net. I swung for a clear miss. I hit him a ball sending far behind the base line to a damp section of the court choked with weeds. The next ball went out of the court altogether, which young Arthur, now anxious to have a go at the game, willingly retrieved.

When both of us seemed to be getting the hang of learning to play with such antiques, as well as the vagaries of the court, we decided to play a set. Arthur explained the scoring at a loss for an answer to the question why someone should be at “love” when they haven’t a single point. Young Arthur got into the match, if it can really be called that.

“Daddy, daddy,” he cheered between retrieving errant balls. I was getting a lot of love, but no points.

I pointed that out to young Arthur, who then started cheering whenever I won a rare point. The chanting was a boost and when I finally won a game I raised my arms holding, naturally, the aluminum racket in triumph.

My exaltation was short lived. Arthur aced me to close out the set. Now it was young Arthur’s turn. He swung the racket like a baseball bat. His father coached him, offering an assist as I fed them balls. Two consecutive connections, although the balls ended up in the net, brought cheers from the two of us.

Arthur wasn’t as enthusiastic.

“It takes time. It takes practice…you couldn’t read the first time you saw a book,” he father said. Arthur wasn’t satisfied. He looked deflated.

While the rackets from another era, the lesson was ageless. Being good at something is as much about the latest technology as it is about learning, practice and commitment.

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