I’ve been a tennis fan since I was 13 years old. My skills are nothing to brag about, but I love playing. My husband once videotaped me serving while we were playing at the Kapalua Tennis Resort on Mau’i. The video made me laugh so hard that I cried. I looked so awkward and uncoordinated that it looked like I was purposely trying to be funny. Brad Gilbert, a retired tennis pro player, wrote a book called “Winning Ugly.” I don’t win, I just play ugly.
When our kids were growing up, my husband and I tried to get them into tennis. We bribed our daughter with pretty tennis outfits. Our son was a trooper. He dutifully took lessons and even entered a juniors’ tournament. But then high school came along. Our daughter, who was already a ballet dancer, decided to try cheerleading. Our son declared his preference for the team sports of baseball and football.
For a while, my husband and I soldiered on and played tennis without the kids. But it got harder to find time for tennis as we spent more time driving the kids to their classes and practices and attending their shows and games. Then I injured my foot badly during a tennis clinic, and by the time I was healed enough to get back to tennis, my life seemed to have taken off in another direction. That was seven or eight years ago.
The 2018 French Open Tennis Tournament took place from late May through early June. I happened to see a commercial for the event and I immediately decided I’d try to watch a few matches. I ended up watching most of the tournament – thank you, Tennis Channel. My husband said he knew from the way I was hooked that I’d be back on the courts. I got my old racquets restrung, bought a new pair of tennis shoes, and proved my husband correct.
My first day back at tennis was a delicate balance of excitement and caution. I had lingering worry about reinjuring my foot, but I couldn’t wait to feel that old sensation of making contact with that yellow ball and following through. To my relief, muscle memory didn’t fail me. I was rusty, older, and out of shape, but I still loved playing.
A few days later, I started thinking about getting back into tennis lessons and clinics. I started remembering my old tennis coaches and the people I saw regularly at clinics and group lessons. One man stood out in my mind – a gentleman whose nickname was Dick. Like his nickname (for Richard), Dick had old world manners. He was a retiree, and it was easy to see how his social skills in business served him well in his personal life. There was always an air of formality about him, but he’d talk about going on vacation or about his grandkids, so he never seemed aloof. He was likeable. After I stopped playing tennis, I saw Dick in the cardio room at our tennis club a few times, but eventually I stopped seeing Dick at the club. I wondered if Dick was still playing tennis and if I’d see him out on the courts again.
Nearly two weeks after my first day back at tennis, I was checking in at the front desk of our tennis club. I noticed a copy of an obituary placed in a frame sitting on the counter. I pulled the frame toward me and read it. The obituary was for Dick. He died two days after my first day back on the tennis courts. Stunned and saddened, I walked to the cardio room and went through my usual routine, my mind preoccupied by what I had just read.
Dick lived to a good old age. He left behind a loving family and friends. I don’t know if he played tennis to the end. But I can picture him seeing me back on the courts. I can see him smiling as he says to me, “Welcome back. Good for you. Do the things you love, and enjoy playing while you can.” This seems like the kind of polite and friendly thing he’d do.
©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2018.