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www.zidao.com Apprentice harmonizer, for sheer fun. Journeywoman writer, for work and pleasure. Starting point was Iowa, current stopping point on this journey is Switzerland, with frequent pauses around the world to watch and listen to the crowd, and occasionally make comments.

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Friday, February 24, 2006

Digital time capsules (7): the old Navy tennis racquet

The tennis racquet that was always too big

One year, shortly after I left home, my parents sorted out their possessions. We moved every 4-5 years when I was growing up, so this was nothing new, in principle. My mother enjoyed extolling the benefits of moving. High on the list was the opportunity it offered to throw away things we hadn't used since the last move.

This sorting day was nevertheless different. For one thing, I inherited a tennis racquet that both frightened and inspired me when I was little. It was heavy and old, a relic of my father's World War II experience, a Navy tennis racquet, he said. I think he said that.

I might in fact have confused this racquet and story with other racquets and stories. They were all part of the world of adults, where you were big and strong and could wallop a backhand on the tennis court. For my part, I was short and solid but useless on the court. I struggled to connect racquet and ball, using only forehands. I pleaded left-handedness, but I was worse with my left arm than my right, as my local park tennis teacher pointed out. I finally pleaded something called triplets confusion, at which point he gave me up for useless, and my parents agreed I should stop taking lessons.

The triplets were identical girls called Deanna, Diana and Dionne, with a Spanish last name, Diaz perhaps, but I might have mis-remembered all those "di" sounds.

They had long legs, masses of dark hair and to someone who didn't pay enough attention to what was happening on the court they were terribly confusing tennis partners. They did not play well, either, but they were shouted at in triplet, which meant each one of them had to absorb only one-third of the teacher's abuse. I thought this was unfair.

I am the youngest of four children. The day when my father said he thought maybe I could use a tennis racket, and he gave me the old Defender, was the day when my parents could finally declare many objects permanently useless, at least for them.

What Jeanne used, but Mary and Tara did not, might yet come in handy for me: there was always frugality in our house but also respect for the love that used family objects contained. Memories and experience and family wisdom of all sorts are rubbed into the wood or the fabric, in the way that seeds drop to the ground and are worn down into the earth, only to spring forth in a new form some time later.

But I hated hand-me-downs most of the time. I never did inherit my sisters' things that I longed for, like Mary's Cinderella transparent high heels with rhinestone trim (1957). Or Jeanne's mink pillbox hat (1965). Or Tara's trip to Chicago to see a major league baseball game, 1959 (I was promised the same and I NEVER GOT IT! but of course I'm mature enough to understand that now).

Now, adult in name if not practice, I lived in another city. Like my sisters, I had started to collect my own objects. A tennis racquet? I married a man who played the game, and played it well. He had his own collection, streamlined and light and not the same shape. I had declared myself a non-player, just as I am a non-player of chess, since there is no point in trying to accompany a master if you're a failed apprentice.

Oddly, though, I fell in love with the racquet, the solidity of the wood and the overall shape that brought to mind F. Scott Fitzgerald, even though the era was all wrong.

I hung it on the wall, and there it remains, a symbol of unattainable adulthood, effort, failure, and despite all that, slightly tarnished beauty. I wonder about the triplets. I try to overcome my fear of threes in relation to tennis, but I cannot get enthusiastic about the Grand Slam.

I do wonder what my sisters did with their shoes and hats and baseball tickets.


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