When AmVets came by last week, they got some good stuff from our house: old books, some clothes just right for slightly slimmer people than we, and a couple of old tennis rackets. We got them out the door in a mad rush Monday night, because pickup, we were told, could be as early as 7 a.m. Tuesday. Jane has been cleaning up, weeding out, reorganizing, all over the house. Reality TV will never do a “hoarders” show here, despite our 650 classical LPs, full closets, and thousands of books. (Note to younger readers: LPs were flat black plastic disks 12” in diameter, covered with grooves so tiny that when the light glanced off them right it was diffracted into rainbow colors. The grooves played music when they were spun at exactly 33 1/3 r.p.m. on a “turntable” and a “stylus” was placed in them. The sound was passed electronically to a “preamp” and then an “amplifier,” and finally to flattened cones, the “tweeter” and the “woofer,” that vibrated to create high and low pitches respectively.)
On Tuesday morning the truck hadn’t stopped by yet, and I went out to look at the stuff. One of the tennis rackets was a T. A. Davis “Professional” model. Made of laminated wood, the throat looked just as cool as ever with the light-dark pattern of the laminate, the “V” just below the face of the racket narrowing to the straight shank, which then broadened to the octagonal grip with its four wider faces and four narrower corners, the TDA anagram on the bottom. In my hand, the familiar heft was comfortable and balanced, the tape just grippy enough without being sticky. My left thumb fit snug along one of the corner edges. I could still swing it back, cock it, and bring it straight down as if I were serving. I could still get it in position to hit backhand and forehand. I always used a one-handed grip to hit my ground strokes; the double-handed grip was unknown in those days. That meant that I had to change my grip slightly to hit backhand strokes as opposed to forehand. It still felt natural and automatic.
This had been my racket in college and young adulthood. It had witnessed a few rare triumphs on the courts, and lots of frustration, especially when I began to use it more and more sporadically. Early on, I used it a lot, especially in the summers when I worked at a church retreat on Lake George, NY, and when I was in between grad school semesters. Games became rarer and rarer: a few on the courts at NVCC, before they closed them for being “unsafe,” (Typical Virginia mentality: build them, but don’t maintain them because they’re a “frill,” then abandon them instead of making an effort to assure they’re used, and close them because somebody from the general public might get hurt on them. Better not to have spent anything on them than to have spent just enough to assure that they would fail.), a few with my kids and friends at the Cunningham Park School courts, then nothing.
I had played lots of tennis as a teenager, both at summer camp and in high school. My game was OK, but I was completely self-taught and somewhat inconsistent. It seemed that my backhand and forehand were rarely “grooved” at the same time. I remember my Dad gamely playing a few games with me on the clay courts of Camp Adahi, Union, Maine, when he and Mom came to visit. He was essentially in summer street clothes, I was in a t-shirt, shorts, and sneakers. I also remember the way we sat waiting for a free court at camp, killing the mosquitoes as they landed on our arms, and burying each victim in the dirt with a tiny pebble for a marker. We had long rows of victims sometimes. As a high school player, I played both singles and doubles. We practiced on courts about a mile from home, and I recall walking home one day with my forehead split open across one eyebrow from the force of a self-inflicted blow from an errant swing. I also recall one of my doubles buddies questioning me at practice about a girl I had recently stopped dating, trying to find out if she “put out.” How should I know? Maybe that’s why she broke up with me.
But last Tuesday I put that racket down for the last time. I don’t know what use it will be to AmVets. Still in fine condition, good string job, but slightly archaic. Its wood-framed face is about 12” long and slightly less than 9” wide. Compare that with a modern racket. You had to be accurate to hit the ball with its “sweet spot.” I don’t think my body can hold up any longer to the rigors of the tennis court. But if I ever should play again, I’d get a new racket so that I could just flail in the general direction of the ball, and trust that the huge racket head would make contact. And I’d try to learn to hit a two-handed backhand. But for now I’ll just get back on my bike.
©Arnold J. Bradford, 2012.