Tuesday, July 7, 2009

What a racket ...

Boston, and the return of the rain!

Yesterday, during the one sunny day we've enjoyed here this summer, my daughters asked me if I'd take them down to Patton Park to knock around a few tennis balls. This is one of the great joys of working from home ... Admittedly, I could probably be making a few dollars more by putting on a suit and heading into to city every morning, but you can't put a price on being able to walk away from the computer for an hour to play some tennis with two of the cutest girls in Hamilton. So I said "Sure!" But when Maddi came upstairs with the tennis racket that my Mom had given her two years ago, she absolutely stopped me in my tracks.

Grammy's racket is much more than a collection of composite materials and cat-gut (not that cat-gut is even used anymore). It is a symbol of all the things Mom represented for me - her skill and tenacity as an athlete, and her skill and tenacity as a parent. She loved playing tennis, and she played it with a passion. I'm sure the sport provided her a welcomed escape many, many times during those trying years when Mom was singlehandedly raising her six kids (including five teenagers!). But she also played to win. She was a competitor, and had little patience for partners who didn't share her fire.

I felt the heat of that fire on more than a few occasions. Though I was a decent player when I was young, I was rarely a match for Mom. We played often, but I don't remember winning more than a few games. I couldn't match Mom's intensity or steely resolve. I played a power game, which played right into Mom's hands. She calmly, coolly, returned just about everything I could serve up. And while I would rant and rave, my game unraveled. Just like Mom knew it would. She wasn't imparting tennis lessons; she was providing life lessons.

Two years ago, Maddi was telling her Grammy how she had started playing tennis, and how much she enjoyed it. That's when Grammy did something special. At the time, Mom was 76, and had resumed a long-running battle with breast cancer. One of the more devastating fall-outs of that battle was that Mom had given up tennis. Her body simply wasn't going to allow her to play at the level she demanded of herself. So on this day, much to my surprise, Mom gave Maddi her racket. Knowing my daughter, she was tickled with the gift (it is, after all, a very nice racket). But there's no way that Maddi could fully comprehend what was happening. Mom was passing the torch, acknowledging that she wouldn't ever play the game again. I was dumbstruck. Mom didn't make frivolous gestures. This was something she had obviously given considerable thought to. Part of me (and I'm sure part of Mom) didn't want to accept that her playing days were done. Clearly, Mom knew better.

Driving home that day, I put a pin in Maddi's balloon. I told her that, even though Grammy had given her the racket, she wouldn't be using it any time soon. Instead, she had to earn the right to play with it. Maddi is a happy-go-lucky kid, which I love about her, but sometime she fails to grasp the Big Picture. I wanted her to understand that the racket would stay in its cover until the day when it was as special to her as it was to me.

Last year, in late June, we lost Mom. It was just weeks before her favorite tournament, Wimbledon. But cancer doesn't care about such things. For my siblings and me, there was some sense of relief, that Mom's suffering was put to an end. But we miss her dearly, sometimes more than we realize. One of those moments snuck up on me when Maddi brought Mom's racket up from the basement. Just holding it in my hands unleashed a flood of memories, and I felt the tears swelling up in my eyes. Maddi looked at me, and asked if I was OK. I told her yes, and tried to convey how much that racket meant to me. Maddi will be playing with it soon enough. But not just yet.


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