Though usually a content man, my grandfather had one great regret from his youth.
“If I’d have had a clarinet,” he’d say, “I think I really could have done something.”
But, as a product of the Great Depression, such luxuries for him were out of reach. So, he took a family member’s used trombone and made due, putting aside his dreams of playing like Artie Shaw or Benny Goodman.
When he graduated with his Ph.D. at age 59, my mother and her sister pitched in to buy him a used clarinet. Despite being a distinguished, silver-templed college professor, Grandpa seemed to take delight in squeaking and squawking like a whole herd of beginning band students. He took lessons and practiced diligently, and within a few years, he was doing his Big Band heroes proud.
I think about this story every time I step onto a tennis court.
I am not a tennis player. This is shameful for me to admit because most of my life I’ve lived in Grantsville, which is known for its incredible tennis culture almost as much as it is for its windy weather. Both of my sisters are tennis players, and good ones, too. My youngest sister, the last of us still in high school, claimed first singles last year and shows no willingness to let it go.
And then there’s me.
My excuse is that they’ve been taking private lessons since they were in elementary school. I did not have this early start in large part because their instructor is younger than me. And in Grantsville, if you don’t start tennis young, or aren’t naturally coordinated, it can be tough. I would know.
Lately, though, I have discovered that I really enjoy playing tennis. Unfortunately, my one sister won’t play with me anymore. She said I was so bad that the only way I could even make #34 Exhibition slot on the team would be if only 33 other girls were playing in that division. I thought that was a little harsh of her to say, but, then, love means nothing to a tennis player.
Heh, heh. Little tennis joke there. I think.
Playing with her is out of the question. Playing with any of my friends, actually, is out of the question since they either don’t play or agree with my sister. But I’ve still been playing, kind of. I’ve been hiding a tennis racket and some tennis balls in my car, so my sister won’t find out what I’ve been up to, and then early in the morning or late at night, I’ll head down and play a little solo game. The speed of the game isn’t really different from when I’ve played with my sister, even all alone like this, because I can’t hit a thing back, anyway.
Last month, we visited our other sister, who is now married and going to Utah State University, and ended up on a court at the Logan Recreation Center. Married Sister and I played Canadian Doubles — that is, two against one — verses Youngest Sister, and it ended up being outrageously fun. Youngest Sister even told me I might be able to battle someone out for a Junior Varsity spot, which might just be the nicest thing she’s ever said to me.
Because it was so fun, and I was so encouraged by how much better I’ve gotten by serving to, you know, the fence, I’ve decided to take actual lessons. By doing so, I recognize I will have to play in daylight, when other people can see me — taking the racket out of the trunk, as it were. Despite my sister’s compliment, I am under no illusions of my abilities.
In other words, folks of Grantsville, swing by the tennis courts evenings this summer for some free, unintentional slapstick comedy.
But like my grandfather’s squeaks and squawks, I’m OK with this. Yes, I’m about 20 years older than my sisters when they started taking tennis lessons, but it’s not like I’m completely decrepit. And I don’t care how good I ever get, because I’m not trying to be the next Serena Williams or Anna Kournikova. I’m not trying to win Wimbledon (although if I scored on Youngest Sister, even once, man, that would be sweet). But I do think it’s fun, and that’s what counts.