MARLBORO MUSINGS: WARNING Kids STILL At Play

kindness

It came from out of the blue. But then, they normally do.

Not to be a bummer, but I get this little thing called Vestibular Migraines, and the first sign that I’m about to have a really fun one is I’m struck with what they call an “aura,” which I can safely assume to be the opening salvo of a one-sided battle royal inside my head.

It’s a wonderful experience, with visual fun like seeing spots or crescent shapes and flashes of bright lights, and sensory delights such as tingling fingertips and numbness in your arms and legs, and even a little in the face, which causes slight language issues.

It also means I have about ten minutes to get some meds in me and to either a comfortable position or stable spot before the real, pretty-much-incapacitating headache sets in. With no tap outs allowed.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s temporary, so really quite minor; I pray nightly for people enduring far, far worse than I. It’s really not that big a deal – you actually kinda get used to it after a while, especially since you don’t have much choice. But it doesn’t exactly make for a great day. All you can do is take your meds, find as peaceful a spot as possible to lie down and, hopefully, mercifully, prayerfully, sleep it off.

And that’s about where I was one afternoon last week, wrapping up some household chores and planning to dash out to the grocery, when Mr. Aura put a quick halt to my plans and, effectively, shut down my day. So I grabbed the medicines and a glass of water, locked everything down, dosed up, and stretched out on the sofa.

I made it just in time, as I could already feel the pulse of each heartbeat like a bass drum being lightly struck at the back of my head as I wrapped up in a comforter, hopefully to soon be visited by the Sandman.

And just in time also, it was soon quite clear, for the kids of the neighborhood to decide to play a little basketball out in front of the house. On their portable goal. With two balls. In the street, about 30′ from where my now-throbbing head lay.

It sounded as though my head WAS the basketball, folks; every thump–thump–thump of a dribble, or sudden CLANG and clatter of the goal when a shot was taken was like a hammer inside my skull.

I’ll admit: I was losing it. I was just looking for an escape from the noise of their game and the fun they were having laughing at each other. But they didn’t know that, and they sure didn’t mean any harm. They’ve all been nothing but respectful toward me; they all seem like good kids.

That’s when it hit me.

Go back in time 50 years and they were me. Plain and simple. I grew up on this very street, one house over, and a half a century ago – wow that hurt to even write! – that’s me and my contemporaries at play. Five decades past I was just like those young lads, a kid trying to find a way to entertain himself.

And I wondered how many times someone thought, “Man, those kids are loud.” when I was one of “those kids.”

Game over; they win. They’re just kids being kids. Deal with it, Gray.

So, I popped in some earplugs and turned on a sound machine I have that generates oceans waves and thunderstorm sounds, just for good measure, and thought about those long-gone days as I tried to relax and distance myself from the pounding in my head.

And gracious did the floodgates open.

We were fortunate that we didn’t have to play ball in the street back then. Nope, we had our own half-court behind our house, including a pro-style goal that Pop fab-shopped up that permitted you to drive underneath the basket, and a floodlight that facilitated night games. It also allowed us to beat Mom’s yard into a giant semi-circle of bare dirt that had been pounded so badly that grass didn’t re-grow there until I was in my late 20’s.

And we had plenty of other common areas for us to play kickball, or roll-a-bat, or football, and even had a patch of woods in the center of the block for our safaris. That’s where I set my bear traps as a boy.

But the street, for us, was primarily for bicycle-related events, mainly racing or relays. It’s an absolute miracle that none of us kids weren’t seriously hurt, maimed for life, or worse, dashing in and out of the street racing handlebar to handlebar, our only safety gear possibly long pants and a ball cap.

It was, that is, until the big tennis craze struck America in the early 70’s, back when a young Jimmy Connors, Chris Evert, Arthur Ashe, and others were igniting the public’s passion for the sport. We joined right in, getting hold of some used tennis rackets and balls and taking our play out into the street, using the curb as out of bounds or just hitting balls back and forth.

It was such a simple time. Remember?

Anyway, one day a car stopped and Mrs. Minnie Rogers rolled her window down and asked of what we were doing and, in time, asked us to come down to her home a few houses down the street. She explained that she had a clay tennis court in her back yard and made some of us kids an offer: On occasion, she explained, she and her husband, Frank, enjoyed playing mixed doubles with friends. Would we be willing to take care of preparing the court in exchange for having access to it when it was not in use?

Durn tootin’, Newton…and thank you.

So, we learned how to sweep the court, then mix the lime with water, then string and paint out the lines all nice and pretty and straight whenever she had a tennis date set up. And she more than upheld her end of the deal by not only allowing us to play but in offering tips about the game, once even having a friend of her daughter, Frances, who played on the UNC-Chapel Hill tennis team give us kids some Saturday lessons.

It was great. When they had an afternoon engagement set up, Mrs. Rogers would let me know and we’d get the court ready and then clear out. The whole affair was very traditional, with the men playing in long trousers and the women in white outfits, and as I recall, only conventional white balls were used, not the high-vis yellow balls that were just hitting the market. And Mr. and Mrs. Rogers rarely played for very long, usually an hour or less, and often ended their matches with a social sitting of shared beverages with their guests.

Then once they were gone, us kids would play for literally hours. She even had a grocery cart filled with balls that, if no one else was around or interested in playing that day, I would roll to mid-court and serve to one end. Then go pick them all up and serve them back to the other end, over and over. I was easily amused or entertained, I guess. Or maybe just a simpleton.

Regardless, I got to thinking about that distant memory over the next day or so, how lucky I was to be where I was, and when, and exactly how much of an act of kindness and consideration Mrs. Rogers showed me that day.

And how much I learned from that whole experience. Whether she knew it or not, by making me responsible for prepping the court, Mrs. Rogers taught me subtle lessons that stuck with me, from having the work ethic to get the court ready and the timeliness to knowing when I had to start in order for it to be completed to having a sense of pride in making it look really nice. From watching how she and Mr. Rogers conducted themselves I learned about how people respected each other, as well as respected the tradition, courtesy, and etiquette associated with tennis in particular, and an appreciation of good sportsmanship in all athletics.

I learned things around that clay tennis court that I didn’t learn anywhere else, not in baseball, football, or at home. Important things that still matter today.

All because a lady had to slow down for kids playing in the street and, instead of being perturbed, she decided to make her private tennis court available to a gang of renegade kids.

So when I pulled out of my drive recently and noticed that the basketball goal was without a net, I knew what I had to do. An hour or so later. upon my return, I walked over and tossed a new net to one of the guys and told him to “Hang that” and he was all excited.

Then he asked me if I’d seen the basketballs, which apparently had been stolen. And we had to laugh. Yep, that was me, back then. Somebody stole the basketball? Dang…got a Frisbee?

Anyway, we’re gonna talk to Santa about this, or maybe see if the self-appointed commissioner has enough room in his budget to acquire a new community basketball. Because this is the season for kids, after all, from the miracle of the birth of the Baby Jesus to some kids playing roundball in the street, so we all need to make a special effort to make this a special time, particularly for those little ones.

Kindness is free. Celebrate the season and spread a little love around.

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