Duct-taped to a wall in my garage is a weathered piece of ragged cardboard. The front of it is a faded white with green lettering that reads: YARD TENNIS, Official Size, Measured by Tye’s steps. Below those words is a youthful diagram of a primitive tennis court with markings listing the court’s measurements: 65 feet long by 30 feet wide.
The sign was made, and taped to the wall, by my 23-year-old son Tye many summers ago.
I have dozens of pieces of memorabilia on my garage walls. Some of them were somewhat expensive. Some of them were not. Tye’s sign was made from a piece of cardboard ripped off a box. It’s my favorite.
One summer afternoon when my boys were young and my wife was off somewhere else, probably running errands, Tye, and now 20-year-old Chase and I were wiling the day away. Bored at one point, we grabbed some tennis rackets and a ball or two and started hitting them back and forth in the driveway.
As often is the case when boys are banging tennis balls, or baseballs, or anything of the sort around, the activity tends to drift from its place of origin. On this particular day our banging around drifted into the front yard and before long we noticed that the balls bounced much more true than we would have imagined off the grass. So we started hitting strokes back and forth in the yard, since it provided a much wider target area than the driveway.
Before long we were pairing off against each other, trying to see who could make the other be the first to make a bad shot, and not long after that, as boys are often apt to do, we kind of started keeping a running tally.
As things progressed, we started marking off a course, using cones or cans or whatever we could find to mark the boundaries, and started playing games and keeping score until there was a winner. Before long one us determined that our volleyball net would make a perfect “yard tennis” net, then when we couldn’t find it a grand idea straight out of my own childhood struck me – what we needed was the push mower.
When I was a kid, and my friends and I were feeling especially energetic before a backyard baseball or wiffle ball game, on rare occasions we’d grab the mower and cut base paths into our backyard diamond.
The attempt usually met with varying degrees of success, but for the tennis game it was perfect. With the mower there would be no more need for cones, or cans, or even a net. We’d just mow a rectangle out for the court, mow a line across the middle for the net, and quick as that we’d have our own little Wimbledon.
So that’s what we did. Once the court was in place, the competition heated up, and we played game, after game, after game into the early evening. The winner of each game got to keep playing – or could opt to take a break – while the other guy took a seat, and the guy who had been watching returned to the fray.
What once had been boredom turned into a perfect afternoon.
Over the next few weekends we played the game a couple more times. On one of those days Tye, unbeknownst to me at the time, made his diagram, after he must have determined exactly what size of court suited us. Then he duct-taped it very firmly to the wall (something I only discovered when I decided to write this column), I suppose so that on future weekends and years to come we’d have it for reference.
Only I don’t think we ever played the game again.
Maybe Chase and Tye outgrew it. Maybe I didn’t take the time to wile away enough summer afternoons with them. Maybe, for just a couple summer weekends, we shared a little magic that only fit that time.
As long as I have memorabilia in my garage, the sign will be among it, holding down a prominent spot. Maybe someday when I’m too old to wile away time in my garage, I’ll pass the sign down to my boys.
Hopefully, like it does for me, it will kindle a precious memory in them of a warm summer day, when they were full of innocence, and we played the day away together without another care in the world.
Jeff Gilliland can be reached at www.civitasmedia.com.