2315 Park Lane
Nebraska City, NE 68410
Early last August, I was in a minivan with three long-time friends, speeding north through the rolling prairie past Des Moines, Iowa. Although two of the others and I are college professors, I wasn’t headed to some academic meeting. I was headed toward Charles City, a small town planted between the corn and soybean fields of north central Iowa, and an unlikely oasis, a grass tennis court, the only one in the state.
Mark Kuhn, a farmer in his mid-50’s, had built it a few years ago between his home, machine sheds, and farm fields, and we’d read about it in Tennis magazine. Kuhn welcomes players, and as none of us had ever played on a grass court, we piled into the van for our 700-mile roundtrip quest.
For nearly 20 years, I’ve lived in southeast Nebraska. And every year as regular as Canadian geese heading south for the winter and north in the spring, my buddies and I have had a doubles league in the fall and a brand of pot-luck, get-together tennis in the spring. It’s pot-luck because we usually can’t get together the eight players necessary for two courts of doubles. So whoever shows up plays—doubles, singles, a three-some we call “Canadian” doubles, or even a court of five, with 10-game sets, and each player playing four straight games, then rotating out on the fifth.
We’ve battled Nebraska’s nearly ever-present winds, her often intemperate temperatures (if the temperature gets to 50 anytime during the day, we play) and, even, light rain. One opening night of our spring season, we played in a steady drizzle, despite the soggy balls looking like the centers of water-spraying pinwheels.
We just love to play. I just love to play.
Sure, I enjoy the competition, but, just as surely, I enjoy the camaraderie, even though my buddies and I come from different age groups, different walks of life. On any given night, you might see a retired nuclear power plant engineer partnered with a college-aged elementary education major or a grocery store owner with a factory line-worker. And the things you’ll most often hear besides the “thwat” of a racquet striking a ball are “great shot,” “boy, you’re playing good tennis,” or, after a particularly deadly serve, “I might be fast enough to return that in another life.”
And that friendly banter is a big reason I look forward to winter’s end. I look forward to sharing this experience with these good people, whether they’re 17 or 70. I know them; they know me. In fact, I firmly believe that how a person acts as a doubles partner is as revealing as any psychological profile or polygraph test.
And that’s one of the reasons I believe in the kinship-building power of tennis. As one of our foursome said, just before we started play at the court outside Charles City, “This is one of those moments that makes you just smile.”
And I knew–we all knew–what he meant.
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