The remembering of tennis days combined with watching The Sopranos on A&E and The Godfather on AMC has had me ruminating on whom I have known during my tennis “career.” To tell you that people I played tennis with were interesting would be a major understatement. I once took a creative writing course and we spent a majority of time on character development and description. There wasn’t any making up people for me; I had a bountiful and ample supply at the tennis club. They were a writer’s resource. I believe I played tennis with two mafia connected women, a woman whose husband had been a major contributor of the savings and loan scandals of the 80’s, women who had more money than sense, women whose husbands were on the run from the law and a variety of kooks and weirdo’s of various strains of oddity and strangeness. There were women who were celebrity hounds, their own and seeking to bask in the radiance of the famous. I am thinking in particular of one friend. The celebrities she hounded ranged from local newscasters and even onto the Enron scandal. She was there front and center, seen on every newscast. I had a tennis friend whose godfather, the religious kind not Mafia kind, is Oscar Wyatt. She and her husband were fill ins when someone didn’t show for the elaborate dinner parties that Lynn and Oscar threw. I played tennis and lunched with women who thought that money could be thrown at any problem and the money would take care of everything. It was a field white unto harvest. When we first joined the club, no one quite knew what to do with me because we didn’t run in their social circles. But they liked me and kept me around as entertainment. They let me be in their world, but I was not a part of it. I don’t think I was always a good witness because I could become enamored of what they had and were able to do. One day in the pro shop I witnessed the head pro; he was new to the club, patronizing a woman shopping for tennis clothes. He teasingly said something to the effect of; does your husband know you are spending his hard earned money on clothes? He picked the wrong woman. She comes from a lot of money, think one of the founders of Humble Oil and she just happened to marry an equally rich man from the same beginnings of oil. That pro was gone in a matter of days after that remark. As I ascended through the ranks of leadership at the club, I knew the importance of keeping everyone happy since they were all used to being made happy when and where they said it. God kept telling me that all my years in tennis were a training ground for me and ministry.
Since I’ve been watching The Sopranos and The Godfather off and on this week, my thoughts have turned to one of my tennis partners who may or may not have been connected. She never really came out and made that statement, but she said enough to let me know if I had to ask… Anyway, I watch these shows and think of the fear she constantly lived under. Who could she trust? As much as she had possessions and a masquerade of a happy marriage, she was miserable. I have no idea where she is today. I don’t know if she moved back to New York after her divorce, but I think of her often and pray for her each time she comes to mind. She so wanted to be generous and was and for the most part we her friends accepted none of her gifts knowing that something stronger, meaner was attached to it. The only thing I ever accepted because I thought it was a joke was a long black silk scarf and big Jackie O type sunglasses. She asked me to wear them when we went to her fund raisers together and her charities she supported. She always had this playful sense of humor and I thought we were just playing the clichéd part of Italians. Someone once saw how I treated the scarf and sunglasses, because to me there were a costume, and let me know how much those sunglasses were worth. I almost spit out perfectly good Diet Coke when I heard the amount.
Another woman whose husband was and is now convicted and serving time, mafia related just up and left town one day. She left a message with her friend that if she was in a game with anyone, they needed to find a sub. She told her don’t ask where I am and you probably won’t ever see me again. We didn’t.
I once was invited to a tennis friend’s summer home in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. We were going to take tennis lessons in the morning and then enjoy the rest of the day doing fun Colorado activities. In my naivety, I envisioned myself sleeping on the living room couch. When I arrived I was escorted to my own floor and a bedroom with amazing views. The sound of Hot air balloons woke me up every morning being rather near to my window. When it came time for me to leave, my friend was a nervous wreck because if my flight were just a little late and her husband’s on time…it would not be good for her. He didn’t like anyone being able to identify him. About a year later, he was arrested for hiding ill gotten gains in her name and in their children’s names. I don’t know what became of her after he was convicted and sentenced. It was as if she knew she needed to slink away in shame because tennis friends are not the most loyal group. A lay off, loss of status, illness and you were history. It seemed almost as if being identified with loss would transfer over into their lives.
One day I had just finished a lesson and was sitting at Center Court with a Diet Coke. There was a woman sitting there and she began a conversation with me. She liked that I was a hard hitter and powerful server. At that time I had one of the fastest amateur serves in the women’s game in Houston. My claim to fame was serving three straight aces to a well known tennis pro. She asked me to hit some balls with her and happily I did. Our conversation afterwards turned very strange. I heard through the grapevine who she was and the sordid story that was her life. She wasn’t around too long because she was on the run from the Feds. It seems her husband was a gun runner for a group in Ireland. He had also been caught smuggling gold to the Cayman Islands to an offshore account. Only thing, he was her ex husband because they had divorced for tax reasons and she could testify against him in a court of law.
These are just a few of the interesting characters I met while playing tennis. Tennis life was an interesting life and it was a life I could not be done with quickly enough when it came time for me to leave. Matches were no longer fun and the politicking for teams was exhausting. I loved the game while I played and had fun adventures and truth changing moments in my life all from hitting a yellow tennis ball on a tightly strung racquet.
In doubles it is always good to have the combination of two styles on the court. You need the set up person and the person who puts away the shots. Most people would take me for the put away person due to the strength and power of my game. Actually, my power set up weak returns and an aggressive partner at the net meant fast and easy points. Over the years, people began to depend on my game more than developing their game. I was asked to hit harder and deeper shots. I was asked to add speed to my already fast serve. Soon I was hitting swinging topspin volleys at the net. And because I don’t like to be put in a box in life, I developed devastating drop shots that had people on their heels. The talk about my game was I could carry anyone and we should win. In reality during tough, hard fought matches, both partners need to be playing at the top of their game. Over time I resented that I was being asked to be the strong one, to carry the load, to be prepared at a moment’s notice to play with anyone on our team. The joy of the sport became the bane of my existence. During the last few years of league play, I could feel myself checking out of tennis and just going through the motions day after day, match after match. Even checked out success wasn’t daunted and the last year I played, I was on the top of my game.
Matthew 12:28-30 came alive for me during those last months of tennis. The joy gone, indecision of my next turn and the overwhelming burden crushing my spirit was more than I could bear. I had too many people depending on me and expecting me to stay on and finish out league year after year. One Sunday, I was still in choir, we were singing because He Lives I can face tomorrow, because He lives, all fear is gone. Because I know who holds the future, and life is worth the living just because He lives. That song meant nothing to me, it was a Gaither song, a song over sung back in the day, and the words came alive to me there in the loft and I cried like a baby through the rest of the service. I was crying over a league tennis match the next day and what would be expected of me because the stakes were high. But God let me know I could face the day because He lived. Lost the match in a third set tie breaker but it was there God let me know He had plans for me beyond the court.
Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden
And overburdened, and I will cause you to rest. I will
Ease, and relieve and refresh your souls.
Take my yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am
Gentle, meek, and humble in heart, and
You will find rest (relief and ease, and refreshment
And recreation and blessed quiet for your souls.
For my yoke is wholesome (useful, good, not harsh, hard, sharp or pressing,
But comfortable, gracious and pleasant, an My burden is light
And easy to be borne.
I would think that promise of rest and quiet is as good today as back then when I played tennis.