How I Learned to LOVE the Words (and Tennis, too)

This article appears in The Sunday Morning Star, Wilmington Delaware, dated July 9, 1939.

This article appears in The Sunday Morning Star, Wilmington Delaware, dated July 9, 1939.

I have a thin wooden plaque that was propped up on a shelf in my grandparent’s house, when they were still living. It is very seventies, showing two couples with tennis racquets over their shoulders, one couple on each side of the net. They’re laughing. It says “Do you know why I like tennis so much? Because there’s so much LOVE in it!”

*For those of you who are not aficionados, when someone has a zero score in tennis, it’s never referred to as such but as love. There are theories that say we’ve butchered the French word for the egg (which resembles a zero), but other theories say that love really means love, because the love of the game is what keeps the losing player still fighting.

I love this plaque for several reasons. It’s so stylish in that mod kind of way. It’s also one of the things I wanted when my grandfather passed away- he and I (and my mom) shared a love for the game. Although I was no state champion (multiple times!) like them, I loved to play. A friend told me recently that I needed to get back out on the court- I asked her to find me six more hours in the day!

I also love this plaque, along with the other things of my grandfather’s that I treasure, because they remind me how similar we are. I wish that he was around now, so we could talk, but he’s not. He passed away when I was in high school, when I was an awkward teen, afraid of individuality and jamming myself into conformity.

He did get to see my play tennis, but he didn’t get to see me do another passion we shared- writing.

My grandfather wrote professionally his entire career. In the Army during WWII, and for The News Journal (both morning and evening additions). He was mainly a police reporter and worked nights. In a time before cell phones and emails, he’d go out with patrols, take notes at the scene, gather facts at the precinct, and get interviews. This was a time when journalists took ownership of their stories from beginning to end- not because they don’t want to now, but because lack of current technology dictated it.

When I wrote columns for The News Journal in high school, I know he was proud. When I played tennis, he was proud.

I got to college and stopped writing. My first/last piece in The Towerlight, the paper for Towson University, is probably archived somewhere. As fast as I could move into the dorms, I changed my major from Journalism to undeclared, and stopped playing tennis. I never felt like he was looking down at me, disappointed. I felt like he was just watching me unfold on my own time.

Fast forward many years later, when I started blogging. And writing essays for online magazines. And speaking publicly about how it’s not impossible to pull yourself up out of a tragedy. And picking my racquet back up when I had time.

I’ve had trouble writing for quite some time. I’ve asked my fabulous editor Valerie at Pregnancy After Loss Support if I could back my commitment to quarterly. My blog is covered in dust. Every time I have time and a pen and a paper (which is rare but still frequent enough), I end up making a grocery list, or doodling, or just staring at it.
It occurred to me that my grandfather may have been my first muse, even though he never really read what I wrote. Was he in the background when I graduated after several major switches, finally settling back in the Mass Communications department? Maybe he was silently championing me through those matches in adulthood where I was getting crushed (and not feeling the love in the zero score I had).

On and off the court, with the zeros to lose and the sixes to win, was he there? Was he the one telling me to charge the net, keep writing if nothing was on the paper, keep asking questions to get an answer, giving me his little smile? Was he the one who made me love the word? Was he the one who helped me take my frustrations from the court onto the paper, and then let my thoughts sort themselves out?

I’ve had a few other muses in my life. A college professor who was the recipient of my thoughtful, careful essays and didn’t laugh when I told him my theory that Candy’s Room by Bruce Springsteen was actually a song about drugs. Instead, he told me to prove it to him by writing why. He was young but completely gray, and wore black Chuck Taylors with a safety pin before I even knew what being punk was. He turned me onto The Strokes, and I can’t hear any of their songs (especially New York City Cops) without thinking of him.
Hank, Elise, other people have come in and out and inspired me at certain times in my life. I’m sure there will be more muses to come, more things to write about, more lost tennis games. There’s always something around the bend, right?

Time to wrap this up. I’m going to put on The Strokes. My tennis racquet will sit in the closet, where it’s been for the better part of the year, but I’m back to writing. Time to get some things accomplished. That’s why there is so much LOVE in life…..

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