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My grandmother, Natalie, with her sisters Peg, Noelle and Pammy

My mom and her friend Joy having a fag after tennis

My maternal grandfather, Michael, Mom and Nat. My, what long shafts you have.

Teenage enthusiasm

My parents in their later years

Listen, to begin with there really wasn't any choice about whether or not I'd play, having been born into a tennis family going back many generations. As you might divine from photographs, it wasn't all rainbows and unicorns in the early years; playing with family, playing with friends, playing in league matches, club tournaments, regional tournaments, playing inside in winter, playing paddle and on and on and on.

Due to what went way beyond 10,000 hits, probably in the millions, I got into college thanks to tennis, but after a few rough early Saturday morning practices, quit the team and the sport in favor of nights of wild abandon, lasting some years.

Pre Title IX, for sure

It took 25 years to return, and what I remember most was being outraged that my level of play was not what it had been, and that I no longer had the body of a 20 year old. But after a short and dangerous swerve into women's league tennis was reversed, I found my way.

What I love thinking about, even now, is how a bunch of one-off interactions somehow turned into a life. Here was the very start of it:

As an adult, I started taking lessons at what we jokingly referred to as the grass courts of Pine Manor, because the cracks were prevalent, old and deep enough that there was almost as much grass as hard court. The friend who brought me to lessons there then introduced me to another player from Brookline who had her own court. The first time I played there, my big toenail was jamming into my sneaker each time I put the brakes on, causing me some pain. But really, who asks someone they don't know who has their own court for a time out and some toenail clippers? I suffered in silence, which led to my nail falling off the next day. But we played again, and again and again. We drank a beer or two, met for dinner, exchanged gardening tips, perennials, frustrations, concerns, plumbers, laughter, sunny destinations and so many hours on the court. And as I now know, she is the last person to stand on ceremony and would have happily taken a break and got me nail clippers, but I didn't know that then.

Paddle tennis became an additional layer of social glue. Early on, there weren't many women who played, so while we had a posse at the home club, the real action was at tournaments around New England that involved chatty early morning drives, the glare of winter sun or sting of rain/sleet/hail/snow, sweaty layers and if things went well, somewhere between 9 and 12 sets. Drives home tended to be on the quiet side.

Laura and me after the Longmeadow tournament. That's Linda from Maine in the background.

We competed against each other, but perhaps because of a shared need to be outside and active, the spirit was convivial. We made friends in Maine, Vermont, Rhode Island, Chicago, California, New Jersey, all over, really. OK, not Texas because there are no courts there. As any player will tell you, there's no better camaraderie than the post-tournament action in the hut. I often took comfort in losing quickly as it meant socializing sooner.

Before, during and after a jolly time at a tournament in Newport

Over the years as we've continued to play together, life has had a tendency to happen, sometimes even interfering with our games. We've shared births, graduations, break ups, deaths, divorces, marriages, new houses, new jobs, lost jobs, kid issues, work frustrations, car accidents, illnesses and injuries, so many injuries.

Our mentors, Deb and Mary

So yeah, traveling is great, I love it and will do it for as.long as I can. But returning, I've been struck by how lucky I am to be part of this group of funny, enthusiastic, caring, intelligent, talented, patient, determined, kind, curious and a little bit crazy women. As my mom often said "You meet the nicest people playing tennis." (paddle too)


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