Dow: Sizing ’em up
Contrary to popular fiction, we are all somewhat prejudiced and we all have formed stereotyped opinions of people we encounter. In our fairly liberal and tolerant family, it occurs on the tennis court.
For instance, my husband, who comes from a long line of fierce competitors (e.g. his grandfather, a Western U.S. and Alaskan surveyor from Newton, Mass., used to count every stroke in miniature golf — even for a toddler who had just learned to walk), once spotted an opponent wearing great-looking pressed tennis clothes and gloves, of all things. He whispered to me, “A doctor. I can beat him.” And he did.
Now several of my friends and I have played at the Bill Wright Tennis Center in Vail (formerly Ford Park) on Ladies’ Day, where we were not supposed to pick partners. Kitty Gwathmey, who inherited the top post for this event after Bob Seward declared he couldn’t put up with all the bickering, tried to match up doubles partners in a genteel manner. After all, tennis requires proper dress (at least court shoes) and etiquette.
One day, I arrived late for Ladies’ Day. Actually, I just dropped by hoping to meet some of my friends for lunch. Kitty, with her charming Southern accent, inconspicuously and discreetly whispered to me, “Will you please play with that girl,” pointing to someone holding an old wooden racquet. “No one wants to play with her. You don’t even have to pay the five dollars.” (As an aside, after returning from Kuwait and not having played for two years, they didn’t want to play with me either.) I looked at that racquet and thought to myself, “We’re in for a long morning.”
Our first opponents were tall, donning great jewelry in addition to beautiful tennis togs, and they greeted us ever so politely in a sweet-tea drawl as we introduced ourselves. I am sure they thought, “Here comes an easy victory … just look at that racquet!” My mind said, “Texans … ever so nicely asking us ‘How are yew?’ but believe me, once the game begins, they will take no prisoners.”
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We warmed up with some solid ground strokes (forgoing that pitty-pat half-court short game which I hate anyway) and I noticed that my partner had a good backhand. Since I have a decent forehand, I suggested we play with her in the add court.
The leggy Texans underestimated us, and I discovered that my partner had a formidable backhand, as it turned out. If you know tennis, the game is never over until it’s over. We came from behind and won.
Afterward, she told me she was a luggage handler at the “new” Eagle airport, that she had grown up in Florida and had played a lot of tennis as a youth. She said she had the day off and thought she would try Vail’s Ladies’ Day.
I was positively ecstatic over the outcome of our match, but after commenting on what a good player she was, I offered one subtle suggestion by saying, “You know, a lighter composite racquet would make a big difference. You might consider changing to one.”
I never saw her again, but if she still has that Chrissie Evert wooden racquet, she should consider putting it on auction at Sotheby’s.
Marie Dow has been sashaying between Little Rock, Avon and Missouri for many years, mainly chasing music, good snow and fine living. She recently taught at Gulf University for Science and Technology in Kuwait.