Saturday, May 06, 2006
At the Park
If the park is void of either ice or 120-degree heat indexes, Friday afternoons it hosts the friendliest basketball game in town.

It’s a welcoming place, the trees bowing over the court protectively, shading its occupants. When they drop their leaves in preparation for winter, they offer a view of the Mississippi River as an apology for their nakedness. And in the spring, they welcome us back with random blossoms, as if anticipating our arrival.

Rows of unkempt little houses grace the park’s sidelines, but rarely do their occupants visit. It’s as if they’ve grown so accustomed to it’s presence they overlook its beckoning changes in the same way one fails to notice the aging of their beloved dog or the baby fat disappearing from their child’s cheeks.

It began three years ago, the result of an unlikely pairing. A doctor and his client reminisced about their high school basketball days. A week later, one brought a ball and they spent the lunch hour at the local gym. The following week, one led the other to this little park, its aged court and welcoming trees. They liked it so much they decided to meet each Friday for a friendly game of one-on-one and the journey back in time to high school.

Others soon joined. They brought friends. Wives and children arrived to cheer, but instead joined the game. Soon, the weekly event drew spectators, who spend their time on the sidelines in companionship with their dogs.

At the park, everyone is welcome, no matter if you’ve never held a ball or if you scored the winning goal of your high school championship. Everyone gets a jersey. Everyone gets to play.

The view from the nearby homes might suggest a group of old buddies, trying to reclaim their youth, but the experience of each person on the court tells a different story. A common thread connects these people: a war fought thirty-some years ago, one they didn’t leave behind. They’ve fought their war in different ways, in different places, throughout the decades. Some were workaholics; some have seen the innards of a prison cell. Some lost years sheathed in a fog of addiction. Others passed as untouched until the dam broke, releasing the memories and pain. They are CEOs, business owners, farmers, salesmen and long-haul truckers. They are husbands and fathers. And every week for an hour or so, they are friends.

Their war created feelings of comradery they’ve not been able to replicate in civilian life. And it generated warrior instincts rarely proper in this world. Each player experiences the court – this game – differently. For some, it bridges the gap between the mind of a 16 year old and the body’s evolution, taking them back in time to a place filled with the memories and music of their youth. For others, it is the practice ground for understanding themselves and their interactions with the world; a taste of the comradery they long for. For me, it is the chance to observe and to spend a moment in the past of the man I love – a place I wish I’d been, but wasn’t. For all of us, it’s about winning private battles, not literal basketball games.

They could have named themselves after a ferocious jungle dweller. They could wear jerseys emblazoned with the moniker of “Warriors” because, each of them, no matter their history, has battled demons of one kind or another. But, they didn’t.

They named the team after a creature that tends to its own business and the daily responsibilities of its own survival; a creature that doesn’t display its inborn weapons of defense until backed into an inescapable corner. They chose this creature because it represents who they are striving to become.

They call themselves The Crawfish.

For all of us, there is an unspoken magic created in this park – something words cannot capture in the same way one cannot describe with adequacy the patterns on a butterfly’s wings or the feelings generated by a favorite song. It follows us home, churning around in our minds until it is silenced by the rigors of daily life.

And so we return, week after week, hoping to recapture it.


(This one's for The Philosopher)
Rhonda Ruminated at 12:37 PM | Permalink |

10 Ruminations:

  • At 4:26 PM, Blogger Mia

    Anyone that can make me cry while reading about BASKETBALL has got to have a pulitzer in them somewhere.

  • At 7:13 PM, Blogger Nikki

    You have painted a very lovely picture Rhonda. It made me feel like I was there watching them play.

    I loved it.

  • At 8:52 PM, Blogger Attila The Mom

    How's that knee doing? ;-)

  • At 10:37 PM, Blogger Rhonda

    Mia: I'm flattered. I'll remember to thank you when the hand me the prize :)

    Nikki: Thank you.

    ATM: Listen here, funnygirl, this bionic knee earned me an MVP trophy (and a permanent spot on the sidelines). In the park's defense, the big blowout happened during an indoor game at a gym. That said, have I got a story to tell you about my inability to avoid being maimed on the sidelines.

  • At 9:39 AM, Blogger sume

    Very insightful post, Rhonda. Honestly, I've never been into sports other than the required PE activities. I've always been more of a bookish person. You've captured pieces of human spirit and in the perfect medium for my taste. ;)

  • At 5:50 PM, Blogger St Jude

    Enchanting. I hope that one day I grow up to be a word smith like you.

  • At 6:36 PM, Blogger Ruth Dynamite

    "For all of us, it’s about winning private battles, not literal basketball games."

    You betcha. And that's what keeps those Crawfish (and other like them) coming back for more. Thanks for a great read.

  • At 9:46 PM, Blogger Rhonda

    St Jude: Welcome back! I thank you, but you underestimate your writing. You are already a wordsmith.

    Ruth: You are, of course, right. And it's a wonderful thing to be a part of.

    Sume: My interest in sports ends at my knees - literally. Every attempt at atheticism I've made seems to land me in the emergency room. I make a much better team photographer.

  • At 2:17 PM, Blogger Marie Jarrell

    Yes, Rhonda, you capture what we all so much long for, that sense of eternal soul and comaraderie, that essence that has been slipping away for so long. I think I cry over such beautiful writing as yours because what you write is written on the bone of truth. Who can argue with that,no matter where it's played out--on a basketball court, a streetcorner, or in line at some institution. When will we look at each other in the eye and recognize these things? Lovely, lovely post.

  • At 8:56 AM, Blogger Rhonda

    MJ: I think your comment was lovlier than my post :)