Friday. I really didn’t think I’d be making a post this soon. But it’s been a long (LONG) week and I find myself with a quiet moment and I’m sorry to say that my Mother passed away last Saturday in the wee hours. A bitter Irony as my father has been in hospice care for ten months and it is my mother who was taken from us so unexpectedly. If you are reading this you already know that but just in case…
I’m writing this from the perspective of my Journey of Fitness because my mother was a fitness fanatic. One of my favorite stories about my mother was last summer at my niece’s wedding I had an adjoining room with my folks. I went to wake them up in the morning and found my father still fast asleep and my 91 (at the time) year old mother doing jumping jacks in front of the window. Every morning of her life she woke up and did sit ups in bed, toe touches, stretches and apparently jumping jacks were in the regime. I remember laughing because she was deaf as a doorknob and didn’t hear me come in and I stood there for a while and watched her. When she finished and turned around to see me she smiled and said “Oh I didn’t hear you come in, are you finished with your exercises already?”
For the last couple of years (since I started all of this triathlon/marathon stuff) that’s how my mother would greet me. “Did you run today?” or “What time are you going running?” As I was getting more and more out of shape I started to resent her bugging me about it, but somehow it did help me get out the door. I couldn’t bring myself to say two days in a row that I wasn’t doing any kind of workout.
My sporting life started with my mother the summer before first grade when she took me and my little brother for our first tennis lessons. (I think the racquet was bigger than my little brother). I wasn’t quite six years old yet but I still remember it so clearly. My mother wouldn’t teach me tennis because she didn’t want me to learn any of her bad habits. She was a self-taught player. She grew up in Yonkers (on Van Cortland Park) and I remember her telling me there were public courts down by the river and that’s where she and her friends would play. She played a lot and got quite good and continued to play her entire life, winning tons of local and regional tournaments. Singles and doubles.
From that year on, I never stopped playing tennis (except for the black period of 18 years). My mother found a willing victim in me. In the winter when I was little she set me up in the garage. She had my father clear out everything so I had a wall to hit the ball against and I remember being out there for at least an hour before dinner and I can almost still see her coming to the garage door smiling asking me how many times in a row I hit the ball and to come into dinner. I stand in that same garage right now wondering how I was ever small enough to take a full swing in there.
I think I was 10 or so when I played in my first tournament. In seventh grade I remember I played on two kids winter teams — one for my local club in Canton and one for Bristol club of all places. My mother didn’t think our club played enough and she thought if one team was good two teams were better. She drove me every day to a practice somewhere. When I was 15 my present was a private coach. I met with him every day for an entire summer. (He was a starving college student and I think my mother paid him in peanut butter sandwiches or something.) But that was the summer I got better. I still have the racquet hanging in my apartment from my first tournament win. She was so happy, I remember that clearly.
It wasn’t just tennis that my mother had me playing. She was the one who taught me to ride a bike. I remember that as well. She ran up and down the driveway a million times holding onto the seat of that bike (training wheels? what are those?) She was my first bike coach. She gave me bubble gum when I rode the driveway all by myself. How do I remember such things?
Swimming lessons, canoeing lessons, cross-country skiing, were just some of my extracurricular activities. (She entered me in a cross-country skiing race when I was 14, I think I came in last. Two years later I was not so bad). At school I played a tiny bit of field hockey (hated it), I played two years of basketball (not because I was any good, they just wanted me to be center because I was tall). Those were the only sports girls in our school played. Finally Title IX came around when I was 13 and our school started a girls tennis team and from then on I devoted my time to that. (Of course now I wish I had joined the track team but I thought I would never run so why bother?) My Mom was there at all the games. Driving me back and forth to all the practices. All of them. I never remember going home with anyone else but I remember my Mom always dropping off one kid or another.
And by the way, my Mother played tennis every single morning of her life (until her 80’s). When we were kids, she would be on the courts at 5 or 6 a.m. She would play tennis, get home, wake us up, cook and serve us breakfast and put us on the bus to school. Every single day of our childhood. Every single day.
There were two lines I must have heard five thousand times from my mother. “Clean your room” and “Go Play outside.” We were never in the house. Huge games of softball in the backyard. My mother delivering lemonade to all the kids. Sledding for hours in the woods. Mom taking us all ice-skating every week (and my feet hurt so badly she switched my dainty figured skates for the more supportive hockey skates and raced me across the pond. I never beat her.)
We lived at the town pond (so gross) in the summer. She made sure we had every swimming lesson ever offered. Then there was that lame summer she thought water ballet would be nice for me. Yeah, not so much. And then there was the big pool at the Pye’s house with the huge slide. We were there twice a week every summer of my life with my Mom swimming laps across the big round pool. I could never make it across so she showed me how to swim ladder to ladder until I made it around the pool.
My Mother and I had a lot of arguments. Hard to believe but I was not a very obedient child and some might even call me rebellious. She would say go left and I would go right just to be a pain. But no matter what we had the tennis court. We would go the courts mad at one another and not speaking. Sometime during the session we would end up at the net talking about something and there it was, we were friends again.
I love to tell the story of one summer in Nantucket. It was me, my Mom, Mrs. Young (one of her tennis buds). I had been bugging my mother for a long-sleeved sweatshirt that said “Nantucket” down the sleeve. She wouldn’t buy it for me. Too expensive. We walked back to the house one morning after playing tennis and passed a pool made from an inlet of water from the ocean. She looked at me and said “If you jump in with all your clothes on, I’ll get you the sweatshirt.” I could see she wasn’t kidding so I jumped into the pool. Then she said to Mrs. Young “If you jump in I’ll get you….” (I can’t remember what she promised Mrs. Young.) And Mrs. Young jumped in too. It was early in the morning as we always played tennis early. We were laughing so hard and splashing around. And then my mother, fully dressed, jumped into the pool too. It was one of the best moments. We walked back to the cottage in our soaked tennis clothes laughing the entire way.
In the 80’s my mother and father became snow birds and lived half the year at Amelia Island. My mother took up golf and decided I needed to learn to play too. We both stunk but I had a great long game and she had a great short game. So we would play best ball or some variation of it. My mother had no problem breaking the rules. She carried a bunch of extra balls “gator bait” in her pocket. If she didn’t like her shot, she would just drop another ball and hit it again. She’d smile and say “I like to get my money’s worth.” If I was putting on the green and missed she’d call out “Mulligan!” Some golfers would take a Mulligan (do over) off the tee. My Mother and I would take Mulligan’s for any stroke for 18 holes! As long as nobody was behind us, who cared? “Let them play through so we can have our own fun.” She would say. “Never hold anyone up, play ready golf.” She would say. “Nobody will care what the heck you do as long as you don’t hold them up from playing.” “Oh, and never, ever, walk across someone’s line.” Whenever we would show up at a golf course they would offer my mother a cart. She would always scoff “We walk the course, it’s golf, not go-carts.” We only played 9 holes but we played into her 80’s and she pulled her own golf bag. (The last couple of years we played she made me pull both of them claiming it was “good training” for me, lol.)
And the one thing I really want to comment on is what an amazingly good sport my mother was. She was extremely competitive. She loved to play and keep score but she never ever complained about losing. And if someone made a good shot in a match or a game of golf she ALWAYS complimented them. Yelling “Great Shot” or clapping with her racquet. It’s one thing I’m actually proud of when I play. Even if I’m getting creamed, to acknowledge someone else’s good shot, always makes an image of my mom pop into my head. And if someone hits a winner, to this day I yell out “You BUM!” With a laugh. That’s what my mother would always say. But you knew it was a compliment.
Stories of my mom could go on and on but I just wanted to start to focus on all of the good things she taught me and the fun, fun, fun we used to have. Yes, we had many arguments but underneath it all there was a lot of love and nothing a good hitting session couldn’t cure. She was the human backboard. No matter how hard, fast or out of reach you hit the ball it would always come sailing back. Most of the points I lost were because I underestimated how fast and determined she could be. And at the net, there was no discussion. Every shot was just a put away. Sharp angles off to the side, nobody did that better.
Although it was painful to be with my Mom for ten days in the hospital. There was a blessing there as well. We had time together and we had a chance to come together at the net one last time.
This is a video I put together of my Mom for her 90’th birthday.