A week ago I sent the following message to a boyhood friend I had not seen in nearly sixty years: "How's your ping-pong game? Mine has badly atrophied."
Henry J. Wing has yet to reply. Still he would probably not remember, as I had forgotten but now have had reason to remember, that I was the champion paddler of the 7th Grade of Burdick Junior High School in 1944. Back then I thought I was pretty swift at the Chinese national pastime, until I met Harry Cartsounis and Warren Simonson in the youth room of the YMCA, each of whom demolished me handily, one with unbeatable retrieving skills, the other with forehand slams.
Ah, how transitory fame is!
A college classmate, who pastors the alumni in Texas and other places, like Colorado, where ten gallon hats are fashionable, reported a meeting with Jed Roe. Jed was an underclassman in the fraternity over which I presided for a season, dear old Sigma Phi. Jed mostly remembers me as his ping-pong adversary, not as an academic advisor or dinner table maintainer of order, which I thought I was. With that reputation from Jed, I have managed to dredge from my memory a scene or two from hours in the frat house's basement, where the ping-pong table was located, perfecting a curving serve that one in five times would hit and erratically jump from the edge of the table.
Such relief from study was healthier than smoking cigars.
In retirement (does everyone do this?) we have been revisiting scenes of past, sometimes long past, friendships. Ping-pong has been a recurring theme. Like the discovery that another fraternity classmate at Williams, a longtime resident of the Bay area in California, has been a frequent bridge opponent of my high school girl friend's twin brother. Peter S. Redfield, founder of Itel thirty-five years ago, and I played ping-pong in the Social Hall of First Methodist Church, Stamford CT, where, if memory serves me correctly or not, I, the Burdick champion, terribly frustrated dear, tall, and emotionally expressive Peter. I spent the better part of two hours searching the Internet for the photo of Peter I had earlier found, but to no avail. He was as tall as I remember him, but huskier (!) than in 1949.
My chief ping-pong adversary in those years was, however, Henry Wing. We each won as many as we lost. The basement of his home on Grandview Avenue was his usual scene of triumph. I preferred the youth room at the church, or my own home's basement. Henry graduated from Oberlin College in 1952 with a major in voice, and had a lifetime career as a professor of music in New Hampshire colleges. He became the director of the Rockingham (NH) Choral Society in 1978 and will be directing them in a Christmas program this December 2nd at an Episcopal Church in Exeter NH. I have half a mind to attend.
I wonder if his paddling has atrophied as badly as has mine.
At Disney World a few years ago at the Animal Kingdom we went to a musical extravaganza. It was entitled, as was the theme song, "The Circle of Life," from Tim Rice's score for the film The Lion King. Perhaps that is also what retirement is for, to go back to where we started, only this time with new eyes of appreciation, in the context of our mortality, that, as we now know and didn't then, a lifetime is a short span, so measure it, find meaning in it, and, above all else, be grateful for the chance at it.
Thoughts of Henry J. Wing and ping pong and Peter and Jed were occasioned by my helpmate's afternoon in the basement of our house sorting out photos of old, where she came across one of Henry, the Camp Quinipet dishwasher in the summer of 1950. Barbara had gone looking for memories in her albums in the aftermath of our attendance at her friend's funeral service. Shirley Herold Johnson's life was celebrated in a service, led by a Franciscan priest, in a cemetery chapel in Bristol CT, the town where Barbara Davis and she were graduated from the high school in June of 1952.
'Tis a small, small world, with swiftly passing time, in which happy hours, many of mine, were spent assisting a little white ball to bounce back and forth over a tiny net.