Friday, July 1, 2011

I have a new idol

Some of us look at younger people and feel envious, wishing we could be like they are.
(OK, maybe you never do, but it does happen to me.)

On Wednesday I wished I could be like Mrs. Hannigan, who is thirty or so years older than I am, give or take a few. I think George said she is a retired teacher.

To back up. I went for the first time to George's Wednesday morning clinic at the Holyoke Canoe Club, a beautiful place on the Connecticut River that traces its origins to 1885. Once you enter the club's grounds, tucked away behind Route 5, you pass a Victorian clubhouse that saw better days in the years when Holyoke flourished, but the tennis courts (eight clay and two hard) are in tip-top condition.

About a dozen players showed up for the Wednesday clinic from 9 a.m. to a little after 11:30. George had told me about this group. He said some have artificial body parts, so he sometimes makes up creative drills tailored to their abilities. I was unsure what to expect.

He gave newcomers a brief introduction.

"Everyone, this is Ronni," he said. "She plays around the world...Holyoke, South Hadley, Longmeadow, Enfield." Ha! Small world. But I do cover some distance, tennis-wise. (My longest trip is about 45 minutes to Enfield, Conn.)

He introduced all of the players by their first names, except for Mr. and Mrs. Hannigan.

Mrs. Hannigan is a small, wiry woman with wavy white hair. She stoops a little. Mr. Hannigan, also white-haired, has a bad hip. He hardly moves. I sized them up skeptically.

We did a drill where we hit cross-court with a partner, then rotated one spot to the right so that everyone eventually faced everyone else. I started out with Mr. Hannigan. Without moving, he returned a lot of balls.

But Mrs. Hannigan was the biggest surprise. George's big thing is the slice, which is natural on my backhand but not too pretty on my forehand. She sliced everything perfectly, high to low, the ball spinning backwards over the net. I missed some balls just trying to study her swing. She sliced, the ball spun backwards and died.

When it was time for us to rest, George put out cones for another drill. He gave Mrs. Hannigan the job of putting balls on all of the cones so that we would have a target.

"Mrs. Hannigan gets restless," he said. "She needs something to do."

"Thank you," she said, jumping up while the rest of us sank into our chairs under the hot sun.

Then came time to play. My last partner of the day, Jane, had already played both Mr. and Mrs. Hannigan. She said he is ambidextrous, quickly switching from his left to his right hand before his opponent even notices what's going on. I would have liked to see that.

Jane and I faced George and Mrs. Hannigan. She hit so many short angled slice shots that I told Jane maybe we should move closer to the net.

"Then she'll just lob us," Jane said. "I've seen it."

And that she did, hitting up, up, up over our heads to a spot that I might have gotten to 20 or so years ago. At that point I was getting a little loopy, and I burst out, "I want to be Mrs. Hannigan!"

She allowed a small smile, reminding me of our eighth-grade math teacher, Mrs. Casey, who put up with us and seemed to hold onto hope that eventually we would get it. We thought Mrs. Casey was really old, but she was probably in her 60s. She was big into "The Little Engine That Could."

Mrs. Hannigan was similarly encouraging.

"You can do it," she said.

Maybe when I grow up.


Joanna said...

Hi Ronni,

Tennis is such a great life long sport. I could never run like you do, but tennis is so forgiving, especially on clay. There is a woman at our club who still gets on the court and she is turning 100 on August 5th.


Ann said...

Such a great story.

Julie Goodale said...

I think I love Mrs. Hannigan. Glad you're getting out & playing!

donna said...

I think I love Mrs. Hannigan, too! How inspiring!