My Wicked Wicket Ways...|
Posted: August 19th. 2002
Times Viewed: 7,732
Whack! That sound could only mean one thing at my house on a hot August day: A croquet game was in progress on the Front Lawn. Almost every weekend at the white New England style farmhouse, the entire extended family would gather for fun and games and steamed clams. I didn't care much for the clams then and I still don't -- those gray drippy things with the bulging bellies (Ee-yew!) -- but the fun and games part was always something to look forward to. We had a rather large piece of property and so in the proper New 'Hamp-shah' Victorian tradition, we also had several different 'yards'. The Side Yard sported the badminton net. The 'Side' was narrow, but flat on the top and -- more importantly to the players and their ankles -- fairly free of holes. It perched at the top of a hill that then declined sharply. During the winter months, sleds and toboggans replaced the nets and birdies and so it was tradition to then call it the 'Slide Yard'. We could start at the top of the hill, zoom down the slope, make a sharp, skittering right turn at the bottom and then proceed down the road to the dead end. There we had to apply the brakes or bail out because the next stop was the ten-foot deep ditch that marked the end of the line. Sometimes though --if the snow was deep enough to pad the sharp rocks at the bottom -- we even made a chute down the ditch. It was a nice, long ride.
In the Back Forty, and next to the barn, was the horseshoe pit. Inside the barn, it was always cool even in the hottest weather and so while the men folk took turns at heavin' the shoes, they also took turns at the big washtub stocked with ice and beer in the barn. As the afternoon horseshoe game wore on -- and the level of beer bottle consumption went up -- the spot under the barn's foundation became a great haven of safety for the dogs. While the pups themselves remained unscathed, there are still some horseshoe-induced gouges on the faded red barn siding, I'm sure. The Front Lawn though --that was always reserved for croquet.
For those of you who may have had a seriously deprived childhood (or adulthood), croquet is a lawn game played with balls and mallets. Each ball is a different color and has a striped mallet to match it. Modern mallets sometimes have a rubber bumper on the smacking surface which -- to my way of thinking -- spoils the whole thing. That satisfying whack when the mallet contacts with the ball is one of the best parts of the process. It is a simple game with simple rules and all ages can participate. The object of the game is to get your ball through all of the hoops --called wickets -- and 'peg out' first by hitting the final stake (post). There are nine wickets in the lawn version of croquet and they are laid out in sort of an hourglass configuration. Every time you smack your ball through a wicket, you get another turn.
Lawn croquet is played as a rather genteel and civilized game for the most part. As you wait for your next turn, you can engage in a lot of conversation and swoosh casually at the grass with your mallet. We played the game for hours and hours with mothers and fathers and cousins and friends all rotating in and out. And all of the generations-- from youngest to eldest -- played together, talked together, laughed together and casually swooshed the grass together. I heard a lot about the family history during those games. And, as a serious child with a curious nature, a whole lot more. Because it is such a leisurely and gentle sort of game, people tended to relax their guard and reveal things that perhaps they never would in any other context. In fact, just about everything that I know about human nature, I learned from playing croquet.
Except for the swear words. Those I learned over by the horseshoe pit.
One game in particular stands out in my mind. There were just four of us playing at the time. There was Kathy, an eight-year old friend from down the street, my cousin, Chrissy who was four, my next-door-neighbor, Bobby, who was a gangling and almost six-foot tall fifteen and myself. At twelve, I was just coming out of my tomboy stage (complete with buck teeth and perpetually scabbed knees). I had just discovered that boys might be more interesting than I had previously given them credit for. And Bobby looked pretty darned interesting. I even found his fifteen-year-old male arrogance to be somewhat intriguing in a hormone budding sort of way. Leaning upon his mallet, with an air of studied indifference, he was complaining about the sorry lack of real competition here. He hadn't even wanted Chrissy to play with us, but Kathy and I convinced him to let her at least try.
Chrissy was such a sweet child with curling blonde locks and big cornflower blue eyes. She was quiet and already more feminine than I will ever be. She only wanted to wear dresses. She hated getting dirty. She loathed bugs. But, in her own quiet little way, she was also very, very stubborn. Chrissy would just stare at you with those big cornflower eyes and then -- when you had finally exhausted all of the many reasons why she was too young to play with the 'big kids' -- she would just quietly ask again, "So, can I play with you guys?" She usually got to play. I was really quite fond of her.
When it was Bobby's turn again, he whacked his ball a good one. It sped swiftly across the lawn and then rolled to a clinking stop -- right up against Chrissy's ball. Now the one completely nefarious rule in the otherwise civilized and genteel game of croquet is that when your ball hits another player's, you get to whack that unfortunate victim's ball to kingdom come. In the regular version of the game, there are boundaries. No matter how far out of the boundary lines your ball might travel, you still get to bring it back up to the boundary line. We never played by those rules. We played 'No Boundaries Croquet'. So I knew and Kathy knew and Chrissy knew that Chrissy's ball was probably going to be taking a very long trip. It was one of those moments when it seems that the whole world holds Her breath. Chrissy just looked at her ball where it was nestled alongside Bobby's and then looked over at him. There was a look in those big blue eyes that was a strange mixture of pleading and resignation. Both Kathy and I looked at her and then we looked at Bobby. I don't think that either one of us was breathing either. And then Bobby smiled. He smiled a smile of satisfaction. His eyes took on this odd cold glint as he said, "You knew the rules, Chrissy. Remember, you wanted to play. And now you're gonna have to pay..."
Chrissy's ball actually became airborne so hard did Bobby smack it. We watched it sail over the Lawn and land --finally-- in the middle of The Field. The Field was a patch of unmowed hay and saw grass which bordered the Front Lawn The grass would cut your legs if you ran through it and hidden brambles would try and trip you up along the way. It was the wilderness. And it was full of bugs. Big bugs and spiders and all of the sort of skittery things that Chrissy loathed. And Bobby knew that she loathed. Kathy and I looked at Chrissy as she followed the flight of her ball. We saw her shoulders slump as she realized just where it was headed. I think she let out a little sigh. Chrissy turned back to look at Bobby. Her eyes were full with unshed tears. Bobby just laughed and then began casually swooshing at the grass while a little smirk played at the corner of his mouth. "Hey, kiddo. Thems the rules. If you can't play by the rules, then you should stick to your little baby games..."
Chrissy never said a word. She just straightened up her shoulders and wiped one small hand across her eyes. And then she set out into the wilderness. She knew that she was about twenty four-year-old arm strokes out there. Chrissy knew that when she finally got her ball back on the Lawn, the game would be over and she would come in last. But she went anyway. It turned out in the end that while she was just about right on the number of strokes that it would take her to get back to the playing field, Chrissy was quite wrong about the outcome of the game. Chrissy didn't lose. Bobby did.
Now this isn't some typical morality tale and so this isn't where I stop the narration to expound on the virtues of good sportsmanship or compassion for those who are weaker than we are or otherwise pontificate about how those who 'live by the mallet will die by the mallet". Nope. But this is the part of the story in which I think that I first realized that deep within my twelve-year-old yet undeveloped bosom beat the bleeding heart of a person who cannot abide injustice or cruelty. Rules are rules and while I have come to despise the word 'relative' over the intervening years, I understood right then and right there that even though something may indeed be sanctioned by the rules, it doesn't always mean that it is the moral or ethical thing to do. And it was now my turn to play.
I knew every inch of the Front Lawn and the Side Yard. I knew where every slight dip in the ground was and where every stiff patch of turf was sown. At the instant when my ball came in contact with Bobby's, I knew just where his ball was going. Looking at my face, I think Bobby knew just where his ball was going, too.
Across the Front Lawn and over the driveway, his ball sailed. It was a very good thing that no one was playing badminton as the thing raced under the net and came right up to the edge of the slope. I held my breath. Had I hit it hard enough? For just a second, Bobby's ball teetered at the edge and then it went over. Down the slope, it rolled. And because the Side was covered in grass and not in icy snow, it went slowly enough that it was barely moving when it hit the road. Gravity did the rest. Down the road it went and as it built up speed again, it began to bounce. And it continued to bounce right up until it finally bounced down the ten feet into the rocky ditch below. I could probably never make that same shot again.
Now Bobby wasn't a complete loser -- no more than any other fifteen-year-old boy might be when he is taking out his new masculinity genes for a spin -- and he got the point right away. Years later, he told me that he had been very shocked to learn that 'I had it in me' and -- since we were pretty comfortable with one another at that point -- I confessed that I had been just as shocked to discover that I indeed 'had it in me' as well. We remained friends until he went away to college and then finally settled down to raise a family out west somewhere. Chrissy now lives in Nova Scotia and I --well, you kinda already know where I am and what I am doing these days.
You sure can learn a lot about human nature while playing a very civilized and genteel round of croquet. And you sure can discover a few interesting things about yourself...
Co-Founder - The Witches' Voice
Monday, August 19th., 2002
Article ID: 4633
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 4,385
Times Read: 7,732
Location: Tampa, Florida
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