Charley and I
reviewed all these happenings and concluded that nothing conducive to our peace
of mind, the Rhoades family's reputation or the commonweal could come out of
this tennis tournament. Our feelings were reinforced when we observed that
Father was avoiding practice meticulously. "Boys," he explained,
"there is no point in practicing. I plan to have fun, that's all. It
doesn't make a bit of difference whether we win or lose, so long as we have
fun." This was perfectly true, and Father was Helen Wills Moody.
Charley was 12,
and I was 14, and that made a total of 26 years of experience with Father's
thought processes, and we knew exactly what was going through his mind. He was
well aware that he and Charley were a cinch to lose the tournament. But if they
practiced and lost, they would have no excuse. Father wanted to be able to step
on the courts, announce that he hadn't played in a year and then go down to
dogged and glorious defeat at the hands of the poor fools who, unlike Father,
were not natural athletes and had to practice all the time. Then he could boast
for a year and use one of his favorite clich� lines: "Well, we lost, but we
sure threw a scare into 'em!"
The Fourth of
July dawned bright and hot, a bad sign for us, as Father was not renowned for
his stamina. Father suited up in his bathing trunks. He owned a tennis outfit,
but since the rules of the club specified that members must wear "tennis
togs" on the courts, Father preferred to dress in his red swimming trunks
as a gesture of contempt. "What the devil are 'tennis togs'?" Father
had asked Mr. Sedgwick when the club president had braced him on the matter the
year before. "I own these trunks and I say they're tennis togs." Mr.
Sedgwick allowed the matter to drop, which was a smart move as Father was
prepared to go all the way to the Supreme Court.
Father and I drove to the club, but Mother and Susan, being hothouse flowers
with gentle sensibilities, stayed home. As we backed out the driveway, we heard
Mother call, "I do hope the Vogue photographers are there, Harvey!"
Charley came up against the Millers in the first match. The Millers consisted
of a fat son and a fatter father. Since Charley was in good shape, and Father
(or Mother) could have beaten Mr. Miller just playing tennis from memory, the
Rhoades family had it easy. Sitting in the stands watching, fingers and toes
and legs all crossed, I had to marvel at Father's steadfast observance of the
most honored unwritten law of father-and-son tennis, i.e., the ball may be
slammed at the opposing father, but it must be hit softly at the opposing son.
"Father's such a good sport when he's winning," I said to myself, and
immediately felt ashamed.
match!" Father shouted as he aced Mr. Miller for the set and match point
and ran up to the net to pump the Millers' hands feverishly. "You didn't
beat us, but you sure threw a scare into us!" Mr. Miller, gasping for air,
was unable to acknowledge Father's sportsmanlike remarks.
The next match
pitted Father and Charley against the Shouses, who looked very tough because
Mr. Shouse was wearing an elastic support around his knee just like Vinnie
Richards, and his son Paul was wielding a genuine Ellsworth Vines racket, brand
new. Father and Charley lost the Shouses' service, then lost their own, then
had a conference. "We'll grind 'em down, sonny!" Father said. "No
net play at all. You play back, I'll play back, and we'll give 'em a 'getting'
game. Drive 'em nuts!" The third game began, and the Shouses, their
bloodlust whetted, began to get fancy. Paul would stand at the baseline and
whack everything as hard as he could, usually into the net; his father would
slink around the net and attempt to slam every ball. Father and Charley merely
protected the backcourt, feeding the Shouses a lot of soft lobs and pop-ups. By
the time the Shouses realized that a good way to beat a "getting" game
is to play a "getting" game, Father and Charley were on the long end of
a 7-5 set. Then they drew a bye for the third round. Our family was in the
Two hours later,
under the gaze of all the distinguished members of the Shadyside Swimming and
Racquets Club, Ltd., Harvey and Charles Rhoades, those two legendary greats of
tennis, strode out on the courts for the semis. "Just remember one
thing," Father said, as he threw an affectionate arm around Charley's
shoulder. "We have a chance to pull off the biggest coop of the year. Let's
get out there and win this thing for Mother!"
Mother?" Charley said.
Mother. For that sweet lady back at home pulling for us."