Tennis was a
sport Father should have avoided. This gentle game of grace and etiquette ran
against the grain of his natural tendencies, which were to get in there and
fight for everything that was yours and possibly a little extra. You would not
see Father rush up to the net to congratulate the guy who had just beaten him.
"Why should I shake hands with that crumbum after all those dirty
shots?" Father would say. Nor did he understand the hallowed tradition of
giving the other fellow the benefit of the doubt on calls. Father called them
exactly as he saw them, and committed no injustices to himself.
So when our club
announced the annual Fourth of July father-and-son tennis tournament, my
brother Charley and I were absolutely enthusiastic in our mutual agreement not
to mention the matter to Father. But he found out, and since he was in one of
those dangerous be-a-pal-to-your-kids periods, he announced that he and Charley
an appearance," Father said at the dinner table one night. "We may not
win, but we'll let 'em know we were on the premises. Remember boys, it's not
whether you win or lose!"
heard all that, Harvey," Mother said.
Charley and I
were apprehensive about Father's plans, and we spent long hours in trembly
discussion. I mean, we liked Father, but he could be embarrassing. He once
threatened to punch an umpire for calling a balk on me when I was pitching
against the Highland Avenue Eagles. You have no idea what it is like to stand
on the mound in a tight 18-17 ball game and hear your father shouting from the
sidelines, "One more call like that, Fatso, and I'll meet you after the
game!" What if Father did something like this in a tennis tournament, where
everybody was supposed to be a paragon of etiquette?
only two possibilities," Charley said to me. "One possibility is we
lose. The other is we lose big. Father is not gonna like either of these
There was also
the fact that Father was not exactly the most popular member of our
"Shadyside Swimming and Racquets Club, Ltd.," which was a pretentious
organization founded by a bunch of ribbon clerks and shoe salesmen who wanted
to get the heady feeling of belonging to a club, any club. We would not have
belonged to this stuffy club except that Father figured $50 a year was a cheap
price for summer-long tennis and swimming, and he enjoyed going to the club's
"formals" and creating a scene. It wasn't until Father had paid the
initiation fee and received an official club membership list that he realized
the true nature of the Shadyside Swimming and Racquets Club, Ltd. "Lookit
these names," he said to my mother. " 'Smith, Jones, Brown, Sedgwick,
Miller, Harmon....' Why, there isn't a single Eye-talian name, not a single
Jewish name, there isn't even any Irish!" A few discreet inquiries soon
established that this was no accident, whereupon Father began one of his
typical whispering campaigns. One night I heard him say to a fellow club
member, "You know what I found out today? Sedgwick is one-eighth Jewish on
his mother's side. Imagine him being president of this club and passing himself
off as a Gentile! It's a sin."
find out about it?" the fellow member asked excitedly.
noticed that his first name is Irving. Seemed like a funny name to me: Irving
Sedgwick. So I checked around and found out. Terrible thing! Terrible
the club's snobbery on other fronts. He showed up at the New Year's Eve dance
(black tie) wearing an old black knitted tie that hung down to his knees.
"It's a black tie, right?" he said to the doorman. The doorman had to
agree. That same night he and Mother were dancing a doubletime Big Apple (the
orchestra was playing The Nearness of You, but Father did not have much sense
of tempo), and just at one of those points where a mellow silence had fallen
over the dancers Father was heard to say, "Attaway, Caroline! Swing
it!" Several couples departed immediately, and the orchestra took up a
medley of folk tunes from around the world.