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For people who spend the day saying and writing things that others accept, while thinking things that are infinitely more interesting.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

A 100 Degree Summer

Growing up in Puerto Rico inures you to heat, as the blazing sun and high humidity wrap you like a damp blanket 270 days a year. I played all kinds of sports under Puerto Rico's summer sun, so walking around Oxford in the summer was fun. Even as the temperature slipped above 100 degrees, the relatively low humidity made it easy to live in.

Bill was also very comfortable in the mid-year sun, so in the summer of 1981, we began to play tennis as soon as the temperature topped 100. I think it was his idea, but I certainly jumped at it enthusiastically. Neither of us was really a good player and we actually had more fun whacking balls with exaggerated swings than trying to emulate classical play.

Several times that summer I'd be walking to the court and see people sitting on porches, fanning themselves with the slow desperate rhythm of the overcome. I stifled the urge to wave, for wasn't I blessed with youth, vim, vigor and a pleasant attraction to high infrared? Why rub it in? I'm smiling smugly now, just as I did then. (I didn't wave, but I smiled. Oh did I smile!)

What began as a day's impulsive whim soon stretched to three days, then six, eight and ten. Day after day, the heavy-handed heat slapped itself upon North Mississippi and sure enough, as the mercury hit triple digits, Bill and I hit the courts. Once we were able to determine that the temperature on the court was close to 125 degrees, the concrete slab almost clutching at us with wavy fingers of heat. And we played on.

Eleven, twelve, fourteen. Two full weeks of the longest heat wave in recent memory and we were as regular as two of those mechanical cuckoos. We played at least for an hour, often for two or more, a couple of young men just sharing time, space and the occasional metronome of ball over net.

Day fifteen. By noon, the temperature soared over 100 degrees and less than 20 minutes later, we were on the court. For almost an hour we engaged in our usual thwacking and wise-cracking play, when suddenly I began feeling tight, as if my stomach and leg muscles had turned to wood. I played through it and when I turned to pick up balls against the back fence, I slumped. Holding on with nerveless fingers kept me from falling. I didn't notice Bill standing next to me until he spoke.

I told him I was okay and let go of the fence. He asked me if it could be the heat and I gave him a look. But no retort emerged. With a touch of humility as new as the next minute, I nodded. Maybe. He asked me if I wanted to stop. I chuckled and said our streak had to go on. I took a deep breath, picked up the balls and we played on.

After 17 days, the temperature peaked at 98, then dropped to 95-97 for several days. It did hit 100 one more time and we didn't miss that. Our streak was intact, a tennis summer in the highest heat. It was a lark, an adventure, a deepened friendship and a lesson: I am not immune. Slow learner that I am, I needed several reminders before I got it right.


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