|114 Forest Dr.; Kent, OH|
Our home from 1974-1978
I posted this photograph the other day in a story I wrote about showing our grandsons the "shrines" of their father's childhood--including this house in Kent where we lived until our son had just turned six. And the picture reminded me of something ...
You see that we had a concrete driveway--an improvement we added to the place a year or so after we bought it. But in the background you can also see a basketball backboard and rim. Also ours. And, as the Bard said, thereby hangs a tale.
I had been a middling basketball player back at Hiram High School--good enough to play on the varsity, good enough to earn 2nd team all-county honors in 1962, but not good enough to play much on the Hiram College freshman team--and certainly not good enough to play on the college varsity. I quit after my freshman year and played intramurals thereafter.
But I'd always loved roundball, and I'd always wanted to have a hoop in the driveway. First came the driveway; next, the hoop. We bought the backboard and rim at Sears, but I knew we now had a problem: My handyman skills are nil. But I thought, how hard can this be? (Plenty, I quickly found out.)
Fortunately, we had a neighbor next door (on the other side of the driveway), Mr. Gillette (his daughter, Patty, sometimes played with our son, Steve), who was very handy. He saw me out in the driveway one day about to kill myself on a ladder when he came over and offered help. I didn't need to be asked twice.
Mr. Gillette didn't know about basketball, but he knew about carpentry. He asked me How high does the rim need to be? I told him. He went into his shop, came out a bit later, climbed the ladder, hammered and whatever, and the backboard was up. He went back to his shop, got his tape measure, had me climb the ladder. We measured the distance from rim to ground: exactly ten feet. He smiled.
I was grateful and ecstatic and began shooting hoops out there very day. (The sounds of the pounding ball probably made Mr. Gillette wonder what he had wrought!)
Son Steve was a wee lad at the time. Born in the summer of 1972, he lived in that house only until he finished kindergarten; then we moved to Lake Forest, IL, for a year. Anyway, Steve liked to be outside with me when I was shooting hoops. And I taught him to dribble and what-not. He was a very athletic kid--loved to play wiffleball and just about any other game. But what frustrated him was that hoop. He just could not hurl that ball high enough to get it over the rim. And it was making him very angry.
I did the usual Daddy Thing: I lifted him up so he could make a shot; I put him on a little footstool--that sort of thing. And he found all of that mildly amusing. But not satisfying. He wanted to make a real basket. He would stand right near the basket and hurl that ball with two hands--underhanded and overhanded--but it just would not go in. He would keep trying until he had no energy left. And by the end--and as he knew his energy was dwindling, and as he knew a ball-in-the-basket was not going to happen that day--he would cry. Inconsolably. I tried to encourage him. Ohhhh--alMOST! But almost was not good enough for him.
But then--one glorious day--the ball went over the rim--and in!
Oh, the celebration. An NBA championship ... the French Revolution ... Don Larsen's perfect game ... the discovery of fire ... the domestication of the wolf ... the slaying of Goliath ... Neil Armstrong on the moon ... Balboa's sighting of the Pacific ... E=MC2--all paled in significance. And there were tears all around this time.
Years passed. Steve played on community children's teams, his middle-school team, his high-school team. And that was it. Years passed. Steve married, had two sons. Bought a house.
Bought a stand-alone driveway hoop--the adjustable kind. The kind that a sensitive father can lower for a little lad who wants to sink a basket. Just like Dad.