Our Competitive Racquetball Years

Baseball was my favorite spectator sport, but in junior high I soon developed an obsession for playing racquetball. It didn't start out as today's racquetball. In our school they played American handball where players used their bare or gloved hand to hit a small hard "ace ball" (which was later called a "blackball") against a one-wall court. The idea was to bounce it off the wall in such a way that the opponent had a hard time returning it. The boys got to play handball with a small blackball which is hard, and bounces higher than the ball the girls had to use. We were only allowed to play with a pink rubber Spalding high-bounce ball, which is much softer and doesn't bounce as high. I didn't think it was fair. It made me angry, an emotion nice girls like me were not allowed to express at school in the 1940s. Actually, it was not a good idea to express anger at home either. So many rules, so many boxes to be put in, like square pegs being forced into round holes.

I played the fake rendition of handball with a pink Spalding ball against any blank wall I came across on my long walk home from school. It was a ten-block walk from JHS 196 at 207 Bushwick Avenue, to 37 Conselyea where I lived. No one was concerned that I might get mugged or worse, least of all me. I passed a few plain garage doors where I could hit the ball as hard as a pink Spalding could take, without doing any damage.
That was good enough to get out my frustration at not being allowed to play the game with the proper ball because I was a girl. When I reached Devoe Street I was almost home, so every day I stopped at the library to chill out. There was no telling what kind of  mood Mom would be in at home, or what kind of chores awaited me.

I have no way of knowing what the gym teacher's motives were in giving us the girlie ball. Maybe she was just following orders. I do know on some level that that one small event influenced a huge part of my future life. As far as discrimination was concerned, that word wasn't even in my vocabulary yet. New York schools were organically integrated and there was also no need for the word integrated at that time. Kids went to the school closest to their house and that was that. I never had to ride on a school bus either and don't recall ever seeing one back then. At that time, I didn't know there were places in our country where you were judged by the color of your skin.

I grew up without TV and managed to exist without it until 1957, when Hal and I welcomed our beautiful first baby, Kimberli Jean, into the world. Hal's mother, Emily, bought us our first TV, black and white with a humongous picture tube. It was the greatest baby gift ever. My mom was practical and bought a complete layette for our Special Angel, including a Bathinette that you hooked up to a nearby sink. She was very much aware that with Hal being a sophomore at UF after serving his time in the U.S. Army and getting help from the G.I. Bill, he still had to work three part-time jobs at times to make it all work financially. I had quit my job at the Seagle Building just before my due date and Hal and I decided it would be best if I stayed home with our baby for at least six months. At least there were no student loans to worry about paying back for the rest of our lives. Life was so much simpler then.

My parents taught us be nice to everyone because you never know what's going on behind closed doors. There was only one family story about discrimination that was repeated behind our closed doors. I heard it so many times that it's engraved on my brain. It was the one about my four grandparents who left Italy for America, the land of opportunity, only to find out that opportunity was not for Italian immigrants at that time. Italians were part of the New Immigration. They came by the millions and were the most recent immigrants in their day. They were looked down on, even by the Irish who were previously the new immigrants and this new influx took some pressure off them and elevated them to a slightly higher social standing. That story always ended with the same line. When they got off the ship and went into Manhattan, the Help Wanted signs in storefront windows said Italians need not apply. Welcome to America. It's still that way for the latest immigrants, just change the name of the country they're from and it's the same old story. When will we ever learn.

I don't want this page to be about discrimination. Not today, when people are being killed all over the world because of the color of their skin or their different religious beliefs. Lately it's been happening here more often than I ever remember since the '60s. I need to get off this subject before I say more than I want to. Instead I've uploaded a different video and song than the one I originally planned for this page. I hope the younger generations find a way to make peace happen for all people and don't judge us too harshly, because my generation did try, in our own way. We just didn't get the job done.

One of my best friends in junior high was a beautiful girl named Frankie May Reilly. She was listed as Colored on forms that listed me as White, and nobody cared or said anything about it.  Later her designation was changed to Black. Frankie and I were two peas in a pod until graduation when we attended different high schools far apart. I suppose she's considered African-American now, if she's still alive. I never have understood that need to put people in boxes by color. We're not crayons.

I was fortunate that the only discrimination I experienced was being treated differently than the boys because I was missing a certain body part. For years, I've heard about women of all colors being discriminated against in their paychecks. Many still don't get paid the same as men for identical jobs. The press referred to it as women hitting the "glass ceiling." Well, the glass ceiling has a million cracks in it now and I hope the next President blows it to smithereens. I would never vote for a woman for President based on her gender. I'm thankful I don't have to. I'm proud to live in a country where I can vote my conscience and for that reason, I'm voting for Hillary Rodham Clinton for President this year. I hope she wins because of her lifelong experience as First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State, and not because she is a woman. It's because the alternative scares me.

When I started this page, I knew that racquetball had an unusually special meaning in my life.  It beckoned me to stop ignoring and start exploring whatever its significance was regarding beliefs or actions I engaged in as I grew up. I gave in and followed the yellow brick road back to a pink Spalding ball that was the only choice I was given if I wanted to play handball. Whether the reason was because I was a girl or not, really isn't significant. I believed it was and now I know that beliefs are a key ingredient in the process of creating your own reality. Thoughts are things.

OK, it's obvious that a little pink ball played a hefty part in my frustration about gender inequality. It led to my I'll-Show-You attitude, which led to my need to excel at racquetball and other ventures to prove I could do anything as well as, or better than, a man. More about that later. I want to stop and sing the song that's playing in my head as I type. It's Betty Hutton singing Anything you can do, I can do better.  Cute song from Annie Get Your Gun, but not necessarily a good message. I worked so hard to prove my worth to myself. Dr. Joel Friedman was right, everything you do, you do for yourself. In my life, I worked hard and I played hard. I don't regret it but I do think I could have relaxed more and meditated on these issues and probably would have arrived at the same conclusions. I do want to get back to the subject of this page soon, but these times are valuable to me, when I hit the pause button in my mind to search for childhood clues to today's woman.

Spalding High-Bounce

The invention of the game of racquetball is credited to Joseph G. Sobek, a professional handball, squash, and tennis player from Connecticut. He and a partner decided to combine the rules of handball and squash to make up rules for racquetball, which was known then as "paddle rackets."  It was aptly named because soon wooden paddles bigger than ping pong paddles showed up in the stores and saved many a handball-blistered hand. Some people called the first racquets "woodies." I was telling some teenagers about the origin of the sport and when I said "woodies" they looked at each other and then me, for my reaction, and then started giggling and thought I was making it up! Really, woodies? Language changes over time, doesn't it? Have you noticed the capital letter "A" has been losing its crossbar more and more. I've watched it for years and predict it will end up looking like an upside-down "V."

Somehow I managed to buy those first wooden paddles that were soon replaced by wooden paddles that looked like someone got happy with a drill and made lots of little holes in them. Finally, the ones that eventually looked like short-handled tennis racquets appeared, followed by the exotic composites of today. We stopped replacing our racquets before the exotic composites appeared. Thanks to Kevin Deighan for this graphic from his awesome collection.

Racquetball Racquets
                      from Kevin Deighan Collection

There is something about the high intensity of the game that was much more satisfying to me  than tennis. Almost all the girls at Grover Cleveland High played tennis and said racquetball was for boys and would ruin their tennis arm. I didn't care. I had found my sport and it served me well for a lifetime.

When I worked as Director of the Blood Supply at the newly opened Civitan Blood Bank, now renamed LifeSouth, for some reason I ended up supervising a lot of young men in their 20s. They thought it was "cute" that I liked to play racquetball every day after work. After all, I was 40-something and a woman playing a man's game. They teased me over it so much that one day I told them I could beat the pants off all of them if they weren't too afraid to play me. They had a good laugh at my expense, so I challenged each one of them to a game of singles to teach them a lesson. I guess their egos, and the fact that I was their boss, didn't allow them an opening to say no. You can probably guess how this story ends. I played them, one at a time, and beat them all unmercifully and they never mentioned racquetball again. End of story.

When I met Gordon, he was a tennis player and had never played racquetball, but he liked learning new things so I offered to teach him to play if he was open to it. He said yes, but in exchange, I had to agree to play tennis with him a couple of times. I told him I didn't like the game but I would try. I was awful! He agreed, jokingly I expect, that I was probably the worst tennis player he had ever played and suggested we start playing racquetball together soon. I was so happy to have a permanent partner for my favorite game. We played well with each other and for the first six months I beat him every time. We were still getting to know each other then, so
I was surprised he seemed so pleased that I always won. I suspected he was going to change that outcome eventually.

He signed up for a course called
Beginners Racquetball at Santa Fe Junior College. He improved quickly, but I was still winning all the games. I had been playing off and on all my life and I was patient because I knew he was new at it. Then the next semester, Gordon signed up for Advanced Racquetball at Santa Fe, and that's when he left me in the dust. He had developed a wicked backhand shot down the line that I could not compete with no matter how hard I tried. Within a few months, he won every game we played and seemed very pleased with himself about it! I thought it was great. I didn't care who won as long as he'd still play with me.

Gordon playing racquetball in 1982

I took the above picture of Gordon while he was playing singles with another guy. It was 1982, the wonder year we got married.  That year we decided to begin playing doubles. We started playing at indoor courts with four walls and a ceiling and won just about every twosome we played. Many were challenges from 20-something macho UF students who were impatiently waiting for us to finish so they could have the court. We both agreed it felt like there was something else operating and not just wanting the court. They also wanted to show us they could beat the old folks. We were still 46 then. One UF student actually told us not to worry, they'd take it easy on us. Oh, that was a big mistake on his part. Gordon and I exchanged knowing looks that silently said,  Let's teach these kids a lesson! Oh boy, were they surprised by Gordon's backhand shot down the line, and my forehand pass shot down the line. One might say we were a bit competitive that day, but not in a bad way. We just wanted to teach them a lesson. We were already fighting ageism at that early age and didn't even know it. It was such a fun time of life, young and in love, with a lifetime ahead of us to share everything together.

In all our racquetball mania years, there was only one racquetball-related glitch that came up, but it was quickly solved. I eventually got fired from Gainesville's first private blood bank that I helped organize from scratch. It was one of the best things that ever happened to me, being fired, that is. It released me from an attachment to my position that I couldn't let go of without help. I tried and failed to convince myself to give my two-week's notice when I knew it was time for a change.

I love being able to write this my way and go off on a tangent when I feel like. That's my obvious segue to warn you that I'm about to do just that. Segue is such an odd Latin word that I spelled incorrectly for a year before I realized it. I love creating new things from scratch, and that applied to my jobs, too. I like to do it alone before they get screwed up by too many cooks stirring the broth. My modus operandi  at every job I enjoyed, was to organize something brand new, or to reorganize something old that wasn't working. I found it exciting and challenging. When I felt like I had done all I could do, I would write the job descriptions for all the positions, followed by a simple procedure manual for the organization. I always hung around long enough to make sure anyone could do the job if he/she would just read the manual, and then I would turn in my resignation. I knew inside when it was time to move on and find the next challenge, but the blood bank was my baby and I wasn't ready to let go.

I knew there was always an opportunity around the corner to organize something, even if it's your Man Cave, or hair accessories that fill two suitcases when you travel. (Sorry, Cilla, I couldn't resist that one, and you do have the most gorgeous hair!)

I'll write about getting fired from the blood bank later because it was so important in my life. It was one of the first validations I ever got of my ability to create my own reality. It only took a few techniques. I have David Cochrane, well known astrologer, to thank for his instructions on how to detach from a job consciously. It only took three weeks and my reward was that I got a year's sabbatical AKA Workman's Compensation. It was the first time I ever got a vacation from work that lasted that long.

I spent the next year living in Gordon's condo with two of his three teenage sons. Then I decided to be a census taker for the 1980 Federal Census. It was a short-term job I took to ease myself back into the work force. In retrospect, it's obvious I needed that experience to become the genealogist that I am now. I learned a valuable lesson from that experience. Although census records are used as source documents in genealogy, they may not be 100% accurate, either by choice to mislead, or by giving a guess when they weren't sure of the answer. The value of the document depends on who's answering the census taker's questions.

Next I took a job as Office Manager at Trinity United Methodist Church. They didn't hire church members for that job, so I qualified. My position also included being secretary for the Senior Minister, the late Rev. Dean Martin. My immediate supervisor was the wonderful and benevolent Church Administrator, the late Harold Kelley. He noticed I worked through the lunch hour every day so I could get off at 4 pm. He told me that he had read a study that showed an employee needs that hour lunch break in order to be more productive in the afternoon. He was really attached to my doing that. However, I had to get off at four o'clock before everyone else got off work,
so Gordon and I could meet to play racquetball. We didn't have the patience to wait for a court every day.

I told Harold that I only had two speeds, on and off, and if I stopped for lunch, I wouldn't be productive at all when I got back. I'd need a nap. It wasn't a lie. I'm pretty sure he talked to Dean about it and Dean asked Harold to give in and let me do what I wanted or I might quit. Actually, that's what I heard through that grapevine that exists in every job I've ever had, and churches were no exception. Harold gave in and 4 pm racquetball was saved for the rest of my time at Trinity. A few years later I resigned when my job took too much time away from my new hobby, creating a publication called New Age Gainesville, a brand new challenge in pre-computer days. When I figure out at which point to include that venture in this book, I'll ask Darrell to copy it as one very long chapter. He's my webmaster and all around computer guy now. He's doing the things he does so well that I was more than ready to let go of. I enjoyed doing it all myself years ago, but now I prefer to put Seth's words into action and If it's not fun, stop doing it!

Years later, I learned that the reason I needed a nap after lunch or any meal had to do with my over-consumption of carbohydrates every day. I was an Italian bread junkie and never met a pizza I didn't like. Once I got that under control, I didn't require a nap after lunch and I still don't, unless I stay up all night. I have boundless energy at 80 and like to say I'm a relative of the Energizer Bunny. Now I sleep whenever I feel sleepy and stay awake half the night if I want to write, like I'm doing right now.

The only racquetball accident we were ever part of, took place in New Orleans. We were visiting Gordon's sister, Nurse Melody, and her husband, Larry. It was the first time for me to meet Larry and their seven-year-old son. Gordon called ahead to tell them we couldn't miss a day of racquetball and asked if they could line up a court for us somewhere. Larry found us an indoor court at a nearby college. It was the first time we played on a court that had indoor-outdoor carpeting. How odd. We were ferocious players and played cutthroat with Larry, a variation where one person plays against the other two. We rotated so we each had a turn to play the other two.

We learned a hard lesson we never forgot. Never assume anything. We assumed Larry had played racquetball a lot since he was familiar with the rules and all.  After we played awhile, he ran right into my swing and my racquet hit his arm so hard that he got a huge hematoma instantly,
a frightening, rapidly-enlarging blood clot the size of an egg.

We hurried back to his house where Melody assured us it would go away by itself without having to rush to the emergency room. She was so calm about it and that calmed us down. That was the first time I had ever met my brother-in-law and I gave him a hematoma. I don't think I made a great first impression, do you?  I felt awful about it for a very long time. Larry and I still are good friends, though I'm sad to say Melody, the younger sister I never had until I married Gordon, passed away in 2015.

I forgot to mention a few things. One thing has to do with all the different choices of balls there are now for racquetball. Over time, there have been at least 25 different manufacturers of balls in all colors and all different kinds of containers, like the graphic below of Kevin Deighan's collection. The online United States Racquetball Museum site says, It must be hard to manufacture the perfect ball, seeing that there have always been problems like breakage, inconsistent bounce, speed, etc.  Past or present, no two balls seem to be the same.  The Museum is on Facebook if you would like to see their page and photos. They would like you to "Like" them on Facebook, but only if you would like to.

Racquetball balls

There's also a U.S. Racquetball Foundation that is committed to fundraising to ensure the future of racquetball. They spearheaded Kids-On-Courts, along with Life Time Fitness, USA Racquetball, and the Minnesota Racquetball Association. One of their projects is to recruit juniors for the National Junior Olympic Championship games. 

Much ado about racquetball. Like most interests, racquetball had a long heyday for us, but gave way after twenty years or so to new interests we called our "Three Gs," genealogy, geocaching, and gardening. Gordon and I were born 20 hours and 836 miles apart. My birthday came first and on that day Gordon loved to say he married an older women. He got a lot of mileage out of those 20 hours I had on him. I told him, and anyone who would listen,  that when we were on the other side, we decided to come into this incarnation together. I "jumped" first and ended up in Brooklyn. He hesitated for just a moment and ended up in Jasonville, Indiana! We were pretty sure it had to be that way for our lives to play out the way they did. Perhaps we decided before this lifetime which experiences we wanted to have together. We believed the children that were born to us in our first marriages were part of the plan, theirs and ours. He and I never had children together though we did manifest some daughters of the Spirit in our lives who will always be our forever children. You know who you are, Susan and Debbie.

We always celebrated our birthdays on the same day to make it easier for our combined seven children to celebrate us together instead of one day after the other. Then we'd go out alone together on the other day. I mention this because I'm used to using the singular "on our birthday" but although Gordon liked to say we were "joined at the hip" we were obviously not conjoined twins in this lifetime. We just felt that way.

That said, we wanted to do something memorable for our 70th birthday. I wanted to get my first and only tattoo, a Celtic-looking rendition of Love and Light. Gordon wanted to play racquetball again. We did both. The tat turned out great and didn't hurt at all. The racquetball game was kind of funny. We hadn't played in a few years and weren't very good anymore. After we finished the game, Gordon looked at me and said, in his most serious voice, that we probably didn't need to repeat that again. We had a good laugh over it. I still have the last racquets we bought and find it hard to let go of them, so I won't, until I get a clear YES!

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