Tag: Mom

At the Table

I drove to Maryland to see my mom this weekend.  She’s living by herself in an independent living community (I thought of saying complex, but I wasn’t sure she would like that term).  My cousin lives very close by, and for the first year that my mom was there, they saw a lot of each other. However, now that people and employers are acting like the pandemic has ended, my cousin is traveling a lot for work.  For the first time, it seemed like my mom was feeling lonely.  

I woke up in Maryland on Saturday to a steady rain, checked the weather app, and it showed nothing but sprinkles, showers, and downpours throughout the day. This dashed any hopes of a walk.  Although she’s 92, my mom still moves pretty well.  We convinced her to use a walker for safety reasons, considering that she’s had two major hip surgeries.  She reluctantly agreed.  She’s had to make other sacrifices over the past few years.  She gave up tennis around age 87, partly because she didn’t trust herself not to be too competitive.

Now her only recreational sport is the table variety of tennis.  She’s having a bit of trouble finding partners in her community.  On the weekly calendar published for residents, there’s a slot on Thursdays at 1:00 p.m. that says, “Ping Pong with Mary,” but so far Mary (my mom) is the only one to show up.  She has one gentleman friend who rallies with her on Tuesdays.   My family wonders if perhaps some of the gentlemen are intimidated.  Mom does, after all, have her own paddle.  She insists, though, that she is not looking for competition.  “We won’t be keeping score,” she stresses.  “We’ll just be trying to keep the ball moving.”  She has had to reassure us of this promise, too.  We’ve all witnessed her competitive side.  “No, no, not anymore,” she tells us.  “I don’t even move backward from the table.  I can’t afford any more falls.”  

I’ve been playing ping pong with my mom since I was eight, when we inherited my grandmother’s table.  Transporting a ping pong table from New York to Maryland on top of a rental car in a blizzard is another story.  I’ll skip to the games in our basement.

We played a lot in our dark and unfinished basement.  At first I believed we were evenly matched, since all of our games seemed close, and we both managed to win about half the time.  The contests continued for years. From my summers at camp, where rainy days sometimes meant ping pong marathons, I became a much better player.   It was interesting, though, that as I got better, the outcomes of games with my mom didn’t really change.  Apparently my mom was getting better, too.  It was only when I was considerably older, when the rallies got more dramatic, the serves faster, and the lunging saves more common, that it dawned on me that Mom had been taking it easy in those early days.   

So, on Saturday, we ventured to the game room, with its bright lights, pool table, carpeting, and a much nicer table than our old basement relic. Mom parked her walker at the bench and scooped up her personalized paddle.  I grabbed one of the house paddles and wondered how this would go. We rallied.  We did not keep score.  There were no spins, no aggressive serves, and no drop shots…at least no intentional ones. We mostly hit the ball down the middle, though I was trying to give her backhands and forehands.  I didn’t hit any deep shots, and she didn’t make any reckless saves.  I’m guessing it was a lot like our first games.    

I wanted to capture some of the moment to share with my family, but wasn’t that easy to aim a phone while playing ping pong. Here’s a short clip from our time at the table.

Memories from Mom

“Grandma, were there any camp traditions that you loved that have been discontinued?”

Sarah was interviewing my mom again last night.  This time she was recording it for a retrospective that the camp is doing.  They’re trying to get oldtimers to share memories.

“Well, that’s an interesting question.  And you’re probably going to be surprised by my answer.  One thing I really liked at camp that I know they don’t do anymore is hold chapel services on Sundays.  You know, I was raised in a pretty secular household.  We didn’t really go to any kind of services, but at camp, I really liked “Chapel.”  

“We would sit outside at the boys’ camp and we always sang really pretty hymns.  I don’t really remember the words, but I always thought they sounded beautiful…of course not because of yours truly.  I never could carry a tune.”

“That sounds nice, Grandma.  Was there anything else you remember about it?”

“Well, I remember that it was a beautiful spot.  We sat in a small clearing in the shade of giant pine trees.  It was really very peaceful. I do remember one sermon.  Actually, it’s funny, I saw my friend Carol a few years back…well, a few years, it was probably 15 years ago, and we both remembered that same sermon.”

“Do you remember what they said?”

“Well, it was fifty, no sixty, no seventy-five years ago, so I don’t really remember all the words, but I do remember the idea.  It was a young counselor from the boys’ camp who gave the sermon.  He told the story of one of the boys at camp when he was a camper, and the boy had a uhh, what do you call it… a cloth thing…a sampler, that’s it.  He had a sampler that he hung over his bunk.  The boy was very well-liked.  He always treated everyone well.  He was very kind and courteous.  Anyway, he had this sampler, and it said, “I am third.”  That’s all it said. The other boys in the cabin had no idea what it meant, but this counselor who was telling the story says that at the end of their summer together, when they were packing up, he asked the boy what that sampler meant when it said, “I am third.”  Now this very kind and considerate boy said that it was something he always wanted to remember.  He said it meant this, ‘God is first, the other guy is second, and I am third.’  

“I was only 15 years old, and, as I said, I was not really religious, but I’ve always remembered that chapel service.”


I’ve been watching other slicers experiment with golden shovel poems, where they take a line of text from a story or poem and use those words as the first words or last words of each of the new poem’s lines.  I decided to give it a try.  It was going to be a separate exercise, but when I noticed that the line I’d pulled had the word “third” in it, it seemed to connect well with story the above. Thanks to fellow slicer, Fran for encouraging me to try this form.

I Am Third 

A golden shovel poem inspired by a line from Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi

The boy’s motto, “I am

Third,” the 

Key to his kindness.

She stowed away what the counselor

Said as he shared

A sermon in nature’s chapel, a

Sip of sublime in a grove

Of pines.  Wise words outlasting

Old traditions, echo forward from a bygone


Note:  The service my mom recalled took place in 1945, when my mom was 15 years old.  She’s nearing 91, now.  I am quite certain that in the 1970s when football star, Gale Sayers made “I am Third” more famous as the title of his autobiography, my mom was not aware.