“A healthy mind in a healthy body…” The saying is derived from Latin poet Juvenal’s ‘Satire X’.
“It is to be prayed that the mind be sound in a sound body.
Ask for a brave soul that lacks the fear of death, which places the length of life last among nature’s blessings
which is able to bear whatever kind of sufferings, does not know anger, lusts for nothing and believes the hardships and savage labours of Hercules better
the satisfactions, feasts and feather bed of an Eastern king.
I will reveal what you are able to give yourself;
For certain, the one footpath of a tranquil life lies through virtue.”
The concept of “a healthy mind in a healthy body” was a leitmotiv that ran like a strong thread through much of my parents’ philosophy of child rearing. It influenced very strongly my own beliefs regarding parenting.
This morning’s newspaper had a big headline – $22M PLAN AIMS TO MAKE ONE MILLION HEALTHIER IN B.C. and the subheading states – Victoria, health groups want to ‘create a new social norm’. “Right now in British Columbia, only about half the population is considered at a healthy body weight, 20 per cent are smokers, 40 per cent are physically inactive and most – 60 per cent – don’t eat the recommended daily serving of fruit and vegetables.” Darah Hansen, Vancouver Sun.
My parents are both deceased, but I wondered today, how they each may have reacted to this news. They were strong believers in the fact that healthy ways of living were to be learned in the bosom of the family, and that these were best established by modelling desirable behaviors. Sport was something they each enjoyed; our family’s sport was tennis and we spent many years on the courts. It was not government initiative that had us all spend many pleasurable hours hitting and chasing the fuzzy white balls.
At the nearby high school, there are two brand new ashphalt courts. I drive by these often and very rarely see people playing there. So there these courts sit, largely unused. No groups of teenagers hang about there, socializing as they wait to take turns for their chance to play.
Tennis is the sport that never failed to make me feel good. It didn’t require expensive equipment and clothing, nor the payment for the privilege of playing, nor the need to travel long distances in order to take part in. It is an easily accessible sport which is as much fun to watch as it is to play. And it is an activity which can be done to a fairly advanced age.
This is my tennis story:
I don’t remember far enough into the past as to what age I was when Anyu and Apu first took Ildiko and me to the tennis courts in Gyor, our home town. As far as my memory ranges, it seems that we spent most Sundays afternoons, until daylight faded, en famille at the courts from May until October.
Our tennis outings began with a brisk half hour walk through town, Anyu and Apu setting the pace up ahead, and Ildiko and I trying to keep up with them while at the same time bouncing tennis balls. She and I didn’t have tennis raquets of our own, and the balls we were allowed to play with were a couple of worn hairless brick-coloured ones.
When we arrived, slightly out of breath, at the cinder fields which were surrounded by metal mesh fencing enclosed by a perimeter of tall shivering poplars, I always thought of the place as an huge outdoor room, open to the blue sky with a red floor and flickering dark and light green walls.
Once we entered the cinder ground, Apu would place his racquet by an available court and begin to freshen up the white chalk lines which divided the playing area. Anyu always busied herself with setting the net to the correct height, while Ildiko and I fooled around well behind the base-line, dribbling our ratty balls, competeing with each other to see who could make the highest number of consequent dribbles. Once the court was ready for occupation Anyu took up her spot facing away from the sun, and opposite her Apu faced into the sun. Ildiko squatted outside the side-line near the net. It was her job to retrieve balls caught up there. My place as ball-girl was behind the base-line, near the fencing, and here I scrambled around to pick up balls missed by Anyu and to return them to her when she needed them.
We never got a chance to take the racquets and play until well after Anyu and Apu were ready for a breather – and they were tough and played for extended periods. Then, as they sat on side benches, Ildiko and I took up their racquets and attempted to play against each other. We held the racquets incorrectly, grasping them near the head because they were too heavy for us if we held them properly. We chased around on the loose cinder surface and tried not to slip and fall down. To slip and fall down meant skinned legs with bits of red cinders embedded in the scrapes, entirely unpleasant.
When Anyu and Apu decided to resume playing, we returned to our appointed spots, and carried on our roles. As we began to understand the rules of the game and proper scoring, Ildiko helped call accuracy of serves, and I delighted in yelling when balls overshot the baseline. Sometimes Anyu couldn’t see the accuracy of a shot, as she was engrossed and concentrated on returning the balls to Apu, so when I called the shot inside the line and she had missed it she would shoot me an irritated glance. If Ildiko called fault on a serve, she risked annoying Apu. Sometimes, they got fed up with our presence on the court and dismissed us to go and play with our balls anywhere but near them. Of course this meant that we had to stay well clear of other adults playing on nearby courts.
At times like this we practiced bouncing the balls under our lifted legs and held competitions as to who could dribble their ball the longest time. When we got bored of this we went back and sat on the sidelines watching various pairs or foursomes playing. We didn’t know where the word “Lov” came from, and only knew that it was a word we recognized as a scoring word. We learned that “Falt” meant the ball fell outside correct bounds. This was a secret tennis language to me; these words were only used on the tennis courts. Very odd!
We were always so eager to play for just a few minutes allowed us with the racquets on the court. This was a privilege granted us for good behavior while there. I constantly badgered Anyu about when I might be old enough to have my own tennis racquet. She indicated that when Ildiko was ten, she would have her own one, and since I was nearly two years younger I would have a little longer to wait for my own. This wait seemed awfully far away in the future, but it was definitely something to look forward to. I could hardly wait! Ildiko was eagerly anticipating turning ten.
It was not until I was fourteen and Ildiko was sixteen that Anyu and Apu were able to afford to buy used tennis racquets, in Canada. For a few years they shared theirs with us and took turns playing against each of us in turn. We did drills in forehands, backhands, lobs, volleys and serves; they were patient and devoted teachers. The buying of a new can of tennis ballls was a big deal; we played with balls until they became freyed messes and bounced in a soggy manner. Whenever Apu could afford it, he bought a new can of Spaldings. I loved opening it by inserting the little pull-off key into the tab around the crimped rim and peel back a strip of the metal to open the lid; the first hiss of the breaking vacuum seal never failed to thrill; the pickle smell of brand new tennis balls was a welcome familiar and the untouched fresh nap of white fuzz bounded by the smooth rubber seams promised some good sets to come.
When Ildiko was in grade 11, Apu bought her a wooden Dunlop racquet with gut strings and a tensioning clamp. She was a very good player and was the girls singles player on our high school tennnis team. Anyu handed me down her own good wood racquet when she bought her new one. I liked Anyu’s racquet as the grip was comfortable, I was used to it and the balance and weight of it seemed perfect for me. I played girls doubles and mixed doubles on the school team. Ildiko and I played against each other several times a week for practice, and walked a fair distance to the courts nearest our house, each time. We both loved the sport. I never really liked playing on asphalt, but there were only asphalt courts in Canada, however one didn’t as easily slip on them as on the Hungarian cinder courts.
Since those early years, I have played on grass and clay courts as well. Each type of court surface has its peculiarities, advantages, drawbacks and difficulties. But it is the crumbly, red cinder court of my Hungarian home town which was the first playing field where my love and pleasure of tennis was planted. I may never again play tennis on a cinder court but every sight of that particular red – stone, gravel or clay of a matte surface quality – prods memories of family tennis outings more than fifty years ago.