The Idyll of Eighth Grade Afternoons

4 April 2019
The asphalt beneath my feet felt strangely reminiscent of the decades-gone, after-school basketball games we played in 8th grade on a friend’s driveway court…a court that had a slight downward slope toward the basket, so driving for a layup meant having enough control to shoot and stop before running or stumbling into the unforgiving heft of his garage door. Most of us opted to shoot from the outside to avoid swooping in for an easy basket and hoping to brake in time to stay clear of the door.

That reminiscence limped back to mind (yes, I had some scrapes with that garage door), triggered by my grandson who wanted to shoot some baskets on his driveway backboard, before¬†going to baseball practice. The pleasure of past afternoon idylls rose to the top of memory…in spite of missed shots, turned ankles and the run-ins with the door. I was curious to see, if any of those past pleasures could be resurrected. Besides no one wants to think that skills are gone and¬†he can’t light up the court again. Memory’s a wonderful motivator.

Of course, the muscle memory that allows you to improve one day to the next had relaxed its sway over improving my skills, since I had taken a hiatus of decades between basketball appearances. Among other things, it’s easy to forget how big a basketball is…and how small the rim. And the rim from my verticality seemed extraordinarily high. The clouds were never my basketball playground. Well below the rim was where I worked. But with a few shots…adjusting the angle of incidence, the angle of reflection and generating enough propulsion, I was certain to be back in the zone again.

Well, a few practice shots turned into a few dozen, but like recalibrating high-arching mortar rounds, shots began hitting the rim, then some bounced around the rim and then some fell in. Self-satisfaction, that old feeling, began to return…I can still play this game. My grandson, all of ten, who had been draining two, three, four outside shots in a row, began to take notice. The long-ago idyll of driveway basketball began to have a sultry hold on me again. Suddenly the basket seemed within reach, not that I could touch the rim or even the net without a ladder…but it wasn’t as daunting.

But then the myth of Icarus, flying too close to the sun, showed once again, that a quick fall from the heights of hubris teaches us never to forget humility. An errant short shot bounced past the backboard. I retrieved it and threw it to my grandson. Walking back to the court, a label on the adjustable upright, holding the backboard caught my eye. It showed the height of the rim…ten feet I was sure…normal height. Except the indicator bar, sadly, told a different tale…nine feet. I was praising my quick return to form a bit prematurely.

As an aunt of mine once said…self-praise is no praise. We shouldn’t be too quick to put on a swagger.