Homesick for Then

Across the street, a kid is standing in his driveway and throwing a tennis ball against the chimney of his house. I think the purpose of this game is to see how high on the chimney he can get the ball. His is a three-story house so the chimney is very tall. So far, he hasn’t hit the top. The ball goes high but not highest, still he is undeterred.

When one of my sons was a young teenager, he would stand in the middle of the street in front of our house and throw a football, a pass to an imaginary receiver, and then he’d run as fast as he could to catch the ball he’d just thrown. And when he did this, he was living entirely in his game, feeling the ball in his hand, watching it sail against the blue sky, and then catching it with both hands, turning his shoulders, like receivers do, to protect the ball from the defense. I would watch from the living room window and envy his life in that moment.

We were all like this as kids but then, overnight, we weren’t. We didn’t throw the ball against the chimney anymore or try to catch our own passes. We didn’t think about it, we just stopped. And when we did, we left something so valuable behind that we didn’t even know its name.

It’s like the first time you walk down the street with your mother and don’t hold her hand. Neither of you know that the last time you held her hand would be the last time but it was and, from then on, holding your mother’s hand seemed different and intentional, no longer instinctive, and so you stop doing it until your mother is very old when you must hold her hand or she will fall.

It’s very hard to hearken back to how we were when we didn’t think about the utility of what we were doing, when not everything required a purpose or a yield. Everything now needs an outcome, an end point, a reason for being. But increasingly, to me, the purpose-filled life is taxing and spiritless. I am becoming tired of accomplishment.

I remember hitting a tennis ball against our garage door with my wooden Wilson racket for hours because I loved the sound of the ball hitting the door. That and the sun on my back and the feel of the racket’s grip in my hand. I miss that moment and would like to find it again sometime before I leave this earth.

8 Comments on “Homesick for Then

  1. I feel like there is probably a word in some other language to either describe that not knowing it was the last time, or the nostalgia.

  2. Jan, I love these memories. I have similar flashbacks to the world when we were young. All was serene with few worries.

  3. My son also used to spend hours hitting a tennis ball against our garage door. I loved the sound but it also made me tense because my husband worried about damage to the garage door. Just a small example of how women navigate family dynamics!

  4. I always enjoy your posts, Jan, but this one is especially moving. Thank you!




  5. I’d settle for the feeling of freedom I had last week. As a teacher who is now providing online learning and mothering four kids at home, life has become surreal…

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