Some battles took place on fields of courage in far distant lands, but other battles, no less noteworthy to our family, took place in the tiny town of Bridgton Maine in our house at 12 Elm. People are more than an accumulation of their chemical components, 12 Elm is more than the sum of its nails and wood.
Our family would never buy a new ping pong table if dad could take a 4x8 sheet of plywood and extend it in four directions to make an official sized ping pong table. And dad could. The first thing to emphasize about ping pong, at 12 Elm Street, is that a 5 foot tall, 12 year old, has a large advantage over his much taller brother, when playing ping pong in a room with a ceiling so low. I don’t know where Vaughn learned to play ping pong. But I do know that I first played with him. The selective memory from my youth leads me to believe I may have never lost. But being a parent now, responsible for my own 14 year old, I know that all my early victories may have spoken less of my own competence and more to the low hanging ceiling and a brother for whom just playing the game was more important than the outcome.
Ping pong is a game of repetition. Ping pong is a game that could almost played in your sleep. Generally, the ball bounces predictably; making the same crisp clanking sound against the table that is commonly followed by a thwack, as if spanked, by the paddle, except when you played Vaughn. Vaughn’s game was not a traditional power game of slams, it was a game of spins. His spins might send me diving under the table in an attempt to catch up to a ball that changed direction the moment it hit the table. Isn’t life a series of repetitive days until something comes along to spin us around. Staying ready to handle these spins, and remembering Vaughn’s ready smile each time his spin was successful, reminds me that the surprises life offers may just as likely lead to happiness as they do sadness.