Yesterday, Gary and the kids and I packed up some tennis racquets and a bag of tennis balls, and we headed to the park. We started off in the racquetball court near the playground, just goofing off by hitting a ball against the wall and taking turns whacking it when it bounced back to us. With limited tennis skills distributed thinly among six of us, this was a barely-controlled zoo with just one ball, but apparently it was not quite chaotic or loud enough for Gary. He tossed in a second ball, then a third, then another, until at least six balls were whizzing wildly around the court.
The kids loved it, and the sound of them laughing, shrieking, shouting, and chasing down flying tennis balls drew a little girl to the fence to watch the mayhem inside with wide, wondrous eyes. A little boy followed, standing at the fence and telling Gary nonchalantly, “I have a tennis racquet like that”, carrying on a conversation like he and Gary were old tennis buddies from way back.
A little boy no older than 2 or 3, waddling like a well-fed duck in his heavy coat and hat, tottered toward the racquetball court as I chased down a wayward tennis ball that found itself in the baseball field instead of the tennis courts. The little boy was pointing to Gary and the kids and chanting, “Daddy…Daddy…”, leading the way for his father as he followed the ruckus and laughter.
I finally ducked outside the court to the relative safety of the other side of the fence, without zooming tennis balls or enthusiastically-swung but poorly-aimed tennis racquets gripped tight in the hands of giggling and increasingly hyperactive children. From my shielded vantage point, I watched a third and fourth child wander to the fence and sit down among the newly formed audience, then a few more kids trickled over. Before I knew it, there was not a single child left on the playground. Swings, slides, and jungle gyms were abandoned. Every last one of the kids at the playground was huddled by the fence, watching Gary and the kids in their crazy, wild game of anything-goes tennis.
The kids watching them then took up a cheer for our fearless tennis stars: “Hit that ball! Hit that ball!” and clapping their hands. I couldn’t stop laughing. Once again, the main attraction and the best toy at the park was the one-and-only, one-of-a-kind Gary. I don’t know anyone else who can draw children to himself so effortlessly. No matter what age, boys or girls, toddling in diapers or big enough to climb the racquetball fence, all of the kids in the park wanted to be where Gary was. It’s not the first time something like this has happened, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.
When Gary and the kids exhausted themselves and started packing up, there was a wave of crestfallen disappointment on the young audience’s faces. I heard one father consoling his son by telling him, “Well, they have to go home sometime!”
As we headed to the car, I asked Gary and the kids if they were going to take a moment to sign autographs for their adoring fans. Just in case you missed them, don’t worry: they will be back soon at a tennis court near you.