“How many can I have on the team?” Alvinasked, after the first several days of practice in September, when it was obvious he had done something right, as there were 18 7th and 8th grade girls coming to the park every day to learn and play tennis. I had discussed the philosophy and purpose of a middle school interscholastic program withAlvin, and it was to provide opportunities for students to learn about important life lessons through the activity, and to prepare them for the next level, which would be more competitive. Even though scores are kept, there are no official league standings in middle s school tennis, nor playoffs, nor championships, just some girls wanting to be together and play tennis.
So, when I toldAlvinI would get him 20 uniforms and then hope that would be enough, he said it should be. I told him if he really needed more than that we would have to talk, because a higher number of girls would preclude him from coaching and supervising effectively.
Then came the zinger. “What if I have a girl who can’t play tennis?’ He asked. I said, “why would you want to take a girl on the team who can’t play tennis?” I fell into his trap, and then he told me about Katy.
Katy had cancer, you see, and it was a rare kind . . . That’s never good, I thought. She just wanted to be with her friends. Her friends played tennis, and Katy . . . I stopped him there. “Of course,” I said. “It’s not a problem.”
I remember formally meeting Katy for the first time, after the uniform tennis shirts came in, and all the girls were so proud and excited, chattering and bouncing around like pinballs, laughing and giggling, like well, school girls. Alvin, always the gentleman, introduced Katy to me. “Mr. Granger,” he said, “I’d like you to meet Katy.”
She extended her hand, and I took it, smiling at her manners and smile of her own. “Pleased to meet you, “ I said. “Thank you,” she said. She quickly turned away with a fleeting “Bye,” and then re-joined her friends. If you ever saw Katy’s smile, you would never forget it, bright, twinkling, and happy.
She looked healthy as a peach blossom, which deceived me. But I knew it then. We all did. No one spoke about it.
Katy never scored a point. Katy never played a match. Katy missed some practices and matches. But she laughed with her friends, and constantly used that smile of hers, a springtime blossom, so delicate, so bright, and so fleeting.
An image of my daughter danced in my head the day I learned Katy died. She dances there still, holding hands with Katy in my mind’s eye, a girl she never met, but one joined forever with her in her father’s heart.
I can’t imagine it . . . but I did.
There’s a tree now, Katy’s Tree, at the elementary school across the street from the Pierson Hill lawn. The tree is mostly bare now, in March. It doesn’t seem alive, and I see people who I imagine knew Katy, passing by it without a glance. But I notice. I remember the girl I met, and knew ever so briefly, and how alive she was, even though she was dying. I am glad there’s a Katy’s Tree atSag HarborElementary School. You should stop by and see it sometime, even if you never knew Katy, it might just remind you of how alive things are, even when they don’t seem to be, and of how we should appreciate every moment we have to live and love those we care about most, and how important it is sometimes for children just to laugh, and play, and be with their friends.
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