Plants…Puppies…Baseball and Tennis
Plants make me happy.
There’s nothing quite like the feeling of raising something from seed, watching it grow, and then sharing it with a fellow plant enthusiast. When I was in grammar school at the end of every school year, we got to take home the classroom animals and the plants that hung out in the big picture windows. Even though I wanted the guinea pigs, hamsters, and the occasional turtle, I knew enough not to ask. My mom would never allow it, so instead, I brought home the begonias, spider plants, and various cacti.
I think that’s where my love for plants began. As I made my moves around the country, lived in big houses, small apartments, rentals, and shared living spaces with roommates, I adjusted my plant needs to the environment. In a small beach house on Long Island, I had to deal with the salt air and water. In Manhattan, I had minimal light in a studio, so plants that thrived under the canopies of the rain forest did best. In Dallas, I had never encountered soil so thick and red and lost many vegetables attempting to eat healthily.
Puppies make me the happiest.
The Saracolos lived four houses down the block from us. Mr. S. was a cop and Mrs. S was a stay at home mom. They had three kids, all more or less the same ages as me and my two siblings. They also had a mutt named Pet. She was a medium-sized Shepard mix. This was back in the day when dogs roamed the neighborhoods free, and no one spayed and neutered. Pet hooked up with Ajax, a black and white shaggy lab mix, and shortly after, they were the proud parents of 5 adorable puppies.
Every day after school I would run down to Saracolos house and watch the puppies grow. To say that I was fascinated beyond belief was an understatement. Pet was a good mom and the puppies thrived in their whelping box. One by one, they got adopted around the neighborhood. I wanted one so badly, but my parents were adamant that we didn’t need a dog. Our lab/pit mix Rio didn’t work out so well and had to be given to the Bid a Wee House. I was too little to really remember, but to this day, I carry a memory of my mom crying in the passenger seat of our car when we dropped him off one rainy Monday afternoon.
The last puppy to go was Midnight. He was a shaggy, jet black runt with a white eagle on his chest and a quarter-inch of white on his left paw. Being the runt never stopped him for fighting for food, fighting his siblings, and barking for attention. He was adopted by the 5 Lindy sisters around the block. I was there when they came for him. Mrs. S said, “Goodbye you ugly little mutt.” I was horrified that she would call him that, sarcasm lost on my 8-year-old self. The girls hugged on him and fought over who would hold him. I was heartbroken. I consoled myself with dog books form the library, and bugging my next-door neighbor Jenny to let me walk her two toy poodles.
Somehow Midnight and the Lindys didn’t work out. The girls were raised by their single dad and his mom. The grandmother didn’t have the time nor the inclination to walk an active puppy. As is typical with most kids, the sisters wanted a puppy, but they didn’t want the work associated with him. Through something nothing short of a miracle, my mom agreed that we would take Mini. Every morning, however, Mini would open the porch door enclosure and run back to the Lindy sisters. Every morning, I would take his leash and some treats and bring him back. Until one morning, all the Lindy girls, their cousins, and friends were waiting for me. They informed me that Mini was theirs and that I could get lost. I tried arguing with them, but I was outnumbered and devastated. I ran back home and of course, I brought my mother back. The Lindy’s grandmother intervened, dispersed the gang and I was able to slip the lead around Mini’s neck to bring him home. The youngest sister cried and I felt a momentary pang of sympathy for her, but it was short-lived. Holding my mom’s hand and the leash in the other, I snuck a quick glance back, saw them all standing there, glaring at me and I did what any obnoxious kid would do, I stuck my tongue out and mouthed the words, “Ha. Ha.” Not one of my finer moments. But I had my dog and we figured out a way to contain him on the porch.
Baseball makes me almost as happy as puppies.
When my dad first came to this country in 1964, he had no idea what baseball was. But, having moved into a house with his in-laws in Queens, NY, he began to figure out the culture and baseball was a big part of that. He remembers going to work every day, seeing people in team paraphernalia, and wondering what it was. Equally confusing to him was the game itself. He sits for hours, trying to decide why a batter would run on some hits and not on others. After countless nights watching the game, he not only figured it out but became a very knowledgable and save armchair coach.
I’d sit with him in our furnished suburban basement, AC blasting, drinking sweaty glasses of lemonade on those humid NT summer nights. While I loved the Yankees best, Thermon Munson being my favorite, I didn’t discriminate when it came to the Mets. We are New Yorkers after all, and I had two teams I could root for.
One summer, after collecting cut-outs from the backs of milk cartons, my dad bought the cheap seat tickets and into Queens we went, me, my brother, my dad, and three of his assistants. We spent the night eating disgusting hot dogs, Cracker Jacks (junk food was unheard of in our house, so that was a treat) and soda. When the umpire made a call that went against the Mets and the stadium erupted in the “Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit” chant, my 8-year-old brother asked if he too could join in. That was his highlight moment.
It’s been said that in my family, you can either play tennis or play tennis. Both my parents were tennis pros, my uncle Ronnie played Davis Cup for Brazil and I married a professional tennis player. So naturally, my kids play….baseball.
While I love tennis, I played juniors growing up, played in college and competed on USTA teams throughout my adult life, have been teaching it for about 40 years (am I that old?), it’s fourth on my list of loves.