Herb Benham column

Herb Benham

Tennis is simple. Simple in a good way. Simple in a joyous way. Simple in a “we can’t get too much of it” way.

For New Year’s, we visited my cousin Bea and her husband, Ron, in Redondo Beach. “We” included Mom. Mom likes company and sometimes, in the absence of more qualified candidates, we have to do.

On New Year’s Eve, Ron and I hit some balls at his club in Palos Verdes. Mom came to watch.

She sat on the bench on the sunny side and when sunny became too sunny, she crossed the court at the service line, the line closest to the net, and sat in the shade.

Sixty years ago, she played tennis. There are pictures of her at the Racquet Club, one on the court in a tennis dress and another on the front lawn in civilian clothes with her six kids. Mom had beautiful strokes but gradually she poured her tennis energy into riding horses, skiing, hiking and raising kids.

Ron and I played. Mom enjoys watching tennis, even the kind of tennis bearing little resemblance to what is presented on TV.

A tennis court, on a warm winter day, is not an unpleasant place to be. There is the sound of the racquet hitting the ball, the squeak of the tennis shoes as they grip the cement and the chitchat between players when they cross the net or finish a well-contested point.

After we played for a while, I had an idea. I wasn’t sure it was a good idea but it was an idea nonetheless.

“Mom, you want to hit a few?” I asked.

She shook her head almost automatically, but at least it wasn’t emphatically. It was more like “You know I can’t” rather than “I don’t want to.”

“Come on, Mom. I’ll hit them right to you. You don’t have to move and, in fact, don’t even think about moving. Senior tennis is about letting at least 30 percent of the balls go by.”

Mom is 91. She’s had a lifetime of busy. She nearly broke her neck falling from the top of Mammoth Mountain, she’s torn up both knees and punished her body in almost every way imaginable while going full throttle.

Now she uses walking sticks when she walks. Things hurt. More things hurt than don’t hurt.

“I haven’t swung a racquet in 50 years,” Mom said.

She corrected herself. That wasn’t true. She’d hit balls 10 years ago in the desert at Borrego Springs.

Ron loaned her a racquet. She stood in the service box, bent her knees and waited for me to hit a ball, which I did.

She swung and hit it into the net. No big deal. She wasn’t the first one to hit the ball into the net. At least she didn’t whiff it or fall over but she wouldn’t have been the first one to do that either.

I hit another ball, and this one she lifted back over the net. Mom has an old-fashioned forehand with a continental grip (“shake hands with the racquet”), the kind they don’t teach much anymore. Her ball didn’t have an ounce of topspin, if anything she came underneath it at the least minute.

She had taken off her hiking shoes because they had too much tread and made moving treacherous. She stood there in her socks, with renewed confidence now since she had bagged one, and waited for the next ball. She hit this one back and we had a four-shot rally.

Mom smiled and a funny look came on her face. Funny as in fun. Funny as in pleasurable.

I’ve seen that look before. I’ve had that look before. It was the look of someone who was having a ball. The look of joy in a child’s face.

We hit for five minutes. She was transformed when she came off the court. So was I.

Eventually, there are things we cannot do, things we probably should not do but things we sometimes do because they are so much fun.

Tennis is a simple game. Hit the ball and watch it fly. Sometimes, we fly with it.

Herb Benham is a columnist for the Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at hbenham@bakersfield.com or 661-395-7279.

(2) comments


Great story and sentiment. Thank you Herb.


Nice story Herb, thanks for sharing. However, if you played tennis on a cement court, it must have been mighty dusty. Ya see, cement is the powdery glue which holds concrete together. Cement, gravel, sand and water are the ingredients which form concrete. But I'm sure you knew this.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.