Amy and I are not big birthday people. We have parties for our kids every couple of years, but they might also just have a friend over to spend the night and have some cake. We’ve been in Nashville for 14 years and thrown exactly 1 birthday party ( that I can remember) for an adult Goodgame. It was a surprise party for Amy when she turned 29. And there were maybe 8 people there, spouses included.
I remember when I was a kid, my dad said he loved me the same on every day, so he didn’t understand what the big deal was about a birthday. This was an earlier, more Vulcanish version of my dad, who has since grown to be much more like an earthling in his grandparent years, but I believe this is where some of my birthday apathy or “birthdapathy” comes from. Amy is more attentive to birthdays than I, but not by much. We have both forgotten birthdays over the years, though I have forgotten many more than she (also anniversaries and other pertinent holidays where card-giving and gift-giving is expected).
All this is to say, in my life, a memorable birthday gift is typically an oxymoron. There are a few exceptions… I got a puppy when I was 12, and a wonderful book about the Peanuts cartoons after I had finished my Peanuts trilogy. (I did get a lot of Peanuts gifts there for a while.) And when I was 26 or 27, Amy bought me a basketball hoop.
I LOVE to play basketball. Did you hear that? Was that hyperbole? No. I truly love to dribble and shoot and pass and run the floor and defend. It is such a source of relaxation and comfort for me. The game is always moving, and it somehow harnesses my attention in a way that little else does. It is fluid and gives immediate feedback which you can almost immediately apply. Did your shot hit the front of the rim? Maybe you didn’t use your legs, or maybe you didn’t follow through with your wrist. Want to find out? Just shoot again.
That is nothing like songwriting. With songwriting, there’s always a part of you that has no idea what to do. And the irony is, you want that part to stay close. The best stuff you will write is the stuff that you never saw coming. But keeping your mind free for those words to roam and strike can be mentally exhausting. Basketball is a blessed respite from that effort in my mind, and I love it. I have not had a basketball goal or played regularly for over three years now, and that has been a quietly sad reality in my life.
Back when Amy aced the birthday gift, we lived only about a mile from the house where we live now. We rented one side of a duplex, and the back yard was mostly pavement, and totally flat. It was perfect. When we moved to Spring Hill to buy our first home, the previous owners had left their basketball goal in the yard, so there was no reason to haul ours down there, so we left it.
That goal was immovable, so when we moved back up to Nashville 3 years ago, we were hoopless for the first time in 9 years. I would drive by our old duplex and peer down the driveway at our old hoop – my old hoop – still sitting there, all lonesome and unattended. The net was green and stiff with age. I’m sure it had not been used since we moved out 7 years before.
Well, this spring my kids started showing signs of enjoying basketball in the neighbors driveway, and last week I decided to pay the new owner of the duplex a visit. She was a little scared and didn’t understand who this strange man was at her door, so we just yelled through the door over the traffic…
“I USED TO LIVE HERE!! THAT WAS MY BASKETBALL HOOP!!! WE’D LIKE TO BUY IT BACK FROM YOU!!!
“YOU HAVE A BASKETBALL HOOP IN YOUR BACKYARD!!! I’D LIKE TO HAVE IT!!! IT USED TO BE MINE!!!”
“I”M SORRY, WHO ARE YOU??? WHAT ARE YOU SAYING? WHAT DO YOU WANT??”
“I WANT YOUR BASKETBALL HOOP!!!”
“OH!! SURE!!! JUST TAKE IT!!”
“OK, GREAT!! THANKS!!!”
That’s really exactly how it went, while Amy and the kids waited in the car. A few days later Christopher “Cdub” Williams and I dumped out over 100 pounds of sand and hoisted into the back of my truck. I wish someone could have videoed that! We were grunting like Monica Seles!
Moments later we backed it into our driveway and raised that old hoop up and Livi took a shot. The ball went right in the hoop and got stuck in the stiff green net! Jonah and I raced to Wal-Mart and bought a basketball and a net while Livi marked out court lines in blue chalk. The free throw line is like a foot from the hoop. So precious.
It was 100 degrees today, on the longest day of the year, and I did not have time or energy for hooping it up. But now, when I fold up the paper blinds on my office, it’s not just to let a little light in the bay window. It’s to breathe deep the joy of knowing that my hoop has come home. So if anybody out there is up for a little pick-up, early some Saturday morning, bring it on. I”ll be the goofy dad in the driveway with the goofy grin and the grass stained sneakers, humming that old Gatorade commercial tune and having a great time.