(Written Oct. 24,2017)
NINETEEN SIXTY SOMETHING
Dad stood in the garage beside the newest member of our family.
I didn’t know how it got there, who had done it, but I could tell Dad was glad it was there.
We had a ping pong table!
Ping pong wasn’t new to me? (And we did not call it table tennis.) I had gone to enough church camps, and other events that had ping pong tables.
Mom and Dad had gifted us kids with good hand eye coordination, so we were always decent at reaction time, so we were decent at ping pong.
But that summer, we learned the game. Hours of that wonderful sound of ball hitting paddle, hitting table, hitting paddle, back and forth, back and forth. Overspins, backspins, curves and slams.
Sometimes Mom and Dad would play. They were both good. Dad probably learned it at a military base in WW2, but I don’t know how Mom got so good.
All us kids would take turns playing each other. David was better than me, Elaine and I were pretty close, and Jeff hadn’t started growing yet, so I would just barely put the ball over the net, where he couldn’t quite reach it.
But I liked playing my dad. He would not let me win. I would have to earn that victory, if it ever came.
I never lost the love of a good competitive ping pong match.
I won some, lost some, but, no matter who I played, I could give them good competition.
One time, I played a guy at his house, after I finished cleaning his windows. He beat me 21-19. I asked him what he did for a living.
“Hockey. The Dallas Stars.”
It was Mike Ribeiro.
EARLY JANUARY, 2001.
Dad had given me his pickup truck a few months earlier. He called me one night.
“Randy, I need you to take me to the sporting goods store in Dallas tomorrow. I’m going to get your mom a ping pong table for her 72nd birthday.”
So we set a time, I picked him up at his house in Canton, and we went to Dallas, got the table, brought it back, and unloaded it into his carport.
I ate dinner with them that night.
Mom seemed glad that I was there, but a little quiet, subdued.
A couple of days later, the phone rang at 4:30 am.
“Randy, I can’t wake your mom up. I think she is gone.”
It was her birthday. The ping pong table was still in the box in the carport.
Dad was in an Alzheimer’s unit of a nursing home, and I went by to see him.
Most of the residents were sitting in a big circle in the main room, but Dad wasn’t there. I went down the hall toward his room and found him sitting alone in the quiet.
“Hey, Dad, let’s go up to the main room.”
His walk had changed to a shuffle, and it took a few minutes to get to the main room. We found a couple of chairs together and joined the circle.
Nobody was saying anything.
Now, if you know me, you know I don’t need a microphone.
“Hey!” I said in my best microphonic voice,”my name is Randy Epps, and this is my dad, Houston Epps.”
I noticed that everyone was looking our way now, puzzled smiles on their faces.
I could see out of the corner of my eye that Dad was looking at me, too. He wasn’t sure who I was, but he was wondering what was coming next.
“ I was the second of four kids, but I knew I was the favorite.” Chuckles from the room.
“Something you may not know about my dad…he was great at ping pong.”
Murmurs in the room…”Oh, I didn’t know that”…”Really?”
Dad was leaning forward in his chair, eyes fixed on me.
“I remember the summer we got a ping pong table for our garage, and we played and played and played. Dad was sooo good….It took me forever to finally be able to beat him.”
I had been there about fifteen minutes at this time, and Dad had hardly said a word.
But, now he had something to say.
“YOU BEAT ME???”
A few months later, my dad joined my mom in their forever home.
I liked to think that there is a ping pong table there.