Sometimes it takes a real “slam-dunk” to jolt you back to what’s really important in life. My personal “slam-dunk” came one cool, sunny day many autumns ago.
I stepped outdoors to tackle the endless trail of falling leaves that had blanketed my front yard in hues of orange, brown, and yellow. Beautiful site, really, but in keeping with neighborhood appearances, I blew the leaves to the curb so the city would be able to sweep away the colorful piles by sunrise.
Lost in the melodic hum of the electric blower, my thoughts drifted back. Way back. To my 5 sisters, 3 brothers, and me. To a much more innocent time. All 9 of us, along with scores of other neighbor kids, would gather the leaves that had fallen from the four huge Maple trees growing in our front yard during the 50s and 60s.
The roots of the trees, and the children’s PF Flyers played havoc with the blades of grass vying for survival, but no one was too concerned about the grass in those days. Grass was for playing Ring Around the Rosy, Red Light/Green Light, and Red Rover, Red Rover. We’d dive head-first into the biggest pile of leaves we could build, and emerge dusty from the heap with leaves and twigs poking out from every hair on our head.
I recalled how we somersaulted through the pile of leaves, our cheeks rosy from the cold, and the strong odor of the neighbors’ burning leaves rising through the air.
The loud roar of my leaf-blower jolted me back to reality, and, as my mountain of leaves finally reached the curb, I proudly glanced back to admire the “clean” look. That’s when I noticed that “thing” desperately hanging from the house. That unsightly, battered basketball hoop and backboard, perpetually dangling from my garage roof, should proceed to its final resting place - the city dump.
It’s not the first time the old hoop would be sent to its demise.
When the hoop was first propped over the garage door in the early 80s, son Mikey was just a tyke who could barely muster the strength to throw the ball high enough to hit the 10 foot rim. He had to be hoisted into the air to “score.” Over the years, as “Mikey” evolved into “Mike,” that old hoop occupied him and scores of neighborhood youngsters, each with dreams of becoming the next Michael Jordan.
Then, as “Mike” eventually became known as “Hawk,” occasionally I would peer through the window from my refuge in the living room and watch “Hawk” and the rest of the 1994 Trenton basketball team shooting hoops, as they converted my driveway into their personal court.
The hoop weathered snowstorms, ice storms, sleet, and 100o heat. It outlived a roof, windows, two patios, and landscaping. And is also responsible for the dings and dents in my garage door. And don’t forget the sparse blades of grass along the edge of the driveway that fight for survival every year against a stampede of size 12+ Nikes.
One year the trim on the house was vinyl-sided and the hoop came down. Brand new expensive siding. The house looked good. No more beat-up backboard bolted into my new siding. I even gave up the idea of hanging out my twinkling outdoor holiday lights at Christmas time!
It didn’t take very long, though. Mike missed - make that needed - his hoop. He became increasingly restless without it and with a little, make that a lot of, persistent begging, Mike’s hoop was resurrected.
A year or two later, again, the backboard was removed. For the last time - I thought. But when Mike returned home from college for summer break, the first thing he did was to convince his dad to help him hang the hoop back up on the roof.
Summer was now over so I figured that Mike was safely away into his third year of college and was too busy, and probably less interested, to find the time to shoot hoops. Besides, he was also employed long hours during the summer when he was home. He just didn’t have the time for basketball anymore.
“Today’s the day to get rid of that unsightly basketball hoop.” But doing yard work took precedence and, before I knew it, the sun was setting on the backboard still perched high on the garage roof. Next weekend. Number one priority...next weekend...down comes the hoop.
But the day before that fateful weekend, on a whim, Mike decided to drive home from school for an unexpected visit, and, as is typical, gave only a moment’s notice that he was bringing home company for dinner.
Scrambling around the kitchen during some last minute meal preparations before their arrival, I heard an enormous rrrumble. It reverrrbbberrrated throughout the house.
I knew my son was home. I bolted to the front hall and met Mike and his friend just as they opened the door. “I knew you were home, Mike,” I said. “I heard your “slam-dunk.”
Little did I know that Mike had just whispered to his friend that this was his unspoken way he let his mother know he was home.
The backboard is staying. A secret signal from my son is so much more important to me than an eye-pleasing house.