Mrs. Abbey, Little Abbey and I spent Christmas day on the farm. It was a simple celebration just like we always have. Brother Abbey with his broken leg couldn't make it up here to Iowa so he spent his Christmas at his girlfriend's house putting together a folding ping pong table for her two children. That note certainly brought back lots of happy memories.
For Christmas one year, my brother and I received a ping pong table as a gift. It had belonged to our grandfather but since he didn't play anymore, he gave it to our father who somehow snuck it in while we were sleeping. After all the other presents were opened, we proceeded to carry it up to one of the unheated bedrooms on the second story of the old seven bedroom farmhouse we lived in at the time but couldn't get the single table surface up the stairs. After much debate, measuring and cutting once, we carried two halves up and soon had it ready to go.
My father taught us the rules and then proceeded to slaughter us every time we played, often games ending early under the skunk rules of 7 to 0 or 14 to 1. When he tired, my brother and I would spend the rest of the day playing marathon sessions against each other. Years passed and we gradually got better. The room had about two feet to spare on each end of the table before the wall and the sides a scant foot. The walls started showing signs of our exertions with a few holes appearing from stray paddles or a foot stuck through while stretching for a ball. Then when we were older, the day came when first my brother and then I started beating our father in games.
When I entered high school, the Physical Education class had a quarter during the winter months where ping pong was taught. We would play round robin style against everyone in class a few different times and then had a tournament. My very first game, a male classmate of mine served the ball in a slow lob and I spike it back at him leaving a bruise on his abdomen where the ping pong ball hit after hitting his side. He was then gun shy and I handedly slaughter him. Coach saw that and I was forced for the rest of the quarter to play left handed or against him. I usually opted to play him but hated to because of his extreme English he placed on the ball but could still always beat him. The tournament between all the classes eventually came and without much surprise I was crowned the king of ping pong.
For three years I was king until my senior year of high school when my brother and I were in the finals. To this day I remember the crowds of people standing all around that table set up in the middle of the gym with still more people hanging off the balcony watching as my brother and I battled the ping pong battle to end all battles. Alas I would like to say I won but my brother was the victor. He had always been better and I had known it would be inevitable when he got to high school but I was still sad to let the crown pass on.
Throughout college, I occasionally me the guy in the bar who thought he was king of ping pong and after much trash talking, I would offer a friendly wager over a game. I happened to know a ping pong table in one of the dorm rec rooms that mostly gathered dust and soon I would be walking away with a few more dollars in my pocket. It wasn't until I was several years out of college that I finally made a wager with a friend whom I just discovered played ping pong that I had to pay out. In my prime I could have beat him but years of playing just once a year had taken the toll and after a long battle that went into overtime, I got beat.
A half decade has gone by and I haven't held a paddle or even thought about it until Christmas morning and my brother's phone call. I asked him if he would have mercy or slaughter them from the beginning as our father had. He said he would show no mercy even if he had to sit in a chair with his broken leg cradled out in front of him. The crown is still being passed on.