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A hymn

By Brian Doyle


 

Photographs are time machines, and other people’s children are time machines (how did that kid get a foot taller and an octave deeper in a month?), and boxes of old letters and cards are time machines, and old people’s memories are the best time machines (my mom just told me about going to minor-league baseball games in New York City 80 years ago), but often smells and sounds and glances are terrific time machines, as I can presently attest, having just seen a boy of 12 or so bicycle past with a basketball under his arm, and suddenly it is 1968 and I am that boy and I am pedaling home from the gym after my First Official Practice with a Real Team, this after a thousand hours of playing in parks and playgrounds with my brothers, and I made the team, and got a jersey (number 42, for my hero Connie Hawkins), which is so precious to me that I have it huddled under my jacket so that not a drop of rain or speck of mud shall touch and stain it, and I am the happiest boy who ever lived on this wild bright planet, and now I know that the game I love above all other games is going to be my dear and close companion this year while I wear the green and gold for Saint John Vianney, and perhaps I have the secret sense that the game and I will be the dearest of friends for the next 20 years, until my back gives up and I have to quit suddenly and never play again and never even pick up a ball again, and dream almost nightly about playing ball quick and confident and intent until I am deep into my 40s, and write about the game and its denizens every year the rest of my life, as, for example, here.

Just as the boy turns the corner of the next street he actually begins to dribble the ball while still riding his bicycle, which delights me all the more because I did the same thing at his age, thinking of it as yet another cool training exercise much like taping cardboard across the bottoms of my spectacles so I could not see the ball while dribbling, and playing with ankle weights in practice so that I would soar all the more weightlessly in games, and dribbling for miles along paths and trails using only my left hand, and not coming into the house at dusk until I hit 10 straight shots from both of my preferred spots on the floor, and learning to sink hook shots by recruiting my much taller brothers to play defense which they did with burly alacrity and roughhousery, and dribbling between and around my legs for 20 minutes with each hand, not to be tricky or show off, but so that I could rely on the skill unconsciously if a sudden change of direction was called for in a tight spot during a game, and practicing every sort of bank and spin shot on the same theory, and a thousand more things, and these memories do not make me sad or nostalgic but rather thrilled and happy that I had those hours. No man ever savored those hours in the game more than I did, no man in the history of the world; and rather than sigh at their loss, I sing at their gain; and so, amen.

Brian Doyle is the editor of Portland magazine and the author of numerous books, most recently the novel The Plover.

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