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Chapter 2: Mission Possible Begins

“Bob! Would you mind serving again?” Rod shouted after the pickleball bounced off his chest. He motioned Bob to look at what distracted him – actually who attracted him like an eye-candy magnet – a stunning blond stranger entering the gym.

She could not help looking titillating, and tried not to flaunt this. But, she couldn’t prevent all fifty pickleball players there from being captivated by what they saw.

Bob raised one finger.

Rod raised ten fingers to up Bob’s one to ten, causing Bob’s smile to grow, knowing that Rod owed him ten.

As the game continued, the stranger watched Rod intently and became captivated by him – by his graceful Fred Astaire movements and precise strokes. When the game ended, she watched all four players laughing while approaching the net, where they touched the ends of their paddle handles together. She didn’t know about this friendly custom in pickleball. She had never seen this after tennis or badminton play ended.

After leaving the court, he approached her, “New here?”

Startled and unsure of his intentions, she recoiled because she was tired of being hit on by men who were only attracted to her physical beauty, men who did not want what she longed for.

While these thoughts flashed through her mind, she recoiled farther because of the apparent boldness of this stranger, until he said in a friendly manner, “My name is Rod. I’m the Pickleball Ambassador here,” and then stated most matter-of-factly, “My role is to help newcomers feel welcome and meet other pickleballers.”

What good fortune! You’ll help me meet prospects, she thought to herself while extending her hand to shake his, inviting him to sit beside her, where she began barraging him with her story, “This is my first time here, and I’m new at playing pickleball. I’m teaching at Liberty College on my sabbatical leave from California. I did a home and car-swap with a couple who live here.” She talked quicker than usual because she was also attracted to him.

To slow her down, Rod interjected, “What’s their name? Everyone knows everyone in our little town.”

“Veronica and Wendell Thompson.”

“They play pickleball here when not travelling.”

“That’s why they recommended I start playing pickleball – to meet people. Usually, I play competitive badminton and tennis to stay fit. Pickleball will be a new adventure for me.”

“It certainly will! So, welcome to our Liberty Falls Recreation Center ... and to pickleball ... the fastest growing sport in North America,” Rod said with measured words to reassure this newcomer who still seemed a bit uneasy. “Most pickleball locations across North America have a designated Pickleball Ambassador, who helps newcomers find pickleballers to play with. So please accept our warmest welcome.”

With a disarming Southern charm that showed why he is the local Pickleball Ambassador, he asked, “What’s your name, Ma’am?”

“My friends call me Marg,” she almost cooed in response to Rod’s charm. Catching herself, she jested, “Are you the kind of Virginia Gentleman I’ve heard so much about?”

Detecting her jest, he returned like he got, “Yes, Ma’am … at your service,” to make this stranger feel even more welcome and at ease. “Have you put your name on the whiteboard … over there on the side wall? That’s how you sign up to get into a pickleball game here.”

“No. Would you kindly escort me to do this?” She wanted to invite his assistance, but most of all his gentlemanly attention that intrigued her. Marg could not recall any other man calling her Ma’am or Lady before now, and she liked it. Indeed, she was warming to his obvious respect for her as a Lady.

“Okay, Ma’am. Allow me to help you choose a paddle. We have lots of loaners.” Rod looked around for his best buddy, “JT! Would you and Bib save seats for me and our new pickleballer, Marg from California?” Rod pointed to her, to the box of loaner paddles, to the whiteboard, and back to JT, to indicate what he was going to do.

“Got your back good buddy. Always will.”

From a box of loaner paddles, she selected one that felt right for her. Rod demonstrated what to do while explaining, “You’ll want to hold your paddle so you can hit a variety of shots without changing your grip.” Marg imitated what Rod demonstrated.

“Please accompany me, Ma’am … to watch how I’m going to sign us up for a court. I’ll put my name with yours since you don’t know anyone else yet. We’ll sign up to play with JT and Bib, my little sister who is like a sister to JT.”

“Would you stop calling me Ma’am?” she giggled ever so slightly.

“As you wish,” he bantered back, suspecting there would be more repartee with this witty, vivacious, captivating blonde from California – whose left hand displayed no wedding ring.

Marg also sensed this was the start of many future rounds of bantering with this intriguing new man in her life – whose left hand displayed no wedding ring.

So, she just smiled at his ability to verbally volley with her as easily he volleyed a pickleball. Her smile broadened even more from appreciating his courtesy and respect towards her. So, she decided to bask in it, for she would not experience anything like this in California. And, she decided to play along whenever it fit her fancy.

Rod introduced Marg to JT, his best buddy from boyhood, and to his sister. “Vivian is my favorite female pickleball partner ... and my favorite sister,” his hug revealed his affection for her while his words emphasized favorite to provoke an affectionate jab he had come to love and expect from her over a lifetime.

As the words left Rod’s mouth, Vivian jabbed his shoulder and said, “Favorite sister? I’m your only sister ... so you have no choice.”

“You’d be my favorite sister even if I had twenty others to choose from,” he chuckled.

“I better be your favorite,” she jested while jabbing Rod’s shoulder again, “because I just might have a more favorite brother to replace you.” Bib glanced towards JT, who raised two thumbs up while smiling his approval.

During this affectionate brother-and-sister exchange that included JT, Marg made a mental note: They all really like one another. But something more than this bonds them.

Knowing that no one called her Vivian, Rod continued, “I’ve always called my little sis Bib because, as a kid, my V’s sounded like B’s … so Viv became Bib.”

“So glad to meet you. May I call you Bib also? It’s so unusual.”

“Marg, I’d really like that. All my friends call me Bib ... so please do.” Thus, Bib invited this newcomer into her group of friends, and confirmed this by giving Marg one of her warm Southern hugs. JT did likewise. Rod didn’t, and she wondered why not?

While gushing inside at such warm hospitality from strangers, Marg mentally noted: Bib has noticeable pride in the unique name her brother pinned on her and her friends call her.

After Rod and Marg seated themselves on the bench, she inquired with growing interest in this fascinating man, “How long have you been playing pickleball?”

“I started playing about six years ago … when my knees wouldn’t let me play tennis any longer,” Rod said with obvious nostalgia. “Look around and you’ll notice that most of us here are older… former players of different racket sports ... that we can’t play like we used to.”

Marg looked around and saw that most pickleballers were fifty-ish and older. She noted that Rod and JT appeared to be the two fittest men there, and she and Bib appeared to be the two fittest females there. What a foursome she thought, not knowing how true this would become.

“Even though we’re growing older, we can all play pickleball with a partner – and we certainly enjoy doing this ... with a partner,” Rod repeated for emphasis because Marg appeared to fit this age group and he wanted her to realize she would fit right in ... perhaps as his female pickleball partner for mixed doubles.

“How easy is it to learn to play pickleball well?”

“When I started playing, I had to unlearn tennis strokes I’d used for many years – that was the hardest – so I could relearn how to hit a different kind of stroke with a pickleball paddle. Hitting a backhand stroke was especially difficult. Mind if I show you?”

“Please do.” The athletic newbie carefully studied Rod’s every move as he systematically demonstrated and explained the entire backhand process: “Focus on the ball. Get into position. Stroke the ball properly … paddle out in front of your body … with the right angle on your paddle. Follow through. Move forward towards the net because the best players win playing at the net.”

After imitating his movements, she asked, “Would you coach me?”

“Glad to. Coaching is one of my favorite roles as Pickleball Ambassador.”

“But I must warn you, I’m more the creative kind … which is quite useful when playing competitive badminton. I keep opponents guessing a lot. With just the flick of my wrist, I can get them running all over the court – with short drop shots and long clear shots, running from the front of the court to the back, and from one side to the other. The more creative I am, the more confused they become.”

Rod could almost envision Marg doing this over and over, for ten to twenty shots or more, just to win one point. She certainly looked unusually fit for someone he guessed to be early fiftyish.

“Before I coach you, you might want to look at Pickleball Tutorials on the Pickleball Channel, on the Internet. These videos demonstrate and explain all the strokes I’ll coach you to develop.” He reached into his bag to retrieve a list of Pickleball Tutorials to watch, and gave this to Marg.

“Thank you, Rod. I’ll study them.”

Just then JT yelled, “Rod and Marg, we’re on. Come play with me and Bib.”

While escorting Marg to the court, Rod explained, “JT is short for John Tyler Wentworth, the Fourth – but everyone just calls him JT.”

“Just don’t see why,” Marg wisecracked, jabbing Rod’s shoulder like Bib did, so he’d know she now felt comfortable around him.

“JT’s whole name is a whole mouth full, for sure. Since moving down here from Vermont as a kid, JT has been my best buddy. So, we just naturally had to be pickleball partners in men’s doubles, like we used to be in tennis. Bib is his usual female partner in mixed doubles. They are a fantastic team!”

As the foursome reached the court, Rod said, “Marg is brand new to pickleball ... never played before ... but has played competitive badminton and tennis. So, I suggest JT and I play as partners. We’ll hit shots that the two Ladies can return. This way we’ll have more rallies and fun, and Bib can help Marg learn some new pickleball strokes and explain the rules and scoring. Is this okay with everyone?”

Everyone agreed, touched paddles, and shouted, “Let the game begin.”

As the game ended, everyone was laughing like Marg had never laughed before after playing badminton or tennis. Rod and JT were laughing because they had tried hitting softer strokes than normal … and had missed many. These former tennis players admitted they needed to practice their ‘softer game’ more. Bib and Marg were laughing because they could hit these ‘softer shots’ … and had won the game. Rod and JT didn’t mind. Everyone said they wanted to play like this again. Which they did … three more times ... and a gushing Marg thanked everyone three more times.

While waiting between games, Rod introduced Marg to other pickleballers, so she could play with them in the future. They continued dialoguing and scheduled the first coaching session.

Before leaving the gym, Marg beamed, “I cannot remember when I’ve felt so welcome as a stranger ... and enjoyed myself more. Bib gave her another warm Southern hug, as did JT. Again, Rod didn’t, and again she wondered why not?

As Marg and Rod left the gym, they were smiling because of the fun they had enjoyed, but mostly because of hope for what might lie ahead after such a good start.

Rod drove straight home so he could play with his little dog, Shep. He had trained her to catch tennis balls, sticks, and Frisbees and then return them to him, to be thrown over again and returned to him, to give her exercise. This routine was always joyful for both of them. Rod enjoyed watching her perform these behaviors he had trained her to do, especially running after a thrown Frisbee and leaping into the air so that it landed on her outstretched arms, so she could grab it with her teeth before landing. Shep’s tail constantly wagged because of Rod’s undivided attention and loving caresses.

That night, JT phoned Rod. “You lucky dog! Fate just gave you the pick of the litter.”

“What are you talking about?”

“That new eye-candy ... Marg ... that fate brought to our little town from California.” JT quipped, “Five foot two, eyes of blue ... can she laugh ... can she coo.”

“Yeah, she’s a knockout all right. But she is five foot six. That’s all I know right now.”

“Just checking your eyesight,” JT chuckled, “to see how much you noticed.”

“Everything, old buddy.”

“Yeah, you are my best buddy, but also a lucky dog,” JT repeated with greater emphasis. “Wish I were still Pickleball Ambassador so I could’ve met her first ... you lucky dog.”

“Stop that, JT. Marg is brand new here and needs to meet new people. Anyone can meet her ... including you, old buddy.”

“Are you calling me old?” JT chuckled.

“No, just saying ... we’re both getting older ... might be nice to have someone new and exciting like Marg in our lives. We’re both tired of being alone.”

“You sure got that right. We both know she’s the only prospect in our little town.”

“Yeah ... we know all the non-prospects. As long-time friends, we each want what’s best for one another. Right?”

“Ditto that, good buddy! Well, I’d best ring off now ... I’m getting older the longer we talk,” JT chuckled, causing Rod to do likewise. Like they’d done over some thirty years.

Unbeknownst to the other, each was thinking: Marg can choose anyone she captivates. Perhaps, me!

After bantering with JT, Rod focused again on writing a book he aimed to complete soon. At the end of his busy days, he also made time to reflect back on memories he wanted to recall in the future. Before his wife’s death, he would have shared them with her. But now, Rod shared the highlights with loyal Shep because she always listened: “I met a new pickleball player today – outgoing, quick learner, witty, friendly, vivacious, stunning, ultra-attractive. And, she’s fun to play with ... sort of like you, my little furry buddy. I think I’m going to like her a lot.”

Shep listened intently as Rod thanked God for significant God Nods in his life: “God has positively nodded on all of us. Bib and me are more than siblings ... we’re also best friends who have always supported one another, even more so after our spouses were killed in that terrible car crash. We know that God causes all things to work together for our good because we love Him and want to fulfill His purpose for us. God brought JT into our lives from up north and we’ve all been best friends since then. I still wonder at how JT can be serious as a successful professional and then go off on some free-spirited escapade. I also wonder: is Marg a God Nod for you and me, Shep? But, don’t get too excited. She might just be a California gal who is only passing through our little town.”

That night, Marg wrote impressions into her journal as fast as they entered her vivid imagination: Rod is certainly a HUNK, so is his buddy JT. I like both of them, and Bib too. Each knows how to have fun, and they really care for one another as best friends should. Each can help me learn how to play pickleball and meet eligible prospects. I’m tired of being alone in the land of Mission: Impossible. I don’t want to return to California without my man. Only time will tell if this is Good Fortune for me.”

Marg recited the Gestalt Prayer she had hung on her bedroom wall. While she was hoping that those words were still true, the

phone rang. It was Cindy Lou checking on her.

“Good to hear your voice,” Marg beamed.

“Yours too. Just wanted to know if you’re alright.”

“So far, so good. Great prospects here! Can we talk in a few days? It’s late and I have to be up early.”


“Bye for now.”

“Good night, Marg.”

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