The next day, as Marg drove to the Recreation Center Gym for coaching, she wondered: Is Rod going to be just a new adventure or the right prospect for much more in my life?
“Hi, Rod”, Marg said cheerfully as she rushed into the gym, ten minutes after Rod. He didn’t notice her tardiness because he fixated on the physically fit athletic body he’d be coaching, and wondered: Will my coaching impress Marg?
“I’m always excited to learn anything new. Art. Cooking. Gardening. New sports. You name it and I’ve probably learned it and still do it. I really love variety and new adventures.”
“A keen student of learning, huh?”
“Always! I’m looking forward to learning pickleball from you.”
“I recall your saying a sabbatical is for learning new things. Do you want me to explain my systematic coaching techniques? They might be useful for instructing your college students.”
Not sure that Rod’s systematic techniques were compatible with her creative approach to educating young minds, but wanting to encourage Rod’s interest in her, Marg responded, “I want to learn new pickleball skills ... and your coaching techniques as well.”
She jabbed Rod’s shoulder, “Counting on it.”
“Okay, Marg. I’ll make sure you learn both.”
And so Rod began: “Did you watch the video tutorials on the Internet?”
“More than that. I studied and imitated every pickleball stroke they demonstrated.”
“Great, because my coaching will build on this. My two broad goals are for you to be aware of what to do in different situations and to become able to hit the right shot successfully.”
“Be aware and able,” the college instructor repeated as self-instruction to aid her achieving these two main goals. “I’m ready, Coach.”
“First, I want to describe my Learn–Unlearn–Relearn Process. Let’s begin by identifying what you learned from playing tennis and badminton so I can build on this, and point out what you need to unlearn.”
Marg jested, “So, you want me to unlearn practices that it’s taken a lifetime to learn?”
“Yes! You said you’re a quick study.”
“Well then, sock it to me, Coach ... I like a challenge.”
And so Rod continued, “I’ve found that unlearning what doesn’t work is necessary before relearning what does work. This is true in life and in sports. For example, you learned to stand close to the tennis net ... you must unlearn this practice when playing pickleball ... and relearn when it’s okay to stand near the pickleball net.” Rod then demonstrated this, and then had Marg practice.
“I got it, Rod ... unlearning inappropriate behaviors prevents doing them.”
“This must be done so you can relearn appropriate new behaviors and habits.”
“I’ve never thought about learning–unlearning–relearning in this way before. I can use this process when instructing my Creative Writing Class ... so their work improves. Thanks, Rod.”
“You’re most welcome,” Rod beamed, wondering whether Marg could also apply this process in her own life as he had done: unlearning what doesn’t work so relearning what works can occur. He looked forward to disclosing his life journey when this seemed appropriate, and finding out hers and whether she had unknowingly gone through this process, or wanted to.
After these brief ruminations, Rod explained his 3-D Coaching Process that would also benefit her student’s learning: “I’ll Describe what to do, so you can learn by listening. I’ll Demonstrate what to do, so you can learn by seeing. You will then learn by Doing as you practice each type of shot.”
“Learning by hearing and seeing and doing sounds familiar.” Suddenly, the Literature instructor recalled, “2500 years ago Confucius said: I hear and I forget. I see and I understand. I do and I remember.”
Delighted by her recall ability, Marg performed two 360 degree twirls like a graceful figure skater doing pirouettes to amaze Rod with her mental ability and capture his full attention, then quipped: “So, I’m not only going to be coached by the local Pickleball Ambassador, but also by Confucius. Awesome!”
“Your fertile imagination amazes me.” Rod did two awkward whirligigs and chuckled, “Because you have two coaches, you’re doubly indebted for today’s coaching.”
“What do you two coaches have in mind?”
“We will think of something. But now, we want to get started.”
Rod then coached Marg to develop a variety of new pickleball strokes. He focused on dink shots that drop just over the net and land in an area called the kitchen or no volley zone. “The dink shot forces your opponent to wait until the ball lands in the no volley zone, then step into the kitchen to volley back a dink shot.” He demonstrated and Marg practiced the dink shot because “the best pickleball players win by hitting this shot,” he said.
Marg performed and verbalized hitting the dink shot, “I cannot volley from the kitchen until the ball lands in this no volley zone. Then, I can step into the kitchen and dink shot it back over the net.”
“You sure are a quick learner!”
To motivate Marg to develop each new stroke, Rod provided feedback. Such as: “You’re watching the ball hit your paddle very nicely. You could hit the ball a little more in front of you. Nice positioning for the next shot.”
Rod explained his three-step feedback: “I like to employ Oreo Feedback where two positive feedbacks sandwich one negative feedback in the middle.”
“Oreos are yummy, so keep’em coming, Coach.”
Marg’s wisecracking didn’t distract Rod as she had intended: “The two positive feedbacks reinforce what you’re doing right, and the negative feedback tells you what to improve,” he responded so she’d understand why this feedback technique works so well.
“I’ve had lots of coaching, but no one used your technique.” With a smile, she added, “Your Oreo Feedback will certainly motivate my students to improve their creative writing.”
“It’s not really mine. John Wooden, the famous basketball coach at UCLA won 10 national championships in twelve years … seven in a row … using this feedback technique.”
Marg wisecracked, “So, I have three coaches today!”
Rod just smiled and bowed three times.
Before leaving the court, Marg jabbed Rod’s shoulder again. “I learned a lot today. I caught everything you taught.”
“I just taught it ...it was you who caught it,” he replied matter-of-factly.
“I caught it ... because you taught it so well,” she retorted.
“You caught it so well ... because you are a quick study.”
“I’m a good learner because you are a great teacher.”
“Great learners make a teacher great,” he quipped back. “You’ve heard the saying, You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.”
“Are you trying to confuse me with a horse, Rod?” she jested, hoping to confuse him.
But she didn’t. “No Ma’am. Just saying I admire the way you drink up learning new skills ... based on what I’ve seen thus far.”
“There’s lots more to show you,” the vivacious blonde flirted.
“I bet there is.”
Marg cleverly used Rod’s reply to invite him to spend more time with her. “Would you let me be your pickleball partner so you can coach me during actual game situations?” She also wanted to benefit from his unmatched coaching ability.
So, Marg the athlete pondered what Marg the lonely widow hoped for: If we play well as pickleball partners, this awesome man might become more than just a prospect.
“Great idea!” Rod was also thinking the same things about her: Is this a God Nod or what?
“I’m especially looking forward to more Oreo Feedback to keep improving ... besides, Oreos are my favorite cookie.”
Both looked at one another and asked in unison, “Want to grab a coffee?”
Rod drove them to Serious Coffee, where they ordered some seriously good coffee, the best in Liberty Falls, then got a table off in a little nook to provide some privacy. Feeling comfortable with Rod prompted Marg to initiate serious conversation about their personal lives. Serious prospecting has begun she thought.
“I suppose you’re wondering why I decided to teach at Liberty College?”
“This has crossed my mind. You could have gone any where for your sabbatical.”
“Liberty College’s English Department values educating young minds … to expand their thinking ... like I do. I also wanted new east coast adventures. My best friend suggested I might find some in Virginia.”
“I’d be pleased to escort you on new adventures that you can only experience in Virginia.”
“I must ask you: Is being my personal escort just another one of your many Pickleball Ambassador duties?”
“Why didn’t I think of that? I’m going to add Escort Attractive Female Newcomers from California to my list of duties.” Rod emphasized Newcomers as he quipped back.
“Please do, kind Sir. But make that Newcomer ... just for me.”
“As you wish, my Lady.”
Her smile invited him to ask, “What do you teach? And why?”
Marg welcomed his probing questions so she could reveal the real her she wanted him to know. “I’ve always liked reading English Literature, especially books that have influenced our thinking. So, I studied for six years to earn a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in this discipline, at the University of California at Berkeley. I realized I could get paid for continuous learning by teaching English Lit to college students. San Ramon College, outside San Francisco, is where I normally teach.”
“You ... for becoming a college instructor so your vocation matches your avocation ... teaching what you love learning.”
“Yeah ... never thought of it exactly like that.”
“Shouldn’t you be paying San Ramon College for letting you teach there, since you enjoy it so much?” he quipped.
“You’re right ... I owe them double or maybe even triple what they pay me,” she retorted.
“Seems like the right thing to do,” he bantered back.
“I owe them even more ... because I also love being a creative writer and teaching this.” Marg loved revealing the real her, and bantering with Rod. “You’ll have to help me tally up all I owe them ... and figure out how to pay them for what I enjoy doing,” she snickered.
“Perhaps, Confucius and I could provide extra coaching on this,” he chuckled, “and you could pay us back, somehow.”
“Yeah ... just enjoying your company is enough ... for now.”
“Looking forward to it,” she cooed and jabbed his shoulder with a flirtatious invitation.
Feeling inspired by this captivating prospect, Rod asked another probing question, “Why do you enjoy creative writing so much?”
“I like imagining far-out creative thinking about unusual story lines and plots, new kinds of characters and character transformations, surprise conflicts and creative resolutions. I enjoy teaching this to my students. I hope to create a new author or two.”
“Bet you will. Tell me more about you.”
“I’m a born-and-bred ... west coast ... sun-loving ... California gal,” she emphasized each point, “who came east to gain new experiences. You know I did a house and car swap with the Thompsons.”
“I know them well. They are in the Bible Study Group that Bib and I co-host, and they attend our church. I even know where they live. So, if you ever need help around there, just whistle … you know how to whistle, don’t you Marg,” Rod wisecracked in his best Humphrey Bogart voice.
“You can count on it, Bogie,” she cooed in her best Lauren Bacall style.
Cutting to the chase, Rod asked, “Are you open to learning our east coast way of life? We’re a lot more traditional than the west coast.” Rod hoped for an affirmative answer from this fascinating woman he hoped would come to love Virginia like he does.
“That’s what a sabbatical is for … to learn new things ... I can take back with me.”
Rod’s thinking – that’s not what I wanted to hear – was interrupted by Marg’s voice, “That’s enough about me. Tell me about you and what you enjoy doing.”
Normally quite shy by nature, Rod felt comfortable enough around Marg to say, “I provide solutions for challenging problems,” as though he was making a sales pitch to get a contract. “Because I’ve solved big problems for big corporate clients, they now contact me and I can choose which clients to help. This lets me travel to many places I enjoy visiting, and pays the bills quite well. Your telephone company, California Bell, wants me to provide more training for them again in the New Year.”
“In which city?”
“San Francisco ... sure do love that city!” Rod paused to smile.
“What will you do there?”
“I’ll train mentoring partners. This works better than training only mentors and only proteges.”
“Sounds sort of like pre-marital counseling of couples so they learn how to communicate with one another and can become better marriage partners. Very creative, Rod.”
“I like your analogy. Okay if I use that?”
She also wanted him to know this: “I teach at San Ramon College ... about 30 miles outside San Francisco ... because I really love that City by the Bay.” She was thinking, Perhaps, Rod left his heart in San Francisco like I did?
Was it because of growing admiration or feeling more comfortable or noticing the absence of a wedding ring again, Marg didn’t know when she said, “You don’t wear a wedding ring … do you live on your own?”
Taking a deep breath, Rod mustered these words, “Three years ago, my wife Mary, Bib’s husband, and JT’s wife were all killed by a drunk driver.”
Marg reached out and squeezed Rod’s left hand.
“He apparently lost control on a patch of icy road ... his car knocked theirs off the road ... their car exploded ... the police said they died instantly ... snuffed out like three candles.”
Marg sandwiched Rod’s hands inside hers, “Our local TV station reported this tragedy. I couldn’t imagine what you must have felt.”
“The only good thing was it brought Bib, JT and me closer ... to help one another accept what happened ... and get on with our lives.”
“That’s why you three are so strongly bonded?”
“I asked Bib to move in with me ... so we could support one another. We included JT in our lives even more ... to support him ... and became closer than the Three Musketeers. Since then, we’ve lived their saying: All for one and one for all.”
“I’d like to be part of that,” Marg said, but Rod didn’t hear her because of rambling thoughts that kept resurfacing: “I sometimes wonder if Bib ever resents my making her play sports with me, like a tomboy, while growing up. But then I know this attracted her husband to her. Barry was very athletic and enjoyed playing sports with Bib. This helped them stay fit and spend time together ... and with Mary and me ... and with JT and his wife. I miss Mary even now, because we were life partners for over thirty years. I’m grateful to God for bringing Mary into my life and have accepted His taking her to be with Him.”
“I know it’s terribly hard to lose a really close partner ... I know … because I lost my husband Mike ... to terminal cancer. Fate brought us together, and Good Fortune made us sync so well ... we both taught in the same department for over thirty years …” her mumbling voice kept trailing off and returning “and we graded assignments sitting side-by-side … and always played tennis and badminton as partners …and were companions on many new adventures.”
Marg’s voice died out as she again grieved her loss. Rod enveloped both of Marg’s hands inside his, so her tears fell onto his protective hands instead of hers.
She continued mumbling, “Even after three years ... I still grieve over losing Mike ... as my soul-mate.” Her normally vivacious smile and cheerful voice were now totally brooding as she thought her Good Fortune had departed with Mike.
As Rod wiped away his tears and hers, she became slightly more upbeat. “Realizing I needed a companion to live with me, I took in a little stray cat. I named her Button because she is small as a button and cute as a button.” Marg’s normal composure almost returned as she recalled naming her cat, but fell again as she continued, “I know I rescued her, but I also know she has rescued me much more … everyday.” And finally returned to normal, “I brought little Button with me … to your little town.”
“That seems only fitting … a little town for little Button.” Rod hoped Marg might realize this.
“I hadn’t thought of it like that. But, you may be right. A little town for little Button,” she repeated aloud while her imagination wondered: and perhaps for me.
“Marg, I certainly understand the loyalty of a pet … because I rescued a mal-treated dog from the local SPCA after Mary’s death. I trained Shep to go almost everywhere I go, except to play pickleball. Shep always provides unconditional love for me, no matter how my day has gone, no matter whether I spend enough time with her, no matter what. I want you to meet her.”
“I want you to meet my little Button, too. She is much more independent than your Shep seems. Cats are like that ... they like being alone and sleeping a lot. This is probably a good thing though, because I like getting out and being active as often as possible. I try to make up for this by holding and caressing her and brushing her whenever I can. When Button purrs, I purr too.”
Sitting solemnly in Serious Coffee, they each continued reminiscing about the past, visualizing their marriage partners, cherishing treasured memories, holding back tears as best they could, enveloping each other’s hands like Oreos, protecting the delicacy inside. They volleyed empathy back and forth, like they had volleyed the pickleball, and smiled.
They were volleying hope when their waitress brought the check. Marg suddenly realized she had to leave immediately to revise her college courses and assignments from the shorter Three-Quarter System she was used to, to the longer Two-Semester System at Liberty College.
While driving Marg back to her car, Rod mustered the nerve to make his first proposal to her, “Would you like to be my partner in our Pickleball Mini-Tournament next Saturday?”
“Yes!” She gushed, then blushed at his proposal, and jabbed his shoulder.
“This is also our Annual Summer Potluck Luncheon, so we each need to bring some enticing food to share with other pickleballers.”
“Is this a date?”
“It’s not exactly a date, date,” Rod quipped, “Haven’t done that for a very long time.”
“Whatever it is, sounds yummy.” Her creative mind wondered about this new man in her life, who could play gently or aggressively, who shared the lost of a beloved spouse, who shows heartfelt empathy, who is both strong and vulnerable.
Driving to their separate homes, Rod recalled how very high his Mary had set the bar for being a life-long marriage partner, and Marg recalled how Mike was her life long companion, always doing new things together.
Rod wondered: Why does Marg still grieve Mike’s passing so strongly?
Marg wondered: Why does Rod not grieve Mary’s passing like I grieve for Mike?
Both wondered: Have I been spoiled? Can I be spoiled again ... by someone else?
That night, Marg envisioned not being alone and wrote in her journal: Rod is AWESOME. His coaching techniques helped me and will help my students. His Oreo technique is most inspiring, giving me feedback on the court, and protecting my hands inside his off the court. Sharing my deepest feelings with him is so easy. Is Rod only showing interest in me as the local Pickleball Ambassador – like he does with other new pickleballers? Will we become more than just pickleball partners? Only Fate and time will tell.
Marg was so excited and hopeful that she phoned Cindy Lou to tell her all about this.
At his home, Rod pondered not being alone and confided this to furry Shep: “Is this a God Nod for Marg to be such a keen learner, easy to talk with? Is this vivacious, free-spirited Californian an eligible prospect for us? Can east meet west? Only God knows. But, don’t worry little Shep – she can’t catch a Frisbee like you can.”