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December, 2003

The Ping-Pong Champ

by Larry

I have various memories of my dad, Leon, playing ping-pong with great skill and dash, when we lived in Falls Church, VA, about 1947-1951, when I was four to eight years old and he was in his mid- to late thirties.

Julia, Leon, and Larry's Falls Church,
VA, home from about 1947-1951.
I asked Mom, Julia, for her recollections, to help fill in the gaps in my remembrance of his involvement in the game, and this is what she wrote in reply:

"Dad learned to play ping pong while serving in Hawaii during World War II. I never heard of him playing before that. He was sharing a home on base with several other officers. They evidently had a ping pong table and used off duty hours to play. At our house in Falls Church we had a basement and used it as a play room. I don't recall how we happened to buy the ping pong table since I never played well enough to give him a good game. However the primary use was when we invited our stock broker, a young bachelor named Fred B., to come for dinner and he enjoyed, or at least seemed to enjoy, games with Dad. These games would be followed by hours when Dad would pick Fred's brain for ways to invest. This became an almost weekly affair until Fred married a couple of years later. After his marriage we were invited to his home several times but we weren't able to fit in with his crowd and the association ended except for exchanging Christmas cards. However Fred remained our stock broker until we moved to Austin. There Dad switched to Merrill Lynch with Papa Frank's [Dad's dad, my paternal grandfather. L.] broker getting our account.

After moving from Falls Church we didn't have a place for ping pong for a long time. By the time we did have one Dad seemed to have lost interest in playing; at least that is the way I remember it. I hope this is helpful. Mom." (Thanks, Mom, for this extra background info!)

Leon and Larry next to the family Ford.
The photo was taken in 1949 during a
visit with relatives in San Antonio, TX.

I recall well the basement we had in Falls Church. Dad created a well-equipped workshop for himself there soon after we had moved in. I remember his buying a new motor that would power different tools, especially a table saw and a grinding stone. He also acquired a diversity of other implements, such as a measuring tape, a level, screwdrivers, a ball-peen hammer, hand saws, a chisel, a linoleum knife, a tool box, a power drill with drill bits, large and small vices or clamps, a wrench set, a plane, brand new screws and nails, and so on. I think Mom had given him some of these things as birthday, anniversary, or Christmas gifts. I believe he also had a sander, a new assortment of paint brushes, and a spray painting device. It was, in short, a fairly well equipped working area.

The workshop, if one were going down the basement stairs, was just to the right. He organized his power and hand tools, screws, bolts, nuts, nails, and the working surfaces in a compact, efficient manner.

From this hub a great deal of creative, energetic activity occurred in the evenings, after he got home from work, or on weekends. For instance, he made me a wooden toy airplane and a fine knotty pine desk. I loved that desk! It was a thing of beauty, function, and durability, complete with snug drawers on one side, and it nicely fit my then small body. I regretted, years later, when I became too big for it and had to hand it down to one or another of my siblings.

Julia, Leon, and Larry on
their Falls Church, VA,
front porch, about 1948.
From here too he made a set of sturdy sawhorses, planned and administered his remodeling and finishing of the attic, and, not least, with a trademark conscientious craftsmanship, cut, sanded, and painted our ping-pong table out of a large sheet of plywood he'd bought for the purpose. I remember him carefully putting the final touches on it and, with understandable pride, his showing it off once it was ready and in place, the new net now for the first time stretched tightly across its middle width. With new paddles and a box of ping-pong balls completing the enterprise, we were in business. No hunter with his rifle, teaching his youngster how to use it to down a deer, could have had more pleasure than he in showing me how to hold the ping-pong paddle for best effect, the rules of the game, or then how to actually play.

At first, of course, I was quite clumsy as his "sparring" partner, no match for him at all, but with somewhat uncharacteristic patience and humor he encouraged me, and we played hundreds of games. He won almost all at first, but gradually I got better until I could really compete, firing off the return balls or serves with good force, speed, and accuracy.

His main competition though, of course, was from other adults. As Mom says, his foremost player was his stockbroker, Fred. Their prolonged and rapid volleys were a sight to behold! But I believe he also had a few other occasional table tennis matches, with fellow officers from the Pentagon where he worked.

I loved watching Fred or the others playing Dad in these duels. It pleased me to see that, as the evenings wore on, he almost always pulled out ahead in the successive games' tally. He was very fast, would almost dance his play, and could drill the ball to just where he wanted it, barely touching the edge on the opponent's side and yet farthest from the challenger's current position, making it almost impossible for the ball to be returned. Time after time he ended the evening the absolute victor. My dad was the ping-pong champ!

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