Jaime Sommers grew up with Steve Austin. They attended school together, and in their long friendship was a deep understanding of the other that would serve as the foundation for their later romance. Life had taken them in separate directions. He went into the military, and then into the space program. She went onto the professional tennis circuit, and became one of the top five women players. When he learns that she is also visiting Ojai, he heads into town to seek her out. And where does he find her? On the tennis court, of course.
In visiting Ojai, I wondered if I might find the tennis court where Steve and Jaime renewed their acquaintance. In the story "The Bionic Woman," written by Kenneth Johnson, a young girl stood behind a green, waist-high chain link fence. Steve chats with the girl, and as the two watch Jaime play, green wooden bleachers rise in the background. The young girl proudly informed him that Jaime is the most important person who ever came out of their town, “except for that astronaut guy.” While this unintended slight bothers him a little, for the most part his attention is fixed upon Jaime. When Jaime finishes her game, and notices him, she allows him to carry her tennis bag, and they walk off through Libby Park together.
What I found was not one Tennis court surrounded by green, chain link fencing and wooden bleachers, but several collections of them sprinkled across this expanse of natural beauty. I finally gave up my quest and photographed several of the courts, and then sat down to watch the locals playing. The courts were full on this Saturday morning, and the bleachers testified to Ojai’s love affair with the sport. The Ojai Valley Tennis Club is over a hundred years old, and “The Ojai” is the oldest, continuously run tournament in the United States. All the big names have played here at some time, including Billy Jean King, Jimmy Conners, and of course, Jaime Sommers.
While I've never loved Tennis like Jaime did, I can understand her sorrow over having to give up something you love. For much of her life, Tennis was her life: it was what she did. After her accident, and eventual recovery, she realized it was time to leave that portion of her life behind. She did this quietly, and became a school teacher in Ojai, deciding to put down roots in her home town, and invest herself in training the next generation. In doing so, she found something new to build her life around: a different activity to give her life meaning and worth. She picked herself up after she fell, dusted herself off, and set her feet upon a new course. I admire her for that.
Several players noticed us photographing them, and said “Hello” or otherwise wished us a pleasant day. We sat down and watched part of a game (or a match, whatever it’s called). I may understand the scoring system of Tennis no better than I understand Cricket, but someday I may learn both. I suspect this is one of those instances in which the words “yes” and “right” take on the opposite of their normal definitions, but you never know. I’m still waiting to see those pigs fly, and in this era of global warming, learning that Hell had just frozen over would be…cool.
At any rate, one doesn’t need to understand the intricacies of the game, and know its terminology, to enjoy watching it. The locals were clearly enjoying themselves, and for a few minutes, it was pleasant enough to sit and watch them. Then my wife and I rose, and like Steve and Jaime, walked off through Libby Park together.
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