Vivian Kline: Was I Just Lucky My First Eighty-five Years?

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This memoir is part of a larger work by artist, award-winning author and tennis player Vivian Kline. This section is titled "Storm and Dung."

By Vivian Kline

Bethany, Conn., 1970 ...Thunder storms can be exciting! And this one certainly was. Once it cleared we looked around and thought all was well until we heard farm equipment grating against the asphalt road. Looking out we beheld the volunteer fire department scraping the roof of one of our barns off the road and back onto our property.

It was three days before we remembered we had taken over Mr. Peck’s insurance when we bought the house. He had valued the barns at half the value of the house, since he kept 35 cows and a loft full of hay.

In due time the insurance adjuster arrived —a city man. If he had been wearing a long dress, he would have raised it delicately as he walked through the high grass to inspect the damage.

“I know how to estimate a fallen antenna from a roof”, he said,” but this barn is pretty old…”“Yes”, we said in unison: “It is pretty old.”

Within a few days a check arrived for $500 from the company. We had been told we need not replace the barn if we didn’t want to. We didn’t.

The following summer Dan and two nephews spent vigorous hours pulling the whole structure down. When only the framework remained, they pulled out all the hand-made pegs that held it together and put ropes in strategic spots for all the neighborhood kids to pull at the designated moment.

Dan gave the holler. It crashed to the ground so dramatically! But we had forgotten to mention what we were doing to all the neighbors who came out running when they heard the noise. But all went well and down it now was.

Now what? Originally we thought the wonderful gray weathered wood would be salable. especially the hand-hewn beams, but no one wanted them: they might have hidden nails which would damage modern equipment we were told.

I did save some of the silvered old boards to use for framing pictures, but that still left a huge pile of old dry wood. We set the old wood on fire.

Dan and I slept out beside it with the hose at the ready for the three nights it took to slowly burn to a pile of ash.

What to do with the $500? I had always loved tennis and dreamed of having a tennis court on the flat part of our 4 acres.

A man who paved shopping mall parking spaces had built himself a tennis court, and one for an acquaintance of ours, so we asked if he could build one for us.

Although the land looked flat to our naked eyes, it took a local farmer with his equipment to make it really flat. (He lived in the apartment over the kitchen and we reduced his rent for a month in exchange for his help.)

Next came the spreading of the asphalt. We asked for extruding rims around the perimeter with the thought that maybe we could use it for an ice skating rink come winter.

We now had a black tennis court, a few tired rackets and balls. we found that the balls turned a dirty gray very quickly. What to do?

Turns out one could buy the green used for tennis courts. It came in large barrels and the company would lend us the ten squeegee tools on long broom handles with which to spread the goo.

We waited til my sister, her husband and their four young children came for the weekend before dumping out the goo. Dan tipped the barrel and each participant, ranging from strongest to weakest, armed with a squeegee on a broom handle, spread the goo down the line.

Once that was dry, the company came back and lined the court with wide white lines and installed the net. But our court still was lacking a fence to keep tennis balls from flying away.

Dan spent many an hour digging 28 holes, three feet deep, in hard New England soil. In these he placed the ten-foot pipes given to us by a neighbor. We borrowed another neighbor’s cement mixer and planted the poles upright in the holes.

We spent some of the $500 on strong wire that we attached from pole to pole with a borrowed wire puller -- remembering to leave space to get in and out!

Hours of play followed. Good players came for good matches and our girls got better daily. Emily preferred reading but the twins got quite good, though they refused to learn how to score since neither wanted ever to lose to the other.

The ice skating idea wasn’t so successful. Even when we built a barrier so that only half the court would become a rink, the amount of water needed from our well was frightening.

So we waited until a layer of snow covered the space and a smaller amount of water on top would be needed to make ice. The water froze and we got out the skates; but, after a short time, decided we really didn’t like being out there on the bumpy surface... and it was cold!

When someone was throwing out light fixtures we took them and Dan climbed to the top of the poles to attach them. We strung a long wire to an electric outlet and did have a wonderful time inviting friends for square dancing on the tennis court on a warm summer night.

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About Vivian kline

Vivian Bass Kline has recently published a chapbook of her poetry, "Reflections."

She was born at home in 1925, in a four-story brownstone house on the upper west side of Manhattan. She attended Birch Wathen School from kindergarten until attending Vassar College briefly, before marrying Daniel L. Kline, a teacher for many years at Yale.

As a mother of three, she later received a degree, able to teach art in public school. Moving to Cincinnati in mid life, she became a professional enamelist exhibiting widely.

An author of three books, her latest, “Let Freedom Sing of 19th Century Americans, An Historical Novel, Or Could It Be A Musical?” won a prize from the Cincinnati chapter of the NAACP.

Visit Vivian Kline at the Monday Morning Writers Group.