Wednesday, February 27, 2013

En Garde

Four Introductory Fencing Classes
Bergen Fencing Club
Sold by LivingSocial-  (February 27, 2013)

Lunge, parry, thrust. Lunge, parry, thrust.

The staircase led to the basement of my childhood home. Having descended,  I was greeted by cinder block walls and linoleum tiles.  Against one of the walls sat a chest, where old toys, gloves and other items, too old to be of interest but  too valuable to discard found a residence. A ping pong table was given central billing, paddles and balls in various state of disrepair located all around. The space in the rear was the province of the washing machine and dryer, the clothesline and some shelving for the rarely needed. Nothing about this area was remarkable. Except for the items hanging on one wall.

The two masks and swords rested precariously, sitting on protruding nails and wires. From 1936 through 1938, the NYU fencing team won the NCAA "3 Weapons" Championship.There was no evidence, no proclamation that the equipment in this basement belonged to one of the epee team members. Someone who, so family lore has it, was an All-American.

Sometimes I wandered down those steps with my dad. Mostly it was to play ping pong. I moved past the fencing relics taking no notice. Often, I would  in short order trudge back up those steps pouting, maybe even crying, not because my dad had just defeated me once again, but due to the imagined ankle sprain or pulled stomach muscle that I had somehow sustained. Meanwhile, the swords, the masks and the memories of their glory gathered dust.

On rare occasions, my dad and I would get the fencing gear down, prepare ourselves for battle and take our stances. My right arm, bent at the elbow with the fingers facing skyward. Feet at right angle to one another. Then the dance would begin. For a  few minutes, this became a home for intricate steps, for attacks and retreats, for unspoken bonds. No longer a place of cinder block and tile, no longer relegated to the trivial or the forgotten, but the center of this universe. And then the moment faded, the gear once more unceremoniously hanging, no hint of its pedigree or its significance. A room like any other.

I can only imagine the thoughts that ran through my dad's mind when we danced in that wonderful harmony. The years he had worked so hard, learning and memorizing the details of what greatness demanded and what greatness felt like.The love of sport, the competition, the championships. And more than anything, staring at a child peering at you through that over-sized mask.. There, beside the ping pong table and the old toy chest.

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