by Karen S. Bennett
Charles Co Arts Alliance Newsletter
Darling, lithesome Tiffany must be in her mid-fifties by now. I’ll bet she’s still the prettiest among her contemporaries. She’d be surprised to know how she impacted on my life although we were never introduced. We encountered each other in an unlikely face-off in an intramural gymnastic competition in community college in the late 1970s when I was about thirty-three.
I was on New York City’s roll of Aid to Dependent Children, (ADC), also known as Welfare while I was in night school. I needed a single credit in physical education in order to meet the requirements for graduation from nurses training. Archery, Robin Hood’s own sport, offered on Tuesday afternoon, would have made me a true heroine to my kids, but alas, the classes conflicted with biology and chemistry, as did the bowling classes, and, well, I had no true talent for bowling. The first bowling ball I ever pitched, shot straight out behind me, scattering the on-lookers like so many well-hit duckpins.
The Tumbling/Trampoline offering seemed to be the obvious choice for me as the class fit into my evening schedule and I already knew how to flip and twist thanks to my teenaged diving experience from neighborhood swim meets. I grasped the concept of freeze frame mid-air postures, such as tuck, pike and layout, and I looked forward to mid-air feats above a trampoline’s firm, woven canvas, contrasted to the tricks done in the air, above turquoise water.
For those unfamiliar with TV’s coverage of Olympic diving and gymnastic events; ‘tuck’ is that position assumed by the screaming kid at the pool, hurtling past your head, with his arms hugging his knees to his chest. The unofficial name is the cannonball, where icy water splashes onto your sun-warmed shoulders and the pages of your book, causing you great annoyance at other peoples’ kids. The ‘pike’ position is the polite and simple jack knife, and the ‘layout’ is the familiar swan dive, known to all young people who are trying to impress a member of the opposite sex. Twists and front and backward flips are added to the layout, pike, or tuck positions, which increases the ‘degree of difficulty,’ ratcheting up the athlete’s score. Anyway, I felt sure I’d get an A in the one credit course. Only my friend, God, knew how my past diving, or my new trampoline experience would make me a better nurse, but I was game, and the one credit was mandatory.
I planned for my kids to see Mommy compete in the intramural competition. They knew my routine, because I practiced the moves as they were seated in a line, their six little soles of their shoes sticking straight out from the couch. Dutifully they watched me mime the jump, jump, jump, then I’d swing my arm up and bend backwards to indicate my back flip. Then more pretend jump, jump, jump, as the kids watched, because I was their mother, doggone it, and they were being obedient, and had no choice but to sit and be the audience. They clapped as I bowed to them taking my final living room kudos. They’d soon see the real thing.
At the college intramural competition, students and their friends peopled the two walls of bleachers facing each other across the highly varnished gymnasium floor. Pals hollered good luck to competitors. Okay, two o’clock. Let the games begin. The program alternated the men’s events with the matching women’s events, ending with the Ladies’ Trampoline.
Scratchy recorded music heralded the entrance of the gladiators, those young men in black gym shorts, community college logo tee shirts, white socks and flat canvas shoes, walking briskly in line, swinging their arms rhythmically to the first event of the day, Men’s Mats. One young man after another wowed us with difficult flips, and exercises of accomplished musculature and complicated agility. A winner was chosen and mothers and sweethearts applauded more loudly than the rest of the spectators.
Next came the Ladies’ Mats, where after high complexity spinning, cartwheels, flips, and round-offs, the very cutest of girls was awarded first place. She was Tiffany. Tiffany wore a forest green, long-sleeved leotard, with white tights and black flat ballet shoes. Her shiny, honey brown hair was parted in the middle going off to two bouncy pony tails, tied with green yarn bows pulled high over each ear. Her pony tails bounced, dusting her shoulders. The bows bobbed and their tails followed the direction of her thick, smooth, shampoo-advertisement hair, each time she nodded or turned her pretty head. Her figure was sleek, long and athletic, perfect: she was twenty. Cute as a magazine model, she was. You had to love her. I did.
Back to the Men’s events, where the first place award went to a different fellow for each piece of equipment. Then, on to the women’s uneven bars. Tiffany took first place. What a beautiful contradiction her slender body and long legs were to the sturdy, brown leather vaulting horse. She won. Her comely smile lit up her flawless skin. Her teeth shone white.
Tiffany was working on a monopoly, beating all other female contenders in each category. Her practiced poise, excellent balance and amazing elevation won her first place on the balance beam. She delicately and gracefully went on to smash all other women competitors on each event. Tiffany played to the crowd with a “Who, me?” hand on her chest each time her name was mentioned as the first place winner. Well, she was the best. Really. Tiffany beat out all the less cute girls in less pretty leotards, girls without the bouncy hair, and girls, very honestly, of mediocre talent. The poor other girls.
To my surprise and chagrin only two names were on the docket for the women’s trampoline competition. Tiffany was to perform first and I was second and last. In this example, I was in fact a woman, a mother with a C cup bra, and maybe even had the first or second white hair on my head. One glance at me and Tiffany knew she had nothing to fear.
Showtime. Tiffany took her place on the taut canvas. She looked up, took the performer’s posture, and began with starter jumps to gain height. As I watched her flips I thought she did not seem to be working very hard at her routine. Why work? She’d made a clean sweep of all the events so far. She was probably tired after acquiring all those first places. Tiffany completed her flawless routine, received the applause, bowed and left the canvas.
I was up next. Kiss, kiss, kiss to my children on the bleachers. They looked so cute. Applause, applause. I took a deep breath, and wobble-walked to the center of the trampoline and faced my kids in the bleachers and smiled. They were totally engaged. Yaaay, Mommy!
I bent my knees to start the small ripples of bounce until I had the momentum underway. One … two … three … and wheee, a nice neat pike position backwards flip and back to bounce, bounce, bounce and up, up, up to a tall, midair standing posture, with my stomach pulled way in, then snap to a perfect pike, toe-touching jack knife, head up, chin high, and boing, boing, boing, fast front flip followed by legs split to a wide spread eagle, feet arched, then, one, two, three, and a ninety degree sitting position from high in the air to the canvas and spank! back straight up into the air, upright, standing, smiling, the wisps of my short hair staying close to my head, no flounce in the breeze. Last maneuver, the high, high jump putting me at eye level with the people in the top row of the bleachers. I snapped back in a stiff swan-spread of arms, body taut and flat. Ahhh, perfection. I dropped down to the canvas and popped up for the final ‘tah-dah’ and swoop of my hand to the knees in a deep bow, then wobble-walked again to the circus roll off the trampoline.
I received audience recognition and appreciation from my little kids, oh! and even a tee shirt from the school that says Intramural Champion, Staten Island Community College. The poor tired shirt is in the bottom of a drawer somewhere. My teacher was happy, giving me that expected A. And, there was an unexpected glow to the event that answered the prayers of all the defeated girls in the previous events.
I beat Tiffany. Thanks ole Tiff.