Amanda Dickson
Papa and Amanda having a pedicure.

My father had his first pedicure at age 84.

I would like to take credit for it, congratulate myself for introducing Papa to a whole new pleasurable experience, but the outing was his idea. Before I arrived in Florida, he had made up his mind he wanted to take me for a pedicure and get one himself. Wow! Wrap your mind around that one.

So, off to Walmart we went with my sister-in-law. Three pedicures, please. Three tubs of swirling hot water. Three kind pedicurists buffing and puffing the Dickson clan. What a sight we must have been. I got green toes, my sister-in-law blue. (We figured as long as we were already on the wild side, why not.) Papa skipped color and opted for a longer soak and massage instead. (The pedicure itself was enough wild side for him.)

It was not the promise of a pedicure with my father that brought me to Florida, as enticing as that was. My Papa broke his hip and wound up in surgery, then a few weeks in rehabilitation. He broke his hip in the way that only he could have, while playing table tennis. And not just while having a game in the way that you and I might, but while playing in a tournament and diving for a match-winning point, a ball he should have let go but could not. He has always been a competitive player, at 14 and at 84. We talked about the game and the point that led to the fall. “I didn’t get a good night's sleep that night,” he tried to excuse what happened.

“You don’t think maybe you should have let that ball go?” I asked.

“Ah, perhaps,” he crinkled up his face. “But if I had had a good night’s sleep, I would have been on my game and probably have been okay.”

“It was a heckuva match though,” he added with a laugh.

The members of the Charlotte County Table Tennis Club, all 35 of them, came to see him in the hospital and later in the rehabilitation center. I met them at a party we threw for Papa when he came home from the center. They came, all but two of them, many with their spouses. They ate burgers, told stories, listened to stories and shared a camaraderie I have rarely witnessed, one that I can only label love.

“Your father has a mean forehand,” John told me, without the “for a guy his age” that you might have expected on the end.

“We just love your father,” many offered. “Yes, I do, too,” I said lamely in response.

“It’s so great when a guy moves to town with a game as good as your father’s,” Mallory said.

Yes. He has quite a game.

My father has loved to play table tennis like other men love baseball or football, although he loves those games, too. Table tennis, which we don’t call ping pong in my family, is his passion. He has started clubs everywhere he’s lived in the country, coached hundreds of players, and played himself for more than 70 years. I remember buying him a T-shirt once that read “Follow your bliss”, which he wore while playing table tennis. No one has ever been more appropriately dressed.

In the rehab center, they told him he may not walk again. Then they told him he may not walk without a walker or a cane. When I left him Sunday, he was already cheating and crossing the room without the cane. I’m not sure if he’ll be playing in tournaments any more, but my money is on him. That mean forehand with the wicked top spin will be surprising players less than half his age in no time.

We have a great table tennis club here in Utah, probably more than one. I took Papa to play at the one in West Valley when he was here last summer. I hope he’ll be playing there again when he comes this August.

And if he feels like walking on the wild side again and dipping his toes in swirling hot water, there’s a Walmart right down the street from my house.