THROUGH A TOWNIE’S LENS
By Jock Lauterer
What with the Olympics cranking up this week, it seems appropriate for this scribbler to put my athletic prowess to the test. My event is table tennis, more commonly known in the vernacular as Ping-Pong. And for my first competition, I chose a soft target. Or so I thought.
Readers of a certain age will recall Jan and Dean’s hit from the ‘60s, “The Little Old Lady from Pasadena,” in which a young buck in his hot car is humiliated by a speeding granny.
I can relate, albeit on a different field of competition. After getting thumped yesterday by the North Carolina Senior Games table tennis champion, I know how that unsuspecting kid felt.
Enter Susan Murphy, who is 95 and mother of my sister-in-law, Michele Vernon of Chapel Hill, and who recently moved here from Hendersonville. I had heard how she humiliated the competition in her division at the state table tennis games of 2019, but my hubris prevented me from noticing that red flag.
Now, I consider myself a not-too-shabby Ping-Ponger; in fact, I’ve always been secretly proud of my skills. So, I told Susan I’d love to play a round or two, figuring, what’s the worst that can happen? After all, I’ll have to go easy on the old girl, considering her age and all.
But as they say, pride goeth before a fall.
The fact that she had a regulation Ping-Pong table stashed in her car garage should have been foreshadowing enough.
We popped over to her place, and after chit-chat, got down to serious warmups. Susan, a lithe former high school PE teacher, the embodiment of the word “spry,” stayed neck-and-neck with me through 30 minutes of practice rounds. Then, giving me a piercing look across the net, she challenged brightly, “Let’s play!”
“Urk,” This sounds like a serious challenge. And so it was.
The first game stayed tight, neck and neck, ping for pong, tit for tat — going into four sweaty overtimes — until she finally bested me, 16-14.
OK, I’m thinking, time to quit messin’ around. But to my surprise, my opponent doubled down — and the more Susan played, the better she got; the more I played, the worse I got.
In the end, Lauterer sputtered like Federer, wilting before Susan’s cunning corner shots, disarming long lobs and killer backhand slams, 11-9 and 11-4.
Go grannie, go.
Incidentally, Susan is looking for other Ping-Pong partners. Give me a shout and I’ll connect you. email@example.com And thanks for wife Lynne for the photo of Susan with that killer backhand.
Jock Lauterer began selling newspapers for Jim Shumaker and Roland Giduz on the streets of Chapel Hill at the age of 8. For the last 20 years, he has served as a senior lecturer and adjunct professor at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media, teaching photojournalism and community journalism.