It started for us back in the early 80’s. Croquet. Game of Kings.
A party at our new home in Newberry led us outside for entertainment. There, we found a child’s croquet set stuffed away in the dusty corner of the garage. We retrieved the set, dusted it off and set it up in the manner that we were taught as kids: stakes on each end, two wickets in front of each stake, and various wickets placed in the middle of the yard. And we started playing. We played till dark, brought out the lights and played until midnight. The beer and wine were flowing and we were suddenly hooked on this backyard game. We invented new styles of play as we progressed. Can you jump the sidewalk? Oh really, you can? Then let’s include the neighbor’s yard as well. So we expanded our territory. Now it was jump the sidewalk to the other yard, where we had setup several more wickets, back across the sidewalk, around the “George” bush, over next to the rose beds, and finally to home. We got pretty good at this bastardized version of the game. Then someone in the group, I don’t remember who, found out that croquet was an actual sport, with actual rules and a couple different ‘official’ versions of the game. After more study, my friends discovered a version called ‘American 6 wicket’, the game we would pick up and stay with until this very day.
The game is setup like so: Stake in the middle, 4 wickets on the 4 corners and 2 wickets on either side of the stake, about 6 feet apart from the stake. The object is to go through the four outside wickets, through the middle one, left side of the stake, through the other middle one and then reverse course by going the opposite direction around the course. Then, through the center ones again and hit the stake. Simple, right? Sure…believe that if you want.
We studied the rule book and continued to progress in our skills. As time went by, we found that we could play teams-two against two. So the teams of Durham/Reid and Ridgeway/Wilder were born. I was blue, Durham was black, Ridgeway took the yellow ball and Wilder the red. Although we still played singles (when other players were available), we always went back to team play. In 1988, we had a championship with trophies and t-shirts awarded to the winners. We continued this tradition for a couple of years. We took miles of video footage from these games, drank more than our share of after-match beer and generally had a great time. Finally it was decided to go to a place where croquet had real followers – Bald Head Island.
Unfortunately my partner, Larry Durham, was unable to attend this event. I decided to partner with my lovely wife-Long shot Laura for a couple of games. The greensward was beautiful! Manicured as if some elf had come down from on high and close-clipped each blade of grass separately, making the perfect playing surface. The wickets were made of iron and were so tight that a ball would just fit through it. The sand fleas and biting gnats were the only thing about playing at Bald Head that were a distraction, otherwise it was the perfect weekend of croquet. I don’t remember who won or lost those couple of days – Wilder or Ridgeway could probably answer for that. I do remember that from that point forward, I would be a croquet geek.
Fast forward to 2015. This past weekend, the team of Durham/Reid witnessed glory. Unfortunately, the glory belonged to Ridgeway/Wilder. In what was the most amazing comeback in all my years of playing this damned game, Ridgeway and Wilder put on an amazing display of wicket making to come from way behind and kick booty. After that, it was all over but the crying. I know that after all these years of playing; after hundreds of games we’ve played and all these hours that we’ve dedicated to this pursuit, this weekend will be a mere footnote. That’s a good thing. And I hope that this will be but a shining moment in a dark future for the other team. But whatever happens, if you look over at that empty field in the burg of Possum Kingdom on a hot summer day, imagine four old men doing what they love – cursing at one another while trying to stay away from the dreaded “3 ball dead”. Easy, right?