My sister, Martha, sent an email from Florida a week before Christmas: “A box is being shipped to you from Tennis Express. No looking or guessing!”

Tennis. Six months ago I would have been befuddled, but not now. I couldn’t help myself and started guessing. Would it be a racket? But she loaned me one for the upcoming lessons she’d already bought me for Christmas. Tennis shoes? That would be awesome. I allowed myself a break from the cards I was addressing and leaned back to indulge in a sweet summer memory …

I pushed open the door in the wire fence, this time without trepidation. A couple of weeks back my sister had cajoled me into hitting some balls with her. I hadn’t picked up a racket since I was a kid and my father was trying to get me interested in the game. Martha was the one who finally glommed onto it, and she still plays, all these years later.

We were at the inn next to our summer house on Southport Island. The tennis court is surrounded by tall pines and thus perpetually cool. We were serenaded by jays, chickadees and chattering squirrels. The sound and smell of the surf permeated the scene.

Martha handed me a visor, which topped off my outfit of T-shirt, baggy capris and old sneakers. She was in tennis whites with a cute little skirt and professional-looking shoes. I swooped her spare racket through the air in anticipation.

My sister as teacher was a new experience. She carefully broke down the game, the court, the strokes. When it turned out that I had a strong arm and was quick on my feet, she sang my praises. Even when I hit the ball at a wild angle, I’d hear, “Amazing! I want you on my team!”

I sat up in my chair to resume the task at hand but continued to muse for a moment. During my last year of teaching, I made lists of all the things I would do once I retired. These lists basically included more of everything I was already passionate about: gardening, singing, writing, traveling, yoga … And I have been doing all of these, and more. But taking up an actual sport was the last thing I thought I’d do.

Martha flew up from Florida to spend Christmas with us, and it couldn’t have been more quintessential New England. Christmas Eve Day was spent baking, wrapping and listening to carols on public radio. That night we went to the historic Unitarian Universalist Church in Saco, where my husband and I sing in the choir. Friends and family came over afterward for chowder, eggnog and sweets galore.

We awoke to Winter Storm Ethan and cozied in. Opening presents was a leisurely affair, with frequents stops to gaze out at the swirl of snow. My box from Tennis Express did indeed contain a pair of tennis shoes, which fit perfectly. I’m not too sure, however, about ever donning a cute little skirt!

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