Saturday, September 1, 2012
Croquet for Catholics
First, let’s be clear. Six-wicket croquet, which is what I’m talking about, is not the backyard variety we all remember from our childhood neighborhoods, the put-your-foot-on-the-ball and whack-it-in-the-bushes and have-another-brewskie type. It is the courtly British style, with six rectangular wickets and a post in the middle, and white tennis-type clothing for tournaments, when everyone looks like center court at Wimbledon circa 1925. Other times, when you’re just mucking around, it’s more like Alice in Wonderland.
In either case, I fit right in.
Here’s why Catholics should take back croquet:
1. It’s hard, like Catholicism. Croquet looks easy, but try hitting a ball through one of those “hoops,” as we call the stiff vertical wickets. It’s camel-and-eye-of-needle stuff.
2. Blue is partner with black, red with yellow. In other words, it encourages fellowship and requires charity, especially when your partner is an idiot.
4. As in life, you play against time. In the old popular backyard version, the goal was to be first around the court and win the race to the last peg. Six-wicket is not a race. The goal is for you and your partner to run more hoops than your opponents when time runs out. If you hit the post in the center after going through the last hoop, you eliminate yourself from play. In other words, croquet may promote homicide (see #2 above), but does not encourage suicide.
5. Croquet involves original sin. It’s called deadness. When you strike (“roquet”) another ball, you get two additional shots, one (the “croquet”) in contact with the roqueted ball (no feet allowed) and a second “continuation shot.” But now you are “dead on” the roqueted ball. If you can use this maneuver to get through your next wicket, or to bring you to a second and sometimes third roquet in the sequence and finally get you through your wicket before the end of your turn, you clear your deadness. If not, prepare for hell.
6. In croquet, the meek are blessed. Outright aggression is often penalized severely, unless you can use it to make your hoop and clear deadness. The only thing worse than being “partner-dead” (partners dead on each other and therefore unable to collude) is being “three-ball dead” (dead on all other balls, see “hell” in #5).
7. Poorness of spirit is also a plus. It turns out that, because of the curse of deadness, your best strategy often is to avoid it and go out of bounds at the end of your turn. After doing so, you have to bring your ball inside the line by the length of a mallet-head, but here on the sideline you are much less likely to fall into the clutches of the non-meek, non-poor-in-spirit, with which croquet courts tend to abound.
8. Confession is encouraged though seldom practiced. On your croquet shot, the ball you’re in contact with must move. Sometimes it does not. You’re supposed to confess this voluntarily, but, well, few do. It is considered bad form for your opponent to scream, “The ball didn’t move!” Instead, your opponent is supposed to ask, between sips of consommé, “Did the ball move?” And you can lie, of course.
9. Croquet is pro-life, especially the tail end of life. It’s a great game for the elderly. Seriously, it is the only competitive sport I know where you can get progressively better through your 60s, 70s, and even 80s. My mother’s cousin often plays with me and two other men, and often plays us even. She is 85 years old.
10. Because it’s a summer-only game and I only play it in Maine a few weeks a year, croquet finally is a great memento mori. You don’t know who will be back next summer. Mom’s cousin? Maybe. The guy I most enjoy playing with had a minor stroke last November and has made a remarkable recovery. We’ve played even this year as we did last. But who will be here when I return next year? Will I return?
I return home on Tuesday purified by three weeks on the croquet court. I would encourage other Catholics to consider a croquet destination the next time they’re considering a pilgrimage or retreat.