Before my father died when I was twelve, he taught me to play tennis and string racquets. Forty-seven years and some 80,000 racquets later, I can still remember the smell of heated wood after quickly pulling a small piece of spare string through the rough holes of a wooden racket. “Burning them out,” we called it, the friction smoothing the edges, before we started to string. I can still remember the feel of mounting the racket and easing down the weighted foot pedal on dad’s prized Serrano stringing machine. “Straighten the strings, Jimmy, always” he would patiently remind me. Out in the front of the tennis shop we would carefully brush thick golden shellac onto the natural gut strings, then watch it glisten in the summer sun. Customers today often comment that stringing looks therapeutic. I nod and smile. If they ask how I learned, I tell them about my dad.
This drawing of The Millers, of me and my Dad, was a surprise gift from Andy Ramirez, a close friend and doubles partner, who owned a small Ad Agency down the street from where I was going to school at Santa Clara University. One day Andy asked if he could borrow a couple of tennis photos of me and my dad, saying he wanted to work on rebuilding his drawing skills. Andy never knew my father, yet he knew how much my father meant to me.
The last string straightened, I hand the racket over to the customer. They can’t wait to play. I feel renewed. Andy used to tell me that with each string job, I was restringing a soul. Maybe each racquet I string is an unspoken thank you to my father for giving me his love of tennis, the art of racquet stringing. Another racquet finished. I hand it over. Restringing a soul, Andy said. My own, I think, and become whole again.
Jimmy Miller Bio:
Jimmy was born and raised in Los Gatos, California, played on the tennis teams at Los Gatos High School and Santa Clara University, where he earned his degree in Psychology. His father, Greg Miller, was the head tennis pro at the Los Gatos Swim and Racquet Club. Jimmy has worked at four different tennis shops over the past forty-plus years, the last twenty-five at Swetka’s Tennis Shop in Mountain View, Ca. Jimmy taught tennis through the 1990’s, and as a player, reached a high of USA #2, Men’s 30-&-Over Doubles, in 1996. With more than 80,000 racquets woven to date, he still loves to string and has passed down the craft to his son, Zach, who has become an excellent stringer in his own right. (His Grandpa Greg would be proud.) Jimmy and his wife, Gina, also have an amazing daughter, Carly, and reside in San Jose, Ca. You can follow Jimmy and his great Tennis Twitter account @Racquettechie
Note on the Origin of This Piece: This piece started when I saw Jimmy post this drawing of The Millers, of he and his father, on Twitter. Sensing a great story about friends giving gifts of art and of fathers passing down traditions (such as tennis), I asked Jimmy if I might use this artwork for a piece of writing. As I began to explore this work and emailed back and forth with Jimmy about it, I soon realized that he had a beautiful piece of writing on everything this drawing might mean. This is that writing. Thank you, Jimmy, for sharing it with us.
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