Years ago, probably a couple of decades ago in fact, some neighbours of ours did something unusual. No, it’s not what you’re thinking; what they did was, they dug up their backyard. Completely. Bulldozed away all the grass, flowers and shrubs and flattened the dirt.
They lived one street behind us and I used to walk our dog Shirpa the Lhasa apso (he was the first of our three weird dogs) past their place and try not to snoop through their fence with the wide spaces in the wooden slats.
All of us neighbours kind of kept an eye on them, if you know what I mean, and then they did something even more odd.
They had their back yard paved, of all things. And the oddest part was they didn’t park a car, boat, trailer or garage on the paved pad. So we kept an even closer eye on the odd neighbours, as most neighbours are wont to do.
Especially later when we noticed the husband and wife on their hands and knees on the pavement one day with paint cans and brushes. Hmmm. Spaceship landing pad? Urban hieroglyphics? What the heck is going on over there?
Then one Saturday afternoon not long after, we heard it. Anyone within a two-block radius could hear it. It was an unusual sound and it was definitely coming from the weird neighbours’ yard.
THWOK! THWACK! BINK! BONK! Stopping, then starting again. Random knocking noises. Echoing around Eastview Estates.
It wasn’t the sound of hammers or nail guns or construction of any kind, and yet it was somehow vaguely familiar. After about a half an hour of this audio anomaly, I and my constant companion (which I like to call “rampant curiosity”) couldn’t stand it anymore.
Not that I’m particularly snoopy, honest, but I grabbed the dog’s leash and the dog and strolled nonchalantly over in the direction of the unusual sound from the odd backyard of the weird neighbours, and if I happened to wander by and by chance discover what on earth was going over there, well, so be it.
Shirpa and I crossed the street and ambled down the alley toward the noisy neighbours, the random knocking and cracking sounds getting louder and louder, when suddenly there they were — three or four adult couples on the pavement in the back yard clearly visible through the slatted fence, THWOKing and THWACKing away like there was no tomorrow.
On the pavement where the grass used to be there was a box of painted white lines, a tennis net strung across the middle. But they weren’t playing tennis — the yard was much too small for that.
What they were doing was some kind of hybrid tennis — a kind of ping-pong on steroids.
They were whacking away at a small white ball with holes in it, and they were whacking with large ping-pong-type paddles back and forth over the net.
The paddles were about the size of racquet ball rackets, only instead of strung strings the paddle thingies were made of solid wood, so that there were loud bonking and binking sounds when they hit the plastic ball. I heard somebody call it “wiffle ball,” though I wasn’t eavesdropping or anything.
But here’s the thing: they were obviously having an absolute blast.
But what, you may ask, has all this to do with pickles? Not sure why you would ask that, but I’m glad you did because ever since my unusual fun-loving, wiffle ball-hitting neighbours whacked away in the backyard all those years ago, I’ve been wanting to try it myself.
To no avail – nobody anywhere that I could find was paving their backyard and hitting wiffle balls around. Until I discovered something odd called Pickleball. Right here in my own home town, of all places.
So just recently, I see from the paper that there’s an actual pickleball club here now, so I look up ‘pickleball’ to make sure it isn’t a bunch of weirdoes hitting pickles around, or perhaps smacking each other with garlic dills or something, and sure enough it looks a lot like the wiffle ball game the long-ago neighbours were playing.
So I show up at West Park Community Centre and I manage to join up — the weird, wild and woolly long and short of which I look forward to blabbing about in future ramblings. But meantime, I know you’re wondering what I was wondering from the get-go: Why, oh why do they call it ‘pickle’ ball?
Well, turns out, lore has it that when the game was invented in 1965 near Seattle, Wash., the family’s dog kept running away with the plastic ball with the holes in it, and so they named the game after the dog. And, you guessed it, the dog’s name was Wiffle.
Just kidding, of course. Unfortunately, the dog’s name was Pickles and they started calling the game pickleball.
This got me to thinking: What if the family who invented this game, a pastime that now has a World Pickleball Federation with well over 100,000 players in the U.S. alone, had a dog of a different name? So I Googled the most popular dog names and found out all those people and Yours Truly could now be playing: Maxball, Baileyball, Scruffyball or Daisyball? Buddyball, Busterball, Bearball or Banditball. Gizmoball or maybe Luluball, Lolaball or the highly prejudicial Ladyball.
I could go on but I think perhaps the point is well past made.
Suffice to say that pickleball is fun and everybody should try it sometime, but also it’s fun to insert the name of one of your dog’s, cat’s or favourite pet creature’s name in front of the word ‘ball.’ I personally would be playing Shirpaball, Scottyball or Scampball these days, if the game didn’t have me in such a pickle.
Harley Hay is a local freelance writer, award-winning author, filmmaker and musician. His column appears on Saturdays in the Advocate. His books can be found at Chapters, Coles and Sunworks in Red Deer.