It was what you might call, if such a thing existed, perfect weather for ping pong. Late afternoon temperatures in the low 60’s and now, just past suppertime, gently dipping into the high 50’s. Mostly clear with a light chessboard of clouds intermittently blowing over a small sliver of moon.
I lay flat on my back on the second floor deck off the carriage barn, staring up at the rapidly transforming nighttime sky just as the Heavenly Switchman began the night’s celestial work. Close your eyes for sixty seconds, think deep thoughts about shish kebab, Sweden, and rockabilly music, then reopen to see another freshly lit batch. Wash, rinse, repeat until you are blanketed in stars.
Below me, down in the main barn I could hear the clattering of pails and the chattering of boys as they coaxed out the last of Violet’s evening milk. There’s lots of good, sweet milk in that cow these days, gallons of it, torrents. I have purposely been slacking lately on the milking duties, outsourcing most of it to the older fellas. Alison and I are not so much raising dairy cattle as we are raising children on this farm. Milking is the best, most honored chore we have here, and a great one for teenagers. Our oldest wrote a college application essay about it. Daily milking carries a street cred like few other competing high school activities can. At least it should. For any school receiving tuition dollars from this household it will anyway.
The younger kids were 20 feet away, just inside the carriage barn brushing up on their ping pong. I bought the table last year on a whim, something I had seen on Craigslist on the way back from the butcher near Kalamazoo. Already hauling a payload of 1,200 pounds of beef I picked up the table too and so far it has been a great investment. We’ve logged over 500 games this year alone. I know because I’ve been keeping a Google Sheets tally. It’s my day job – my reflex after all – to measure return on investment to the hundredth of a point. In an era of increasingly expensive entertainment, at less than 10 cents a game, this would qualify as a “home run” as they say in the business. An autumnal game of barn ping pong is hard to beat. A good match has a way of calming both mind and body, of resetting the synapses.
At dinner I challenged each of the kids to a game. Any winner would not only get their own serving of crème brûlée (an A+ use of all the extra milk and cream), but also a second congratulatory serving, my own. They all jumped at the chance. The only thing better than a serving of homemade crème brûlée is two servings of homemade crème brûlée.
So while the kids finished up with the milking and took some extra practice reps I watched the heavens a few ticks longer.
It’s trite but true to point out there’s a certain majesty to it all, enough in the starry skies to make you feel paralyzingly small. Someone up there is arranging stars, planets, principalities, and galaxies yet down here I struggle to keep the recycling organized and the tires rotated.
These big nights make me realize that there are some things I just don’t know. But at least there are a couple I still do. Someday there will be a night I forfeit my dessert to a deserving new champion, but that won’t be tonight.