Night Court

They came by ones and twos. Walking across the knoll. Leaping over the back fence. Bicycling up the hill.

Eight-o-clock in the evening. Darkness on its way. But they came...to the light and the night court.

Seven boys and two men gathered around the 22 by 25 foot concrete slab. It was nothing more they came to, except a light and a hoop and a need to gather together and play.

Out in the country, there are no basketball courts. The nearest are ten minutes away with unlit courts and baskets only eight-feet-high. No place for a player. So the lit concrete slab provides a place for play.

On our houses, there are no front porches. The nearest are decades away. No place for gathering, chatting, or playing a game of cards. So, the lit concrete slab provides a place for camaraderie.

"Best money I ever spent," said my husband as he threw the ball into the court.

He backed into the garage, pulled out an old chair, and joined a neighbor who'd accompanied his nine-year-old. The old players sat back and "shot the breeze" while the young players shot baskets.

"Pass the ball."

"I got it! I got it!"

"What was that?"

"Who do you think you are, Michael Jordan?"

Their voices and laughter floated through my kitchen window. It's nine o-clock at night. Do you know where your children are? Yes. I smiled. Where they, my husband, and half the neighborhood are. On the night court, playing the game.

There are things and places in life that draw us. The ocean at morning, the Grand Canyon, the Lincoln Memorial. Stars at night, a child's tree house, a forgotten path in a wood. Sometimes, when we come to these special places, time stands still. Sometimes time moves all too quickly.

"Mrs. Arnold, Mrs. Arnold, can we use your phone?" Several sweaty faces stood at my front door, then piled inside.

"Dad, can we at least just finish our game?"

"Fifteen more minutes. O.K., Mom?"

Stretching that fifteen minutes to its longest span, they played on. They didn't want to go home. They shouldn't have had to. The nights they have to do what they did this night are numbered. All too soon, they'll feel they can't go out at night just to gather and laugh and play a game on the night court.

As suddenly as they appeared, they were gone. The darkness swallowed one as he walked across the knoll, another as he leaped over the back fence, several more as they bicycled home. Kids we'd lived next-door to for years. Kids we'd only waved at on the road. Kids we'd never even seen before.

My husband tossed the ball to my son one last time as they walked inside. "Like the voice said, 'If you build it, they will come.'"

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