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  • Gail Wilson Kenna

My Whiteout


I am not referring to impaired vision during a whiteout on a ski slope near Salt Lake City.  I’m talking about my latest tennis racquet made by the Sol-Inco Company. I hit with their Blackout but preferred the Whiteout. The word also recalls the many years I used whiteout to correct typing errors!


Why do I mention this?  Because of Wallace Stegner’s 1979 novel, Recapitulation, set in Salt Lake City. Years earlier I read the novel, and then read it again in April for my current Stegner class. And before last week’s class on Recapitulation, I read the novel once more. Only in this read did I make a connection, realizing where the idea originated for my recent book, Tennis Talk of a Nobody.


On page 87 in Recapitulation is this sentence. “Anything Bruce Mason ever did he owes to the Salt Lake Tennis Club.” These italicized words belong to Ambassador Bruce Mason, speaking to someone on the terrace of the St. Georges Hotel in Beirut. The woman says, “But you had to hitchhike out of your childhood. You could so easily have been lost.”  Bruce says, “If I hadn’t been lucky.” The luck he refers to relates to Bruce’s mother. She bought him a Dreadnaught Driver one summer when he was a lost, lonely, puny kid.  

Dreadnaught Driver

If Elsa Mason (Hilda Stegner) had not given Bruce/Wallace this tennis racquet, he would not have met Joe Mulder (Jack Irvine)) and been embraced by a stable Morman family with a solid father: one unlike the philandering, criminal Bo Mason (George Stegner).  Without best friend Joe and new physical confidence in himself from tennis, would Bruce Mason have become an ambassador, a Middle East expert on oil? Would Wallace Stegner have become the famous writer whose books remain in print?


Today I researched the 1920s Dreadnaught Driver. For me one of those special moments, when I realized William (Bill) Tilden used this racquet. Why did this get my attention?  Because a full-page photo from the late 1920s in Tennis Talk of a Nobody, shows my father in Los Angeles at USC in tennis attire. He stands, racquet in his right hand, with one-long white sleeve rolled up. This was Tilden’s trademark. I can’t see the type of racquet Robert Theron Wilson holds. But in the 1950s I carried his Davis racquet to my first tennis lesson. And tennis would become the frame for my life.  Recently, I found that same Davis racquet in pristine condition at the local Antique Mall. The internet shows my $10.00 dollar purchase sells on E-Bay for twenty times that amount, as much as I paid for my Whitout!


Next week I will discuss Recapitulation as a novel to read for its brilliance on time and memory.

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