The Green Ping-Pong Ball

Jason Dias sent this old tale. Thank you.

John was born in 1932, the son of Jane and Marty Himmelhausen. He lived in the tiny village of Grundelsberg, North Carolina, with his twin sisters, both named Jean [they were a pair of Jeans, you see] and his brother, Jacob.

His earliest years were uneventful until his third birthday was on the horizon. His parents asked him what he would like for his birthday, and he said he wanted a green ping-pong ball.

John expressed no real disappointment when his birthday finally arrived; it seemed he had forgotten about the green ping-pong ball, because he was just delighted with his new teddy bear, and life continued as normal.

John’s fourth birthday was approaching when his parents asked if there was anything he would like. “Yes, mummy,” he said. “I want a green ping-pong ball.”

Again, his parents dismissed this request as the random prattling of a child, and got him wheeled ducky on a string. John had many hours of fun towing this vehicular mallard around the house and the yard, yelling, “Quack! Quack!” In fact, he played with it daily until he entered school at the age of seven.

His sixth birthday now approaching, the now-traditional question and answer session caused some worry for his parents, as John didn’t seem to be outgrowing this annual obsession with the green ping-pong ball. The previous year they had given him his first tie; the year prior had been a pocket-knife, and his fifth had seen a child-sized Indian headdress so he could play cowboys and Indians with his brother. His parents shook their heads at each other. They decided to ignore it, as before, and bought him a toy truck.

Discretion being the better part of valor, for the next few years his parents didn’t ask little Johnny – who was quickly growing out of the ‘little’ appelation – what he wanted for his birthday. They simply got him whatever they thought would interest him, and he seemed generally happy. Eventually, John entered his teen-aged years.

His father, Marty, decided John had probably had time to outgrow his ping-pong ball phase, just before John’s 18th birthday. So, warily, he asked John what he wanted for his birthday. Naturally, the reply was, “I’d like a car, Dad, one of those 1951 Chevrolets.”

Marty breathed a premature sigh of relief as John continued, “And a green ping-pong ball.”

Well, John didn’t get the car or the ping-pong ball, but he did get one paid semester in college, which John seemed to really appreciate. He took a job waiting tables at the local greasy spoon and soda counter to pay his way from then on out. Each year, near his birthday, he received a card in the mail asking if he needed anything for his birthday, and each year he wrote back that he was doing fine, didn’t need anything, but he really wanted a green ping-pong ball.

Each year, his parents sent money, instead. John never complained.

John got a job as the manager of a restaurant back in his home town of Grundelsberg, NC, and eventually opened his own restaurant, much classier than the greasy spoons and truck stops he was used to. And each year his parents asked, and each year he replied.

John grew old in that restaurant, and his body reflected his growing prosperity. As one restaurant became two, then three, then a dozen, John and his waistline grew more and more prosperous. But never did he see that green ping-pong ball.

John had children of his own. He named them Isabelle, David and Marty (after his father). His wife, Angelique, made him very happy. And all the while, year after year, he asked for and never received the green ping-pong ball of his dreams.

John’s parents died in 1986. John was shattered, but not shocked. He attended their funeral and had them interred in the family plot, supported by his twin sisters and his brother, Jake.

Many birthdays passed. His siblings and he grew closer together after the deaths of their parents and as they entered old age themselves. Each year, his siblings would ask what he wanted for his birthday, and each year they would receive the same answer: a green ping-pong ball. Usually, they sent gift certificates or just a card, and John never, ever complained. His children took up asking the same question once they became adults in their own right.

And time, being inexorable, took John’s wife and his three siblings, and John watched his own children, heirs to a massive restaurant franchise, begin to grow old themselves.

Finally, John, at the age of 96 years, lay on his deathbed, just two days before his 97th birthday. It was a changed world in 2028, one he barely recognized anymore. His son, Marty, trying to be optimistic, asked, “Dad, what do you want for your 97th birthday?”

“Son,” he replied, “All I ever really wanted was a green ping-pong ball. My parents never gave me one, my brothers and sisters never did, your mother never would, and not even my kids ever got me a green ping-pong ball. All I want before I die is to hold it in my hands: one lovely, smooth, green ping-pong ball.”

Marty frowned at this, and asked, “But Dad, why in the world do you want a green ping-pong ball?”

“Because. . .” said John, and then he died.

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