I am not one to get too excited about meeting famous people but on my recent vacation I met someone from my boyhood whom I was genuinely excited to meet: Roy Emerson.
Back in the '60s, when the great tennis tournaments were restricted to amateurs, he was the No. 1 player in the world. He ended up winning 12 Grand Slam singles titles and 16 Grand Slam men's doubles titles (according to Wkipedia). That was the era when Australia dominated tennis with players like Rod Laver, Neale Fraser and Roy Emerson, aka "Emo."
I am a tennis player myself, unfortunately, a poor one, but that was not the only fascination. Emerson also attended the same high school as I did, the Brisbane Grammar School, a venerable all-boys private school, although he had left years before I got there .
I happened to meet him in a brief visit to Martha's Vineyard, where we attended a cocktail party hosted by The Boathouse in Edgartown. The Boathouse has built a new and fancy tennis and fitness club outside Edgartown and Emerson, who is a fit 71, was on the island to play an exhibition match (full disclosure: My nephew has been working this summer as an assistant tennis pro at the new club).
In 1964, after Emerson had won his first Wimbledon singles title, he came back to address the boys of Brisbane Grammar. I remember the occasion very well and I started by telling him, only 40 years or so too late, how much I had enjoyed his inspirational comments.
To my dismay, he couldn't remember a thing about it, although he was obviously a sharp bloke. I guess he had made tons of speeches over the years and that one had long ago slipped into the black hole of memory. After that embarrassing setback, we had a very nice chat.
At the end of the evening, I bid him goodbye and expressed my pleasure in at least meeting someone from the old school, a rare occurrence in these parts.
"Ah," he said, "if you stayed longer, we could have chanted the school fight song." And he proceeded to repeat the opening stanza: Wong, wong, tarry ya,
The Brisbane Grammar School fight song is justly famous for being totally inane, with insane lyrics thought up by a mad person to embarrass generations of boys. So at his prompting, I could only repeat the next line: Light dark. ya ya.
Some things you never forget.