Persons, places and things: Lessons in gratitude

Tim Arland
Ray, left, and Tim Arland get ready to play pickleball.

By Barb Arland-Fye

My brother Tim posted a couple of photos and a video snippet on Facebook of our 90-year-old dad learning to play pickleball on an outdoor court last week. Tim introduced Dad to pickleball, a wildly popular sport involving two to four players who keep a perforated ball in action with their paddles.


“We’ve been talking about it off and on. Everyone has been telling me, ‘You ought to try it,’” said our dad, Ray, whose favorite sport to play is volleyball. “It’s easier on you than volleyball,” he added, while admitting he’s not ready to give up that sport “until my legs give out.”

Dad endures his share of aches and pains in his advanced age and thanks God for the health he enjoys, which allows him to continue to participate in athletics even with limitations. I responded to Tim’s post: “Dad’s looking athletic and powerful! I think back to the days when you were a little guy learning to play ball with Dad!” Tim replied, “… yes, the ball in pickleball reminds me of the wiffle ball he would pitch to me in our backyard.”


Lessons in gratitude have come full circle. Dad nurtured a love for sports and physical fitness in each of his four children beginning with Tim and me and now Tim, the oldest son, is teaching Dad a new sport with a ball similar to a wiffle ball. My love for both of them grows.

Dad’s father, also named Ray, loved to play sports, too, and instilled that love in his children until his death, following an accident when he was in his 30s. Dad was just 4 years old at the time but figures he inherited the athletics gene and passed it on.

He remembers fondly a trip that he and my mom took from my house in LeClaire to their house in the Twin Cities with my son Patrick, then about 5 or 6 years old. Patrick got antsy along the way, so Dad took a break and the two played ball for about a half-hour. “He was happy after that,” Dad said.

St. John Paul II wrote a letter addressed to the elderly in 1999 in which he observed, “… each stage of life has its own beauty and its own tasks.” The “signs of human frailty which are clearly connected with advanced age become a summons to the mutual dependence and indispensable solidarity which link the different generations, inasmuch as every person needs others and draws enrichment from the gifts and charisms of all.”

Growing old has challenged my dad in ways he didn’t contemplate while playing volleyball over lunch breaks from work or shooting “buckets” in the basement with Tim or taking all four of us — Tim, Pat, Brian and me — to a field to play softball.

Making time after work to play ball with his children served two purposes: instilling his love of sports in us and giving our mom what he described as “a bit of relief” from caring for four active kids. Each of my siblings, in turn, reaches out to our parents, even from afar, building on lessons in gratitude, reciprocating the gift of God’s love that began before the first wiffle ball toss between Dad and Tim.

(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at

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