One Day in England, This Happened…
I hit snooze on my phone and burrowed back under my duvet with a groan.
“How is it already seven?” I muttered as my cat, Rooney, stepped on my head. To him, the alarm clock meant the lady who feeds him is getting up. To me, it’s another Monday and as usual, I stayed up way too late on Sunday trying to prolong the weekend. Rooney butts his head against mine.
“Ok, ok, I’m getting up,” I said with a sigh and forced myself out of bed. It’s going to be a long day in cube-ville.
30 minutes later I’m rummaging through my jewelry box on my dresser. Where is my gold loop necklace? It’s the only one that goes with this shirt. I sifted through the compartments and willed the day to already be over. Running late, I searched more frantically and in the process, knocked over the basket of odds and ends I kept next to the jewelry box and which I’ve been meaning to go through and organize. Rooney, who had been purring around my feet, happy about being fed, darted away and narrowly avoided it falling on his head.
“Shoot!” I exclaimed. I knelt down and began scooping up the items that fell out. A few extra shirt buttons, some bobby pins, a grocery list, a movie ticket stub from a year ago – seriously, why did I think I needed to keep that at some point in time? – a pen, a broken figurine, more junk, and…I stopped.
A foot away, a purple and pink object had rolled near my night stand. My heart skipped a beat as I reached for it. My hacky sack.
Still squatting, I held it gently in my hand and then gave it a toss-up into the air, swiftly catching it on its descent. A smile spread across my lips, despite the fact that it had been almost ten years since I last played hacky sack and seven years – gosh, had it really been that long? – since I’d seen my dear friend Matt who had bestowed the gift of my own hacky sack on me. His voice suddenly rang in my head. “Don’t grab the hack!” I laughed out loud, remembering that oh so important rule and then in a vivid rush Warkworth Castle and one of the last times I played hacky sack came rushing back to me.
It was April of 2002 and the Hacky Sack Connection had already been to Ireland, Spain, Germany, France, and beyond. Most importantly, it had accomplished the now infamous “stall” in Matt, Jake, and Aaron’s room on a hanging light beam. Four months earlier, they and I plus 31 other students had left America for a study abroad program in Northumberland, England. It was my first time out of the country. We quickly learned that when 36 college students are thrust together into a castle’s old maid quarters where you all sleep, eat, go to class, and hang out together, you become close – fast. We also learned responsibility goes out the window equally as fast. (Studying? What’s that?) It was in one of our non-studying, post-pub, where are the cafeteria leftovers hidden moments that several of us were introduced to the game of hack. It didn’t matter that there were a few who could hit the hack 100 times only to send it to some of us (moi) who broke the cycle with one kick. We were family. Everyone played who wanted to. And the hack experts taught the novices in the castle, in the street, outside the pub, next to an abbey, or wherever an opportunity presented itself to play. Somewhere along all the fancy footwork, the Hacky Sack Connection name was coined.
The Hacky Sack Connection only had two rules:
1) Don’t grab the hack (hands were off limit).
2) Don’t say you’re sorry (everyone was there to learn the game or better their skills and to just have fun).
Most importantly, everyone was encouraged to play and laugh and simply enjoy the simplicity of life that semester.
And today we were heading up to Warkworth Castle for our last Friday field trip, part of the curriculum of one of our Britain-focused courses. The semester would be over in a week and there was a twinge of melancholy over the day. As if sensing our impending despair, the English clouds had parted and the sun was shining through as we made our way along the craggedy Northumberland coast up to Warkworth Castle. 36 of us, some with linked arms, a few holding hands, and several snapping some last memories with their cameras, walked together toward history; Warkworth Castle rising from the coast a short distance in front of us, bathed in a sunny glow. It was the first Friday field trip it hadn’t rained.
We entered the castle, which was different from other old castles we’d been to. There were no reconstructions and little commercialization. It was just stone walls, some jutting higher than others, a still standing archway here and there, and windows to peep through scattered throughout. Amidst ancient stone, grass grew and the horizon spread before us above the crumbled down walls. We broke apart into small groups upon arriving and after a short while most of us had banded back together in the large, open courtyard of the ruins. I sat down on the grass next to my close friends Katie, Coley, and Robbie.
“We can’t leave,” I said.
“I know!” Coley wailed. “What will we do?”
Kyle, one of the hacky sack masters, appeared before us. “What’s that you said?” he asked, notebook in hand. Kyle had decided to record the goofy and sometimes poignant phrases the group said all day as a tribute to getting down on paper just how fun and silly our group was.
“We don’t want to leave,” Katie informed him.
Kyle, deciding this was not worth noting as it had already been said about 500 times that day, did not take out his pen. Instead, he took out his hacky sack. “Cheer up,” he said. “Let’s play.” He began kicking it from his foot, to his knee, to his other foot, to his head, and back to his foot again – a hacky sack version of Beckham – and the other Hacky Sack Connection experts quickly moved over to join him.
Kyle kicked the hack to Matt who after demonstrating a stall with ease, kicked it to Jake and then turned to us. “Come on,” Matt commanded. “When else are you going to get to play hack in Warkworth Castle?”
He had a valid point. With a grin, I scrambled up and joined the circle; Coley, Katie, and Robbie right behind me.
With a squeal and a laugh Katie lobbed the ball shakily to Aaron who righted it and sent it over to me. I bit my lip and hit the hack with the inside of my foot, throwing it up in the air before I kicked it with the top of my foot and then used the outside of my foot to send it to Coley.
“Nice,” Matt and Jake said in unison.
“Next time you’ll get a stall,” Kyle said encouragingly, referring to the expert hacky sack move of catching the hack on the top of your foot. I grinned back at him and raised my eyebrows in doubt as I’d only accomplished that twice so far. But that in itself was a sign of how far I’d come with the Hacky Sack Connection.
More of our group joined in until there was a large circle in the center of the castle ruins. Only a few other tourists were visiting the castle that day and we weren’t bothering anyone so we kept playing, joking with each other, and basking in a moment we knew would never come again. Before long, we’d be back to reality, but for right now, life was functioning with a magical touch that we didn’t want to lose.
We all swore we’d keep playing once we got home, but between school, jobs, internships, partying, love affairs, and simply becoming adults, the game of hack was lost to most of us upon arriving home.
I stood up from my bedroom floor, still holding the hacky sack, and contemplated giving it a try, wondering if I remembered any of the old tricks I had once known. Glancing at the clock, I saw I really needed to get moving if I was going to get to work on time. Giving the hacky sack one last squeeze I set it on my dresser and headed out of my bedroom, deciding to forego the necklace. My bad mood had dissipated. I might be going to sit in an office all day, but at least there had been a time in my life when I was playing hacky sack in the middle of an old medieval castle. And who knew? Maybe I would continue the Hacky Sack Connection in another far-flung location someday.