Croquet used to be such a friendly gameby

Croquet used to be such a friendly gameby By Bob Karolevitz We were playing what I thought was a friendly game of croquet when my wife whomped my wooden ball away from the wicket by stepping on her ball and driving mine into the next county.

�You can�t do that!� I shouted.

�Oh yes I can,� she cooed. �It�s in the rules which say you can ?roquet� your opponent�s ball whenever you hit it � and I did.�

�Okay, if that�s the way you want to play, I�ll ?roquet� you all over the place,� I responded venomously.

So when my next turn came, I aimed at her ball � and missed. While I fumed, she went on to win by hitting the stake which signified victory. She was gleeful in her triumph, and knew the ignominy of defeat. Admittedly, I�m a lousy loser.

�I�ll get you next game,� I snorted. And therein lies the charm of the once amiable sport of lawn croquet which can drive an otherwise happily married couple to the divorce court.

Actually, croquet goes back a long, long way, evolving from the ancient French game of paille-maille (for ball and mallet), which became Pesle Mesle and eventually Pall Mall when it was adopted by British royalty. It was also played by French peasants of the 14th century who gave it its current name, croquet meaning club in the language of the day.

On the other hand, Webster�s Dictionary says the name comes from the Gallic word croquer which means to crack. Who can you trust these days?

But no matter how it came about, though, the game had arrived in Dakota Territory as early as 1871 when the Yankton Press of May 31 announced:

�A malady, which has been very prevalent in the east among young ladies and nice young men, has made its appearance [here]. It is pronounced ?Kro-K� � but is known in some localities as ?Presbyterian billiards.� �

Malady is the right name for it when you consider the game that we played. It could get downright savage when �roqueting� is involved. A 3 5/8-inch hardwood sphere can become a weapon of mass destruction when you use it to drive another ball away.

Come to think of it, I should have told Phyllis about the guy who whiffed while �roqueting� and struck his foot instead. He spent several weeks on crutches. That would have given me a psychological advantage.

Well, Phyllis didn�t whiff, and my ball � which she hit � went scooting across the grass.

All I could say was �Grrrr!�

Let�s face it, for �nice young men� and their dates, lawn croquet is a splendid sport for them. It�s relatively inexpensive, and it doesn�t have to evolve into aggression and mayhem � unless one contestant insists on �roqueting.�

Of course, the game can be complicated if you follow all the regulations of the U.S. Croquet Association. As for us, we sort of make up our own rules as we go along. Unfortunately, Phyllis read somewhere that the sport involves more than putting your ball through nine wire wickets � and that has resulted in mallet malice for us.

It was just a friendly game before that.

� 2003 Robert F. Karolevitz

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