I walk down the patterned garden-paths
In my stiff, brocaded gown.
With my powdered hair and jeweled fan,
I too am a rare
Christ! What are patterns for?
The floor is bare except for the cardboard dress pattern, which is scattered in disarray. Seated behind a sewing machine in the sparsely furnished room is a woman in her late 20s. She is sewing by hand, her head tilted in such a way that her features are foreshortened and shadowed. Only her hair is caught by the smoky shafts of sunlight pouring through an open window.
"I drove to Houston," she says. "I'd heard about Mary Jo. Everyone in volleyball knew about her. The girls on her team lived in a big old house in Houston. Mary Jo did the cooking. I remember one day she left some pots boiling on the stove. One of the girls turned them off. Mary Jo was furious. She was the cook, she said, and locked herself in a room. A few weeks later I walked into the kitchen, and there were three girls staring at a pot of stew. It was bubbling and boiling over the sides of the pot, down the side of the stove and onto the floor. Mary Jo had gone out and had forgotten to turn it off. None of the girls would touch it. 'Not me,' one said, 'you think I'm crazy!'
"We were terrified of her. She was so hard on us. We were emotionally involved, too. We looked to her for direction, both as players and as women. She was going to lead us to an Olympic gold medal. It was our dream. Then they took the program away from her. Just like that! We had nothing left.
"She was so hurt, she quit volleyball. She had gone through hell to play volleyball. Now she's turned professional. She's playing for the pro team here in El Paso. One of two women playing on a men's team. She won't be able to adjust to men. They'll try to dominate her, and she won't let them. She'll never adjust. She's light-years ahead of them in her thinking. When it comes to volleyball plays and systems, she's a genius. But in other ways, she's a dreamer. She was the best of coaches and the worst of coaches. She had these beautiful systems worked out in her head. But we could never perform them on the court and she could never understand why."
As an amateur, Mary Jo Peppler was voted the best woman volleyball player in the world at the 1970 international games in Bulgaria despite the fact that her U.S. team finished 11th. As a coach, she formed two of the most powerful women's teams in the country, the Los Angeles Renegades and the E Pluribus Unum team of Houston. The latter won the U.S. championship in 1972 and '73, wresting that title from its Southern California possessors for the first time in 22 years.
Despite these playing and coaching successes, however, Peppler's volleyball career has been filled with controversy. She feuded with officials of the U.S. Volleyball Association in what she claims was an effort to improve the caliber of U.S. teams and win an Olympic gold medal. She has been accused of being a prima donna who, when she does not get her way, either quits or slacks off during competition. Al Monaco, executive director of the USVBA, says, "She's a gifted athlete who can't be handled."
Mary Jo Peppler finally provoked the USVBA so much that she was told she was no longer needed either as a player or as a coach of the team that was to represent the U.S. in the 1976 Olympics. The team coach at that time, Charles Erbe, said he preferred to build his squad around younger, more malleable women. "I've worked with older girls before," he said. "They did not have attitudes I wanted to train, and I told them to get lost."
Forced to abandon her dream of an Olympic gold medal, Mary Jo Peppler joined the professional International Volleyball Association, which began operating in May. When she signed with the El Paso Juarez Sol last winter she was still the best woman volleyball player in the world and still, after 12 years, relatively unknown as an athlete, but two months later she won the women's Superstars competition in Rotonda, Fla. At the age of 30, Mary Jo Peppler was finally thrust before the public eye.
The Brazos in downtown El Paso is a square, four-story, stucco building the color of mustard. It is dwarfed and shadowed by the city's glass-and-chrome skyscrapers and, at the same time, set apart from them by spacious parking lots. The Brazos is an island deserted by time. It belongs to another El Paso—a flat, dusty, bleached, unshadowed desert town, shimmering and floating under a white sun, a town of hot, dry winds and adobe huts with shuttered windows like black holes, a town of Mexican women and gunfights and quick flights on horseback through the desert.
Mary Jo Peppler, wearing a gray T shirt, jeans and sneakers, steps off the curb, makes a tossing gesture with her head the way a colt does and crosses the street to the Brazos. A group of Mexicans stares after the towering white woman. She is 6', but so well proportioned at 155 pounds that from a distance one is not conscious of her height. She walks with long strides, her upper body held stiff, arched backward almost, while her lower body seems to swivel as if, with each step, she were crushing out cigarette butts with the balls of her feet. She climbs the steps of the Brazos two at a time.
Her second-floor apartment is bright and spacious with whitewashed walls and tall windows that fill the living room with sunlight. Everything in the apartment, including the kitchen appliances, looks newly purchased, not yet broken in, the furniture of someone used to renting furnished rooms and for whom these new purchases are the first conscious attempts at permanence. And yet, even after three months the apartment is so spare, without the untidy minutiae of daily living, that one suspects that this attempt at permanence is unnatural to its inhabitant, a halting, half-step forward while the back leg is tensed for flight. In the kitchen the new dishwasher is not hooked up yet; in the bedroom the clothes closet is merely a large, upright suitcase that can, at a moment's notice, be folded up, snapped shut and carted off; in the small room off the living room there is the clutter of not-yet-sorted-out odds and ends—a new chrome exercise machine, powder blue weights, cartons of paperback books (astrology, short stories, volleyball techniques), an ironing board, and, in one corner, a gray filing cabinet. Nearly everything in the cabinet (newspaper clippings, magazine articles, outlines, notes, etc.) pertains to one of four topics—volleyball, women, women in sport and sport in general.
Seated Indian-style on the floor in front of her fireplace, Mary Jo Peppler fingers the dried, crumbling leaves of her plants and says, "Where am I from? No-where, really. My father was a traveling pharmaceutical-supplies salesman, so we never lived more than three years in any one place. I was born in Illinois, but lived in Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas and California before I was 10 years old. I spent most of my teen-age years in the San Fernando Valley and in Long Beach.
"Anywhere I went, though, I was inclined to get into sports. It's always been a part of my life. I played with the boys—I was the quarterback on a neighborhood football team—until about the sixth grade when my parents told me I shouldn't. Sports in school weren't very competitive for girls, just what they called 'play days.' We'd play different sports without even keeping score. Sports for girls were just a way to get exercise. Anyway, by the time I got to high school it was obvious I had talent in athletics. But nobody directed me. If I had been smart, I would have gone into a sport like tennis. Volleyball was more a group sport with us. All the guys and girls would pile into an old car and go to the park and play volleyball together. It was a social thing. We never played much at the beach, though. That kind of volleyball has a different connotation from the kind we played.
"By my senior year I was good enough to play for the Long Beach Shamrocks, the women's national champions. I played all of 1962 with them, but when they went to the nationals they took older players. I felt I was as good as the girls they took, so I quit and joined the second-best team around, the L.A. Spartans. Two years later I helped form the Los Angeles Renegades, and we won the AAU National title.
"I left home at 18. My parents were moving to San Francisco, and I wouldn't go. I told them there was no way I'd make the Olympic team if I moved. There was an argument, and we didn't talk for five or six years. When my parents left I took jobs like selling encyclopedias door to door. I sold candy for a while, and then I worked in a department store. I never regretted leaving home. I always felt like I could make my own decisions. I've always felt mature, independent and smart enough to run myself.
"When I-graduated from high school I went to Los Angeles State as a psychology major. My parents gave me some values that were sound. There are traits all my brothers and sisters have. We're independent and confident. We were expected to finish college, and we did. It took me nine years, though. I was playing volleyball for nothing and supporting myself, so whenever I got into a crunch and had to give up something, it was always school. But it never occurred to me not to finish.
"I guess I was about 20 when I met Bela Farkas, a Hungarian track coach. He said he thought I could be a great pentathlon athlete and so he began grooming me in shot-putting, javelin throwing, hurdling. That year I finished seventh in the nation in the javelin and fourth in the shot. I competed only because the United States hadn't qualified for volleyball in the Olympics to be held in Tokyo. But when Brazil dropped out of the '64 Games and the U.S. was picked as a replacement, I gave up the pentathlon. I think I would have made a good pentathlon person, too, if I'd kept at it. But who wants to be a shot-putter? You just push the thing out there. It's not too exciting. Now volleyball is stimulating, in a child's state of development in this country. There are things I can do with it, new systems and possibilities that are exciting.
"I made the '64 volleyball team that went to the Olympics but it was a disaster. As a last-second replacement, we had only three weeks of practice. Our coach was an old timer who'd been given the job just because it was his turn. All he would ever say to us was, 'Bend your knees, Honey!' Volleyball is an American sport, it originated here, but it's been dominated by foreign teams who take it more seriously. They've helped change the rules to their advantage, to make best use of their particular styles of play, especially the Japanese.
"Well, we finished fifth of six teams, but I wasn't impressed with the athletes at the Olympics. They didn't seem very athletic. The Japanese, for example, could jump and dive, but they couldn't run. I don't think there was an athlete there who had anything more than I did, except better training. In general, Americans are better natural athletes. We just aren't developed enough. In 1968 I quit the Olympic team for the same reason. The coach had no game plans or strategy, and I saw no reason to be humiliated in international competition while the whole world was watching.
"After that, I didn't play volleyball for a while. But a friend of mine, Marilyn McReavy, and I went to Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas. It was kind of an escape from volleyball. I took courses in photography, lapidary, upholstery, Egyptian philosophy—a wide variety of things I liked. Eventually, I majored in both phys ed and sociology and minored in industrial arts. I supported myself as a secretary and as a saleswoman in a department store and I had no intention of returning to volleyball. However, word got around that Marilyn and I, both Olympic volleyball players, were at Sul Ross, so we were asked to stage an exhibition. The people in town and on campus had never seen top-notch volleyball. Many had never even seen a pick-up game. A gym full of fans showed up to watch us play some big ol' football players and cowboys. The cowboys came out with their hats on. We killed them. We bounced balls off their heads. The fans loved it.
"One month later we had organized a team of Sul Ross girls to go to the national tournament. The girls were so inexperienced that we only had time to teach them elemental moves. We finished eighth. The following year we won the National Collegiate championship. By 1972 we had formed the E Pluribus Unum team in Houston and won the national title.
"EPU won the nationals again in '73, and the Olympic program was transferred to us in Houston. However, the USVBA forced Marilyn and me, the coaches, to take on a new head coach, a man. We became his assistants. The USVBA put pressure on this new coach to take control of the girls from us. The following July we went on what was supposed to be a training tour to Japan, but everything fell apart. We finished with a 1-24 record against the Japanese teams. Marilyn and I lost complete control of the girls. Their personal and playing standards deteriorated and the new coach couldn't control them. When we returned from Japan the USVBA fired him and gave our team to Charles Zerbe. It was then that I left amateur volleyball for good.
"The most bitter disappointment in my life was signing that professional contract. I had devoted my life to the dream of winning a gold medal. Pd left my family because of that. And over all those years I had never really been given a chance. I'd been brainwashing the girls into believing an Olympic gold medal was worth aiming for. We trained six hours a day in an empty gym.
"On the night I resigned, the girls went to dinner at a pizza restaurant. I got there late. The girls were drinking. They would never have had a drink in front of me before, not even beer. It upset me. I realized that they had been following me only for the medal and not because volleyball was a way of life. That's what I'd been trying to instill in them. It wasn't just the medal, or volleyball, or even sport. It was a whole way of life. I deliberately ordered a glass of milk. They put down their drinks, and before long everyone had ordered either soda or milk. I had made a commitment to those girls, not by anything I said but by my actions and my lifestyle. That was why it was such a hard thing to tell them I was becoming a professional. I'm glad I did it now. There are so many things wrong with amateur athletics in this country. It's absurd to be an amateur. There are so few rewards. Even a gold medal, what does it really mean? It has no lasting value. Sometimes I'm not sure if there's anything good about being idealistically dedicated to amateur sports. It's self-defeating to be an amateur athlete today, and that's basically what most women athletes are—amateurs."
Under a hot desert sun that warmed and softened the paved basketball court, Mary Jo Peppler, dribbling with her left hand, backed in toward the basket. She moved left-right-left-right like Earl Monroe. Her opponent pressed his hand against her buttocks (and was momentarily discombobulated by unexpected malleability) in that classic NBA defense designed to impede progress. She backed in closer. He bumped her with his chest. She pushed backward. He restrained an urge to shove her with both hands and, instead, spread his legs and planted his feet firmly. She leaned backward. He pressed his chest against her back where, suddenly, he smelled lilacs, was disoriented, grew slack, and she spun around him for an easy layup.
He had met her at her apartment that Sunday morning. She'd handed him a 10-speed racing bike, picked up her own bike with one hand (in the other she held a basketball) and carried it down the flight of stairs to the street. He tripped on the top step, tumbled down the stairs and landed in a tangle of spokes and handlebars at her feet. She looked down at him and did not laugh. "Are you all right?" He smiled and nodded. She tucked the basketball under her sweat shirt, looking immediately pregnant, and pedaled off. Within seconds she had outdistanced him through the deserted El Paso streets. Hunched forward over the handlebars, she pedaled rhythmically, her long legs pumping without effort, it seemed, flesh-colored pistons glistening in the sunlight. He struggled and sweated, but still the distance between them grew rapidly.
She passed a Spanish-style church just as Mass was letting out. Startled parishioners, most of them Mexican-Americans, stared after the apparently pregnant woman in shorts who was pedaling so single-mindedly down the street. He remembered she had won the bicycling event in the Superstars preliminaries in Houston and placed well in the event in the finals in Rotonda.
The score was tied now, and the next basket would win. They had been playing under the hot sun for almost an hour. She was not even breathing heavily, while he was exhausted. Always the athlete, she was in shape in a way he'd never been. Her body had not been honed for any one particular skill—shooting a basketball or throwing a baseball—but was simply in a generally fine state. It was a state she'd acquired naturally over the years through daily routines of weight lifting, calisthenics, jogging and bicycling, which she performed not for any particular competition, but for the mental and physical exhilaration she experienced when exercising.
"I listen to my body," she had said. "I don't train my body to do anything that's not good for it. I don't drink coffee. I don't smoke. I don't like the taste of liquor so I don't drink it. But I'm not a health-food nut, either. I'm just conscious about eating things that are good for me. I think when something goes wrong with your body it's because you have a negative attitude toward it and it manifests itself in some sickness. When I was 19 my dentist told me I had a cavity. I told him it was impossible. He showed me the X ray. I went home and for a few weeks was very conscious of what I ate. When I went back to the dentist the cavity had disappeared."
He had never been in such shape in his life. For him, sports had always been merely a collection of skills to be mastered for some competition. He had retained over the years an ability to shoot accurate long jump shots, a skill he used every so often to win one-on-one competitions with younger men. Once the game was over, once victory was his, he derived little satisfaction from it. In fact, he was often mentally and physically drained, as he was now.
Still, he had controlled himself at first. He played delicately enough, giving her plenty of room to maneuver, careful where he touched and reached, taking long, easy jump shots that required no close contact. To his surprise, she played the kind of rough, physical game that he'd always delighted in. Unconsciously, she fouled blatantly, shoving him with both hands whenever he drove toward the basket. At one point, as the ball bounced off the rim and he was ready to leap for it, he felt two knees in the small of his back. He lurched forward and tumbled onto the grass while, behind him, she tipped in her own shot.
They lost themselves in the rough, physical exertion. He forgot that she was a woman. She was simply his opponent, whom he had to beat. He tried to cheat on the score, but she caught him. Soaked with perspiration, he took off his shirt. "Trying to turn me on?" she said, breaking his concentration just enough so that she could score successive baskets.
She was an untutored basketball player. She did not dribble or shoot very well and so was at a disadvantage against him in a one-on-one competition. But she moved beautifully. She ran gracefully, her toes pointed toward the ground like someone leaping from rock to rock across a stream. She would have been more at home as a basketball player with teammates who could feed her the ball as she rolled toward the hoop, catching it on outstretched fingertips while simultaneously gliding upward, rising in one easy motion, and laying it in. Working by herself, however, she had difficulty in maneuvering with the ball, and so the score had remained close until now it was tied and the next basket would win.
He wondered, should he win? What pale satisfactions would he derive from beating a Superstar? A woman? Dribbling toward the basket he pondered worth and price and myriad other possibilities while his opponent pushed and shoved him back, shoved him so forcefully, in fact, that he momentarily forgot his conscious self, faked and jumped. Good! He experienced, as always, that sensual flash that comes with victory. But it faded quickly and was gone, replaced by the exhausting realization that he had merely warded off defeat for the time being. He collapsed in the grass, gasping for breath.
She broke into a broad smile. "That was fantastic!" she said. "I'd almost forgot how much fun basketball is. It's a lot like volleyball, only some of the movements are different. They're so pretty!" For the first time she began to talk with animation. "I'm intrigued by movement," she said. "I'm nearsighted, so when I think of certain people I don't see images, I see them only in the way they move. As a volleyball coach I never see plays as a series of X's and O's, but as a sense of flow. Movement rather than words should be the primary communicator in any sport. A lot of times I like to go to the gym alone and just practice the different movements. I dive after an imaginary ball and leap in the air. When I execute properly, I get a great satisfaction that's independent even of winning or losing. I guess this stems from all those years in volleyball when I was trying to win an Olympic gold medal. Perfection became a goal. I think that's true of the majority of women athletes. For so long we've been deprived of goals men are accustomed to achieving—money, recognition. For instance, when I ran the quarter-mile at the Superstars competition, I finished fifth, but it was the fastest time I'd ever run in my life. It was my best performance, so it was one of my most satisfying moments. More satisfying even than winning the Superstars, because there were a number of sports in the competition that I didn't feel were a true test of an athlete.
"Men compete differently. They're aggressive. Their satisfaction comes from dominating their opponent rather than striving toward perfection. Basically, that's self-defeating, because if they lose they've got nothing from sport, and even if they win they've destroyed part of their own identities. At the Superstars we were all coaching one another even if that might help someone beat us. A man wouldn't dare help a rival who might beat him.
"I think women should continue to be coached toward perfection rather than one-upmanship. Acting overtly—aggressively—is supposed to be what sport is all about. At least that's what men have told us. Sport has been a male domain for so long that it's the men who have defined the proper way one should compete. The problem for women athletes is that we've accepted these definitions and tried to copy them. But since it's not consistent with our natures the best we can become is just a poor copy of aggressive male models. What women need to do is redefine sport in feminine terms, terms more consistent with our nature and yet bring out our best in sport. Women aren't very good at men's type of competition [one-upmanship] but we are unbelievably persevering—the endurance of women is phenomenal—and very competitive within ourselves. For instance, when I get dressed up to go out I have to look the best I can. My best! But I don't ever feel I'm in competition with another woman I might be with. Trying to show up another woman is a kind of male-oriented competition.
"All women in sport have certain masculine traits, they walk like men, or something. Chrissie Evert is an exception, but I think it's something she works hard at. You know, trying to be ultra-feminine as a defense mechanism. Anyway, when this crisis develops in women they have to make a choice. Either sport suffers or their femininity suffers.
"Supposedly, sport makes a man of a boy. But can sport make a woman of a girl? Usually, the opposite is true. It makes something masculine of a woman. But it shouldn't. Women should be able to compete in such a way that it complements their nature rather than compromises it. We have things we can receive from sport and give to it that are different from what men offer and receive. Finesse and a striving for perfection as opposed to strength and aggressiveness. Women's volleyball, for example, is much more exciting than men's because it has so much more finesse. Still, it's exciting to watch power, too. There should be a place for both.
"I don't know how I evolved, really. I've been trying to analyze what forces motivate me. It's not money. After my Superstars victory I could have renegotiated my Sol contract but I didn't. What's the difference between another $50,000 or $100,000 when you already have enough to live comfortably? The rest is frosting. I'm not motivated by recognition either. Fame turns me off. I've learned that it means less privacy. I don't need someone to tell me how wonderful I am. If I didn't feel I was wonderful 10 years ago I wouldn't have been playing in empty gyms for six hours a day. I've established my ego strokes somewhere along the way and I'm secure now. The way I feel, winning the Superstars was anticlimactic to everything I've done over the years."
Wearing slacks and a man's double-breasted trench coat, Mary Jo Peppler walks through Dallas-Ft. Worth Airport on the way to a flight bound for New York. She is scheduled for a round of luncheons, dinners, promotions, business meetings and television appearances, all rewards of her Superstars victory. It is a prospect she is not looking forward to. She does not like to leave El Paso and her newfound permanence. Already she is worried about New York taxis and the proper amount one should tip cabbies.
As she walks by some people stop and stare while others just glance curiously as they hurry toward their flights. Some recognize her immediately and break into a broad smile, while to others she is someone they should know but can't quite place. Still others merely look after her because she is such a stately woman.
In El Paso, Peppler was instantly recognized. People shouted to her on the street, "Hey, Superstar!" and she smiled and waved back. In restaurants, young children, usually girls between the ages of nine and 12, walked over to her table, hesitated a moment, their heads lowered demurely, and then thrust a piece of paper and a pen at her. Unused to such adulation, she merely signed the paper without comment. The young girls remained there, waiting for a benediction, a blessing, anything, while around the room the expectant eyes of every diner were on them. Finally, she would smile at the girl and ask a question, "Do you like sports?" or "How old are you?" or "What school do you go to?" all of which would be delivered in an abrupt, clipped tone, without a hint of interest or warmth. Unlike athletes more accustomed to fame and its demands, she had not mastered that deceptive art of feigned interest, probably never will.
It is five o'clock in the afternoon on a cold, blustery spring day in New York. Outside the Regency Hotel on Paik Avenue a group of chauffeurs mill about on the sidewalk. They are identically dressed in black. They smoke cigarettes, blow warmth into their cold hands, make small talk with the uniformed doorman, or merely lounge against the fenders of their limousines and stare, aimlessly, between the three gold fleur-de-lis painted on the plate-glass window of the Regency bar. Inside, their employers are having a late-afternoon cocktail.
The bar is packed with well-dressed, manicured New Yorkers, mostly middle-aged men in dark, pinstriped suits, and much younger women in silky, knee-length frocks. Standing at the crowded bar, two young women are talking to a pencil-thin black man in a tight-fitting suit. The women are poised on either side of him like identical bookends, one hand supporting an elbow, and in the other upraised hand a long cigarette. As they talk they alternately blow smoke toward the ceiling and glance distractedly over the black man's shoulders. Seated at one of the white-leather booths against the wall is a white-haired man in his 60s. He has draped an arm over the bare shoulders of the young women seated on either side of him. At one of the small cocktail tables in the middle of the room, another middle-aged man is talking intimately across the table to a woman wearing liquid black eye liner that makes her eyes look like those of a raccoon. She bears a striking resemblance to Jacqueline Susann. They are holding hands across the table. They both rise imperceptibly from their seats, lean closer and kiss over the table.
At the table beside them, Mary Jo Peppler, still wearing her trench coat, sips from a glass of beer and says, "Trying to turn us on, I guess." She lowers her head for a moment, then lifts it and says, "I have no emotional attachments. I've never been tempted to be married. Oh, you run into someone you can talk to once in a while, but then you never see them again or else you do and after knowing them, they let you down. I've given up hope of ever finding someone.
"You get married, and there are all those social patterns to follow. You belong to someone. I don't know. I'm too independent. Most emotional attachments are so dependent. 'Oh, I'm so hurt you didn't call!' That type of thing. I don't want someone being dependent on me either. I'm a very giving person, but I don't like to get things back. Then I feel obligated to people. When I was a child I always used to do things for my mother, the dishes and stuff, because I could see how it pleased her. It's kind of a hang-up in my life. I'm very good at recognizing what makes people happy and I try to give it to them. But there's a point with pleasing people when you make them dependent on you. It becomes a vicious cycle. The girls on the volleyball team, for instance. They drained me. I helped a lot of them in regard to their femininity, but there came a point when, unless they had my approval, they couldn't go on. I think it's wrong to let people be dependent on you. They have to do it alone. But once you get into those relationships it's very hard to train people out of them. That's why I don't think I'll ever have any emotional attachments. You just never find people who don't want to be dependent on you or have you dependent on them."
After four days of New York luncheons, dinners, plays, pro-" motions, photographing sessions, business meetings and a television appearance on the A.M. America show, Mary Jo Peppler leaves the city for a visit to the Connecticut suburbs. She arrives late in the evening. The children—three girls, two boys—had waited up expectantly for her arrival, but have long since succumbed to sleep. Only the journalist and his wife are still awake. She looks different. She is wearing a fur coat. Her hair has been styled and her face heavily made up. "For a cover photograph for the Ladies' Home Journal," she says. "The photographer said he had to redo me. I wasn't right. I should lose some weight, too. That's just what I need. Become a 118-pound model. I wouldn't be able to lift a volleyball."
When Mary Jo wakes the following morning she washes off her make-up and appears for breakfast wearing a T shirt, jeans and nothing on her feet. The children trot out one by one to meet her. She smiles at each, says hello, what's your name and that is all. She also meets the journalist's mother-in-law, who is helping prepare the Saturday-morning breakfast. Mary Jo has only a roll and a glass of milk, and then asks her host if he would mind if she worked out with his weights. "Of course not," he says. "I'll lighten them for you."
She picks up a dumbbell weighing 20 pounds, hefts it in her hand and says, "That's O.K. I think I can work with these." She begins doing bicep curls by the window, which looks out on a backyard littered with a rusted swing set, a red tricycle and a broken sandbox.
In the kitchen, three generations of women go about their Saturday morning. The grandmother, in her late 50s, begins to clean off the table. She whispers to her daughter, "So pretty! Is she married?" The wife, in her 30s, shakes her head no. She is measuring out medicine onto a plastic spoon and trying to force it down the throat of her 4-year-old son. The third generation, an eldest daughter of 12, is pacing around the kitchen waiting anxiously for Mary Jo to finish with the weights so she can talk to her. She, too, is an athlete, strong willed, and, of all the children, had most anticipated Mary Jo's arrival. She is 5'7" and in her town she will be the first girl to make the major league division of the Little League. She fidgets and waits. Finally, she can restrain herself no longer. She peeks around the refrigerator into the dining room. Mary Jo is lying on the floor doing sit-ups with a weight grasped behind her head. Sweating, she struggles upward, simultaneously exhaling and blowing wisps of hair off her forehead. The daughter stares in fascination. The grandmother continues washing the dishes. The mother tightens the cap on the medicine bottle. Mary Jo struggles upward for another sit-up. The daughter continues to stare at her, is transfixed, hypnotized by the sudden unfolding of such infinite possibilities.