In the summer of 2018, a soccer ball appeared at the edge of our yard. I figured it had rolled through the woods and down the hill from the house next door where three toddler/preschool boys lived. They were probably missing it, so I tossed it back into their yard.
A few days later, it appeared again. I laughed, nostalgic for the innocent mischievousness that I remembered from my own kids (now adults). I assumed that the boys were playing a game with me. I snuck up the hill and placed the ball back, secretly hoping it might show up in my yard again.
And it did! I ramped the game up a notch—I taped googly eyes to the soccer ball this time. As I was about to return it, I noticed that my last name RAU was written on the side—in my handwriting! The boys must have found the ball, long forgotten by my own kids, in the woods between our properties. They had been trying to give it back, and here I was returning it to them!
But I didn’t want the game to end. So I tiptoed to their yard and placed it in the grass.
Time passed. The ball didn’t come back. I accepted that perhaps the game was over. When I encountered the boys in the neighborhood, we laughed about how silly it was that I kept returning my own soccer ball. But I told them You never know what might happen if you send it back to me again…
They returned it the next day. Thus our game continued, over two years now.
I sent the ball back as a pumpkin.
It reappeared on my doorstep as a bunny.
I returned it with a mustache.
It came back as an eagle.
Last summer, I placed it on their sidewalk as a pirate.
But the ball didn’t come back. The game was over. They were growing up.
This March, I was working in my garden, feeling a little down about the world’s present situation. The oldest boy, now in elementary school, waved to me from his yard. “We have the soccer ball!” he shouted. He immediately rushed down and placed the ball in my garden, then disappeared into his own yard.
Yesterday, I sent it back fully sanitized and wearing a superhero cape and mask. Within the hour, they were knocking on my door, with a penguin-topped summer-themed creation.
The game is afoot!