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Only in Kit's Winning Ways
It's a late May morning and Kit and Charlie are cleaning up the chicken coop. Kit comments on the heat as she wipes her forehead and gets her hand covered with feathers. Charlie jokes that Kit is losing her stuffing and Kit tells him he should see the feathers in his hair. Aunt Millie, Stirling and Grace arrive holding a basin of soapy water and a water pitcher with glasses. Aunt Millie announces its time for a break as she puts the basin on an old chicken crate.
The two wash their hands and faces in the basin and get a glass of water. Kit comments she wouldn't mind sprinkling the water over her head and Aunt Millie quotes "It would 'droppeth as a gentle rain from heaven.'" Aunt Millie eyes the crate the basin is on and wonders what to do with it. Kit suggests she could attach the crate to her scooter. Aunt Millie is pleased with the idea, mentioning it would come in handy for Kit's egg deliveries.
Charlie announces it's time to get back to work and asks Stirling if he wanted to help Stirling agrees and another voice agrees as well. They all turn around to see Ruthie in her white, clean tennis clothes. Ruthie asks if she could help and everyone says no at the same time. Kit explains that they appreciated her offer, but they didn't want to ruin her tennis clothes. Disappointed, Ruthie sits on the grass and asks Kit for a favor. Ruthie's mother had signed Ruthie up for lessons again, convince she'll be the next Helen Wills, the best woman tennis player Ruthie is convince she's a poor player and she asks Kit to be her doubles partner in a tournament next Saturday at the country club.
Kit thinks for a moment, remembering how she used to be in the country club before her family couldn't afford it anymore. Unsure how to explain her embarrassment on returning to the club, Kit tries to tell Ruthie she hasn't played in ages and has too much chores. Aunt Millie happily tells Kit she and the boys could take care of Kit's chores. Then Kit says she doesn't have tennis shoes or a tennis outfit. Ruthie offers her extra shoes and Aunt Millie says she can whip out some tennis whites 'in the twinkling of an eye'. Since everything was settled, Kit figured at least she would help her friend and agrees to be Ruthie's partner. Ruthie thanks her, adding that she herself will be so bad they'll be eliminated in the first round.
The next afternoon, Kit goes with Ruthie to the country club so a tennis pro could test their skill. As Kit enters the club, she recognizes two ladies: Mrs. Blanchard and Mrs. Barclay. Mrs. Barclay greets Kit and asks where Kit has been. Mrs. Blanchard pokes her partner as Kit blushes. Realizing Kit was too poor to come to the club anymore, Mrs. Barclay awkwardly gives her greetings to Kit's mother and the two hurry off. Kit thinks that their pity was worse than getting snubbed.
On the court, Kit and Ruthie play well and Kit is about to serve when she hears Roger calling her. Roger begins to criticize every move Kit made, quiet enough so the tennis pro couldn't hear. Kit gets so distracted that she missed nearly every shot and the tryout soon ended. When the tennis pro leaves, Roger confronts the girls directly and starts insulting them. He says the two will be the biggest losers in the tournament and Kit came from a family of losers who lost everything in the Depression. Kit wanted to punch Roger, but Ruthie drags Kit away. As they walk off, Roger chants "Losers, losers, losers" after them. Kit apologizes to Ruthie for playing poorly, but Ruthie assures Kit she was playing fine until Roger came. Ruthie assures Kit that if Roger bothers them at the tournament, she'll bop him on the head and Kit gives a weak smile.
Back home, as Charlie and Stirling attach the chicken crate to Kit's scooter Charlie asks his sister what's wrong. Kit tells how she played poorly and how she wished to practice for the tournament so she wouldn't embarrass herself. Stirling suggests Kit could play with Charlie who was a skilled player. Kit points out her brother was too busy, but Stirling suggests he and Kit could help Charlie with his job. Then Kit points out her own chores and Stirling says he and Aunt Millie would do them 'in the twinkling of an eye'.
Throughout the week, the trio would help with Charlie's job in the morning, then Stirling would go home to do Kit's chores while Kit and Charlie practiced in the public tennis court with Grace following them. The public court was near the railroad with a train passing by every few minutes, inspiring Grace to howl. Due to lack of funds, the court had grass growing through the cracks in the surface and the net sagged. Kit and Charlie had to switch turns using the good racket and their tennis ball didn't bounce very high. Afterwards, Kit would have to rush to school with her pigtails and blisters on her feet. Kit still loved practicing with Charlie as he would make everything fun and funny by announcing Kit's turn at court. "Ladies and gentlemen, Miss Kit Kittredge, tennis star, will now show you the way to win with her winning ways!" At that point, Kit would feel as if she did have winning ways.
On the day of the tournament, Kit was nervous as she walked ahead of her brother She was nervous about playing in front of a crowd and nervous about her new tennis outfit made out of old bed linen. At the court, Kit meets Ruthie and Roger who scoffs at Kit's pigtails. As Kit and Ruthie walk off, Roger chants 'losers', making Kit self-conscious. Kit messes up on her warm up and goes to talk to Charlie afterwards. He asks what happened to Kit's winning ways. Kit says she lost them and that Roger was right when he called her a loser. Because of the Depression, Kit lost out on having a good court and equipment to practice with that could help her and Ruthie win. Charlie grins and tells Kit she has one useful thing to win: her anger. Kit laughs at Charlie's advice, but decides to try it.
As Kit's and Ruthie's first match begins, Kit looks for Roger in the audience and she sees him mouth the word 'loser' to her. She surprises him by giving him a determined, ferocious frown. Kit finds her brother's advice to be useful as she serves the ball. Kit used her anger to help her serve hard, run fast, hit straight, and stay focused.
As she and Ruthie win match after match, Kit also finds that a lot of things she found bad before turned out to be useful. Since she had to practice with a weak racket, Kit hit the ball harder. Due to all of the running Kit had to do to get to the court and back, she could run faster on the court. The noise the crowd made didn't bother her as she was used to hearing a train and Grace's howling, and she could return all sorts of shots as she was used to a ball that bounced randomly. When Kit's energy would get low, she would think about getting back at Roger, think of how hard Aunt Millie, Stirling, and Charlie worked for her, think how good of a friend Ruthie was, and think of the things the Depression took away from her family.
Soon, Kit and Ruthie are astonished to find that they have won the tournament. As she, Ruthie, and Charlie celebrate, Kit eyes Roger slinking off and thinks to herself "I showed you, Roger. My family has lost a lot because of the Depression, but we're not losers!"
Meet The Author
Valerie Tripp shares that writing Kit is especially fun for her as Kit's family and friends remind Valerie of her own family and friends. Aunt Millie is like her mother, Charlie is like her husband, Ruthie is a lot like her childhood best friend, Stirling was like her daughter, and Kit was like her friend.
Looking Back: Tennis in the 1930s
Discusses tennis and the changes brought to the sport during the 1930s. Topics covered:
- Sports rising in popularity for providing inexpensive activity for the unemployed, and the places where people could play at tennis courts.
- The Works Progress Administration helping improve the quality of public tennis courts, as well as create thousand of new sports fields around the country.
- The National Recreation Association, an organization that aided players by renting tennis rackets and balls for reasonable prices.
- Helen Wills, who began playing tennis due to encouragement from her father, and the various championships she had won during her career.
- The combination of Helen's concentration, which allowed her to keep her emotions hidden, and powerful serve helping her win game after game.
- Changes in tennis outfits Helen Wills brought along with her style of clothes, later on leading to dress reforms for female athletes in other sports.
- Helen's change in careers by leaving tennis to focus on her other interests, such as painting for art galleries and writing tennis and mystery novels.
- The rising popularity of tennis amongst girls and women in later years due to Helen Wills' influences to the sport and the WPA.