Disclaimer: The intent of the following is to cheer you and distract you from this gloomy, taxing day, though it may make you ache for a bygone age:
On Saturday, for the 32nd year in a row, the St. John’s College Johnnies faced off against the Naval Academy Mids on the verdant quad of St. John’s campus in the charming town of Annapolis. Provided the weather holds, which it did this past weekend in cloudless, sunny splendor, the annual croquet match is an event that celebrates all things that are wonderful: nostalgia, tradition, the glory of nature, light-hearted, spirited rivalry, dandies, uniforms, alcohol, and absurdity.
Traipsing idly through the lavish lawn party beneath large, shady trees, stepping over picnic blankets and avoiding collision with fellow revelers grasping bottles of champagne, one is able to survey the scene. It is positively antique. Ladies brighten the landscape in a myriad of colors and together form a blooming bouquet in their sundresses. The preppies don their usual Sperries, seersucker, suspenders, bowties, and pastel sweaters – tied gracefully and easily about their shoulders.
There are hats. Grand Derby-esque millinery on some, fedoras, flat caps, and boaters on others. The Midshipmen, in their neat and tailored dress blue uniforms, are the epitome of clean-cut and straight-laced. The eccentric intellectuals (some of them in Victorian costume) from the Great Books college smoke pipes and offer a contrast to their competitors that is as striking as it is amusing, with many of them foregoing shoes and ofttimes, grooming.
The team of creative thinkers this year decided to offer a nod to the classical authors who absorb them semester-in and semester-out by wearing togas. The Naval Academy, not surprisingly, embraced tradition and sported the classic white sweater, white slack uniform which has been their go-to get-up since the annual croquet challenge began.
The Midshipmen’s caddies, those responsible for little more than handing over mallets and creating a spectacle, wore formal, white dinner jackets and sunglasses (a little too reminiscent of Top Gun Tom Cruise for my taste), and puffed on cigars. Team assistants for the Johnnies wore, for whatever reason, white jumpsuits.
In spite of the clashing cultures (and the considerable amount of alcohol that was readily available), it was a serene, jolly scene. High society types, beatniks, bohemes, sharp-dressed cadets – all find delight in the decadent, silly escapade that is the English lawn sport.
The Mids have been the notorious underdog for years now (not that many people really watch the games seriously), but won this year, making history by clinching back-to-back victories for the first time ever.
Swing dancing continued well into the evening, as the sun dipped low and spirits were depleted. It was a grand affair while it lasted.