My dad mows the lawn in his golf cleats. They crunch, scrape, crunch, scrape across the concrete out back as he does this weird shasay to the life size brown paper bags waiting patiently for their weekly gift of yard clippings. His left hand opening the splinter-producing shed door, while his right hand pushes down on the red Toro’s handle maneuvering its back wheels into quite a twirl before making the way onto the lawn. Earlier, Dad would have traded in his Pine Meadow golf shirt and plaid shorts for 20 year-old Levi cut-offs, a V-neck Hanes white undershirt, littered with holes and sweat-stains; his next uniform of the day. Kneeling beside the classic Toro, he’d assess the gasoline situation, readjust the bag, and take the handkerchief from his back pocket to wipe the forming sweat from his forehead.
Two things were consistent each and every Saturday as a kid: Golf @ Pine Meadow and some outside project that followed. This “poor man’s country club” was a fixture in Dad’s life for the last–God, forty years? Same tee time, same foursome, for the majority of my adult life. Loading up the Chrysler in the dark, the Tribune hitting the curb just as he was to pull off to Mudelein, while the rest of the house slept. Back in the day, the kelly green push cart laid in the trunk eyeing rows and rows of Titleists; each with a little black, orange, or yellow dot perfectly penned into the dimple of the ball. The balls, housed in an empty gallon milk jug with its top cut off, would accompany Dad to the driving range before his tee time. I can see Dad now, sitting at the kitchen table with a golf ball in one hand and a Sharpie in another, his face so close to the ball you’d think he was telling it the world’s most secret, secret. Dad had a reason he did most things, a sentiment I am beginning to understand better as an adult–he wanted to protect his shot and keep track of the ball.
But then, a couple years ago I was surprised to learn that he decided not to renew his tee time @ Pine Meadow. He gave me some story about getting into it with the Pro who changed his tee time because their foursome wasn’t quick enough around the turn. Then, he casually told me that the woman who greeted him each Saturday for the last forty years or so had refunded his money with little fan fare. I was livid.. And for some reason I wanted to go on up there and tell those people about themselves. How could they let such a committed golfer…poof, leave?
“You mean, they just handed you your refund and that’s it? No, ‘Shit, Joe. I’m sorry we can’t see eye to eye’?'” I sat perplexed, knowing Dad would never let it be known how hurt he was.
“What do you think they’d do? Beg me to stay? I’m just another golfer, they have guys that are faster, that can pay the same– it’s all about the almighty dollar. There is no loyalty anymore,” he explained rather matter-of-factly ( before diving into a history lesson on his relationship to the club and the Jemsek’s–of which I will not get into here, dear friend).
“But you practically lived there. Everyone knows you. You know everyone. You’re like two peas in a pod–you and Pine Meadow.. You LOVE it. You built their birdhouses, played in their tournaments, got a God Damn license plate with their fucking name on it, PINEMDW and this is how they let you leave? Because you disagree over some flipping tee time? Treating you like some old guy!?”
“Hate to say it kid, but I am some old guy,” he let out an attempt at a laugh.
“What will you do? You can’t NOT golf, Dad. It’s part of who you are,” my voice a sad whine at this point.
“There are other places to golf, Jodi. I told them that I would continue to take care of the birdhouses I made, but after this year, I’m done. Don’t worry, kid. I’ll survive,” a half smile as he looks down to shuffle papers, a signal to end the conversation.
Looking up, he added, “Things change. It’s part of life.”
I am not gonna lie.. As a kid I loved that my Dad golfed. We had the cable-less TV to ourselves, you didn’t hear, “Jodi.. Matt.. Meghan.. Holly… Can someone hold X? Help me with Y. Lift Z…” We were free.
The thing is, as a kid, you don’t really understand the why behind all of those adult rituals that take place. Nor do you realize how hard change can be. Now, I get IT. Dad needed to those 18 holes to just be. Golf fed him in a way. For the last ten years or so, Dad isn’t just Dad, he’s Mom, too. His grocery list of tasks, responsibilities, has tripled in size. He’s had to learn how to coax Mom into washing her hair or schedule doctor appointments. He’s doing the wash, making the coffee, doing all the things Mom used to be able to do.
But on the golf course, Dad was just part of a group of guys who loved to be out there walking with their bags, across the grass, marking their score cards and cussing the universe for shots gone wrong. I assume he’d bellow a–God-damn-it-Joe-son-of-a-bitch..That’s a terrible shot–from time to time, tee to tee.
While the course changed, and the frequency of play decreased, his notes to Mom have become more constant, more important as her Alzheimer’s has intensified. I found a pile of such notes when I was home last summer that Mom had saved in her desk drawer. They span five years or so. An example of one below:
I can see Mom searching for her glasses that lay next on top of the Tribune, holding the note in her right hand, will begin whisper reading it while she sips her coffee. She’ll read it. Re-read it. Read it again, before stuffing it into her pocket, off to her morning walk. A ritual which she will repeat a million times until her Joe comes through the door.
Thank you, Dad for being the constant in our lives. For loving your wife so completely, so unconditionally. These letters are small artifacts of love that serve as an example for your kids. Love ya, Papa Joe.