the beach was wide and long, a perfect place for the beach goers to gambol in the surf and white sand, sunny, warm, romantic but not today, no, not today. today is bleak, not cold like east coast cold, overcast, cool, misty, bleak; the older couple walk next to the surf, holding hands; the man, older than his woman, has begun to show a bit of a shuffle; life has begun to look like the beach, not the sunny, gamboling place for frolic but bleak, harsh winds, overcast, cool, misty; even in his sea time years before, he always thought this type of sea day was beautiful, enchanting in its own way and he had coaxed her into their walk today; their love no longer held the passion of earlier days, replaced by something more permanent: togetherness, eternal togetherness, the strongest love of all and walking in the bleak overcast, cool, misty, they remembered, yes, they remembered and they would not forget.
In the early morning of Thanksgiving roughly thirty years ago, we were ensconced in our new home with a 19-year old daughter and another that had just turned two. A Santa Ana wind, often and also appropriately called “devil winds” had set in the night before, just like the conditions today. Winds weren’t as heavy as predicted. But it was/is warm for a Thanksgiving, even in the Southwest corner, maybe even reaching the 80’s.
My shipmate, roommate, fellow funster, and a legend, JD Waits and his wife Mary Lou were coming for Thanksgiving dinner. Smoked turkey (that post from about that time will appear here again after this one).
Yesterday, i went to the golf driving range at Bonita in the afternoon. This is primarily because my current golf game stinks and i am once again futilely trying to get better. On the south side of the range, about ten or fifteen yards or so forward of the range is a tall but very dead eucalyptus tree. It’s been that way for years and was a favorite perch for two red-tailed hawks (and occasionally one of their offspring). The hawks are gone now. Don’t know where. Don’t know exactly when they left. Don’t know why. But i can surmise.
Yesterday, a falcon , a bird of prey, sat atop the dead, whitish gray trunk, stolid, looking out over his realm as if he owned it. He does. They are beautiful birds. A falcon would be my bird of choice to own and train. Almost religious.
He stood there unmoving. i would glance at him after every miserable shot. He was the lord and master of his world. Must be nice. Probably not as perfect as i idolize him. But a good omen i thought, for a good Thanksgiving.
And the big day that wasn’t really that big a day came. It was only Maureen, her sister Patsy, and me. George Winston’s “December” and the new age “Winter Solstice” playing in the background. Not quite us riding our one horse sleigh over the rivers and through the woods to Grandma’s house, but close enough. There was only one thing missing, but not missed that much.
You see, last year, my magic almost-an-egg grill died from rust. We went cheap, cutting corners. The smoker was long gone cause the knock-off allowed for smoking a turkey. The new grill doesn’t. So no smoking the turkey, no working the day before, marinating the turkey preparing the grill, soaking the hickory chips; no dark thirty rise to start the slow charcoal burn, putting the soaked chips on the charcoal, putting the turkey in the smoker, watching tenderly to ensure the process was working.
But i carved. Maureen had made her own version of non-smoked turkey. It was good, traditional. Quiet. Often needed, this quiet thing.
Other loved ones were far away.
Sarah was with her friends in Las Vegas, sharing her pear pies like her Aunt Patsy taught her to make. She is superb baker.
Blythe, Jason, and Sam were in Paris, Texas, the site of some of my most enjoyed Thanksgivings with Kathie’s parents. My family there was there with a more somber mission. They were placing Kathie’s ashes beside her mother’s, Nanny Betty, as Kathie wished. i longed be there, to celebrate my former wife and her love for her daughter and grandson. i drank my glass of Thanksgiving wine from the Sasaki crystal, my former wife and i bought in Sasebo, Japan during our wedding preparations.
i drank to those who aren’t spending their Thanksgiving with their family. i had my share of those and know how sad that can be in spite of wonderful holidays in far away places.
Now, Maureen is taking Patsy home, stopping by our nephew Mike’s home with a service of our Thanksgiving meal.
The temperatures have dropped. The fire is in the hearth. There is no television, no music. Just me and the quiet of the close to another day.
i find i am at peace, thankful for all of you being in my life.
i hope you have had a joyous Thanksgiving and will have peace and joy through the New Year.
It is time for me to rest from my miseries for a few moments.
In the midst of chaos, a double-whammy chaos brought on by a computer and a credit card –What else could it be? — i have stopped to catch up on me and tell a good story.
You see, my laptop, my source to the outside world, all things good and bad, an infuriating root of easy attached to an even more infuriating Rube Goldberg maze with no end of security gone bad world of passwords, user names, account keys, secret codes, and some dark side of energy that saps our lives from normal existence, went down. Hard. So hard that when i confronted the laughing repaired laptop, i discovered my latest backup was corrupt and good to no one except the lord of the dark and unknown.
The double-whammy came when i complained to my bride of great wisdom that the United States Postal Service, which we used to call the post office, was now charging me for redelivery of a package that did not reach me nor what contents lie therein. Her antennae stood up and she found i had just been scammed. This, of course, required me to contact my financial institution in its greatest example of security inflamed entry through user names, account id, passwords, magic codes, and several incantations to the financial gods, and cancel my credit card. Which i did. Head shaking-ly sadly.
So now, while retrieving all of my accounts and all of my data on my computer and updating all of that security gobbeldy gook — i really thought “gobbeldy” was a word — i am also updating all of my accounts with new credit card information.
i think this is what hell looks like.
But i stop.
You see, in the midst of my frenetic scrambling yesterday, i took a break to watch Vanderbilt play Florida in a cold First Bank Stadium where good ole Dr. Dudley has taken a back seat to money.
i figured the Gators would chomp on the “Dores early to the point i not only could, but would happily, turn off somewhere around the turn of the first and second quarters.
i was gloriously wrong. Vanderbilt jumped on the Gators and rode them to the finish just like old Paul Bryant jumped on that bear in the carnival contest and beat that grizzly to earn his nickname “Bear.”
Vanderbilt beats Florida, 31-24, the first victory for the Commodores over the Gators in the newly named First Bank Stadium since 1988.
And through my amazement, my happiness, my plans to exchange joy with all of my Vanderbilt friends, i kept thinking of one person.
For those who might not have caught about two dozen or so of my posts here. Mike Dixon and i were fast friends. He passed away just about 14 months ago. i no longer wrestle with whether i should take my golf clubs when i go back home, or my baseball glove, or my basketball.
Mike was a major, major fan of Vanderbilt sports, especially the three sports that dominated our youth: football, basketball, and baseball. He had season tickets to all three. He wanted the Commodores to beat the world, and especially the Vols at the school, University of Tennessee, which he once attended.
Mike and i played basketball and baseball together at Castle Heights and baseball against each other and then with each other on Lebanon’s American Legion team that won the mid-east regional and played in the state tournament. And we not only played together, we went together to see basketball games all over Middle Tennessee. i clearly remember he and i sitting on the hillside down the first baseline of Hawkins Field, watching Vandy play someone on a perfect spring sunny afternoon under the shade of Dudley Field. Prophetic perhaps.
Mike and i played whiffle ball endlessly in my backyard when we both were developing into almost fanatic Pittsburgh Pirate fans. A single was beyond an imaginary line between an imaginary first and second base. We played honest. A double was against the garage wall in right or the house steps. A triple was down the left field wall into the side yard or in the left center against the house again or to the driveway in right center. A home run was a fly into the Padgett’s field next door in right or past the yard to left or against the house in left. If the ball hit the small pecan tree down the third baseline or the Japanese elm just past the shortstop, we estimated the distance it would have flown. Each player had to throw in the manner of one of the Pirate pitchers. And each batter had to take the stance of one of the Pirate hitters. Favorite pitchers were were Harvey Haddix who pitched 12-innings of perfect baseball only to lose 1-0 in the 13th, Elroy Face who won 18 games in a row as the archetypal closer with his famous fork-finger pitch. On the hitting side, we liked the circular warmup swing with the head turning to the side of Roberto Clemente, my all-time favorite baseball player.
The only thing we played longer were our pick up games in the old Heights gymnasium. We played after the noon mess in our uniforms and socked feet. And we played after football, basketball, and baseball practice until Mrs. Fahey, the mother of all cadets who had an apartment in the front of the gym, would run us home where we were in trouble for being late for supper.
Then we went our separate ways to college, seldom seeing each other until we connected when Mike was out on a sales mission in Anaheim. i drove up and we talked for a couple of hours over drinks. That resumed the relationship. i would see him every time i went home to Lebanon, and if the weather allowed, one or two rounds of golf were included, many with Wayne Dedman.
Every time i came home and needed help in rides to or from the airport or a place to stay, Mike, Henry Harding, and Eddie Callis were always there for me. With Mike, a Vanderbilt game was included if the schedule fell right.
Mike ached from wanting Vanderbilt to win so badly. He was a critic, but a loyal one. He married Gloria Mallory, the light of his life after Brenda, his first wife, succumbed to cancer. Gloria and Mike shared their love of Vanderbilt sports and were one of the few couples from home who visited us in the Southwest corner, one of our favorite weekends.
Mike fought through some significant major illnesses until his heart, the one that beat so hard for sports, Vanderbilt in particular; his religion, and his wife Gloria, finally struck out swinging.
i miss him, terribly sometimes, especially in his analysis and insider dope of Vanderbilt football, basketball, and baseball.
Yesterday, somewhere up there, i am sure he was jumping up and down with joy when the Commodores held off the Gators, just like we did (and got caught skipping the lunch formation when the Pirates beat the mighty Yankees on Bill Mazeroski’s home run over Yogi Berra in left field of Forbes Field in 1961. And he will be by my side when the ‘Dores take on the Vols next Saturday.
It wasn’t planned. Not at all. It was a weekend i had been looking forward to for at least six months, if not a year. i had kept the weekend free from obligations for marketing my book to ensure this weekend was free: Thursday for travel, two days of golf with folks with whom i have golfed for two and a half score years, with Sunday free for recovery.
It didn’t turn out that way and, as with many things in my life, even the turn of events surprised me in a different way from what i expected.
Last Monday, the dermatologist looked at my arm and studied my record he held in front of him. “Don’t think we should wait,” he said authoritatively. When i got the biopsy report about a month ago, it didn’t sound bad, like melanoma bad. Some annoying little skin bump with a fancy name i told myself. i delayed the procedure until i returned from my wonderful trip back home with wonderful experiences at Vanderbilt and the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, ending with a great weekend with my brother and his family in Boston.
So the doc’s reaction rather surprised me.
“Well, i’ve got this golf tournament out in the desert next weekend.” i explained, “It is a group with whom i’ve played golf with for a long time, and it is in honor of the guy who ran the whole things for years before he died several years ago. Couldn’t we wait a week?” i pleaded.
“Being a golfer, I understand,” Doc Hardy responded, giving me a glimmer of hope. “But,” dashing that hope glimmer, “It’s already been put off longer than it should have been,” sealing my fate.
Now concerned, I asked what i did not wish to hear answered, “Can i still play?”
Doc went into a detailed explanation comparing my situation to a twin-screw ship losing an engine. i knew, in spite of holding a thread of hope, the next exchange was not going to turn out well for golfing. After his explanation, he gave me a chance, “We’ll move up the change of dressing to Thursday morning. We can make a final decision then.”
i was not overjoyed.
i conferred with the rest of my foursome. They reassured me i should do what is prudent, something they and my wife knew was not a forte of mine. The new leader of the group, Jim Hileman, who shared Padre season tickets with me for twenty years or so, told me they could work it out if i didn’t play, but i should attend regardless. i thanked them all.
Thursday morning. The medic , Edward Perez, a retired submarine riding corpsman, took the dressing off my arm. Now, mind you, the cut was about the size of a quarter but pretty deep — i chose to not to look close enough to know just how deep — the sutures seem to crisscross several times, the bandage applied ran from the base of my hand to my elbow. When the elaborate dressing was removed, it looked as if we had somehow been teleported from the Mohs surgery room to a butcher shop.
“You can chip and putt,” Doc said, “But no full swings. Too much stress on the wrist. Could pull the stitches out. We would have to start over,” he said with his best clinical face on.
i said, “i want to do what won’t make the situation worse.” i’m thinking, “These guys are very conservative, as they should be, but when i get there, i can try out a few swings and check it out.” i didn’t tell them, but they both knew. i knew they knew.
Friday morning came, and i had not made a final decision until i was walking down the stairs from the pro shop to the carts. It hit me the stress would come when i cocked my wrists at the top of the backswing. That is when i decided i wouldn’t play.
i informed the group. They, again, were supportive. i putted a bit before they teed off. i fore-caddied, i pin tended, i looked for lost balls, i held clubs while our three players chipped or putted. i laughed with them. i cheered for them. i drank a few beers.
We finished respectfully, winning a few, losing a few.
There were six groups, two with just three players. In its heyday, the San Diego Telephone Company Golf Association, loving referred to as San Diego TELCO, had to limit members to 100. Year ending tournaments were first class, big prizes, lots of door prizes, big tournament dinners at the conclusion. Members retired and moved. Some experienced accidents or illness and could no longer play. Some passed away. A few new folks joined but not enough to stem the tide.
Art Fristad and others like Marty Marion, Phil Greco, and my friend Jim Hileman, kept it going: monthly tournaments at different courses in the Southwest corner. The numbers continued to dwindle. Monthly tournaments went away. The association remained an official entity. And yearly, those that remain are out in the desert, playing fun games for two days.
The tournament is now named The Art Fristad Desert Classic. That is as it should be. It is really a statement about a group of men from an accomplished, successful past. We are not politically correct. We are together. Politics, religion, and other differences do not matter. Friends. Competitors together. Laughter. At each other. At ourselves. Good stuff. We are what i hope is not a vanishing breed.
And Thursday and Friday, i experienced zero stress free golf. i did not have to worry about my next shot. i did not think about what i should or shouldn’t do. i’m not a very good golfer, but i love to play. i don’t have a lot of interest in walking around a course with a bunch of guys hitting the ball that is beyond my limited capability. i’d rather be banging it around a course myself. But this weekend, i found watching my friends play the game i love a great experience. i rejoiced at their good shots. i moaned at their miscues. i laughed at their really goofy moments.
It was a great and different experience. You should try it sometime.
Thanks, Jim Hileman, Pete Toennies, Jeff Middlebrook, and all of those in San Diego TELCO Golf Association.