Sunday, September 30, 2007

I Love Golf

I love the game of golf.

I love to play golf.

I love to watch golf.

I love to read about the history of golf.

I took up golf in 1983 in Baton Rouge at my brother Paul’s prodding. He had just started playing as well, and in usual fashion he acquired the skills quite quickly.

I borrowed my dad’s old clubs, and immediately found that you do not just walk out and play golf. That day we played the course on the campus of LSU. I believe I walked off that day in disgust – before even reaching the turn.

Why I tried again after that experience I don’t remember.

When Paul and I were boys in Georgia, our Dad would often ask us if we would like to play golf with him. And we always declined.

Golf is a silly game of chasing a little white ball only played by boring old men who wear funny clothes. Or so we thought. And I know Dad was disappointed by our ignorance.

Paul bought me my first set of clubs. I do not remember if I ever paid him back or not. If not, I hope he doesn’t read this or he may charge me interest.

As I remember, he paid $58.00 for a used set of Lynx Masters. Fancy for their day, with the face of a Lynx cast on the back of each club. USA Masters engraved on the heel.

They were laden with lead tape, heavily coated on the bottom of each by a senior who obviously wanted to increase the distance. It took most of a day on the patio peeling that tape off.

I remember those irons so well. I should. I still play them. They are the only irons I have ever owned. And I can hit each one pure and crisp.

At the same time, our parents had just moved from Baton Rouge to Pensacola, Florida. They took an apartment with a pretty back yard, and behind their yard lay the 12th green of a long dog leg right par 5.

So it seemed to be destined that golf would become a family endorsed component of our life. That year for Christmas, my parents gave me a Sam Snead Blue Ridge driver. And I learned to pummel that thing 300 yards plus.

My brother and I would wake up on Christmas morning, sneak out on the 13th tee beside their apartment building, and play all the way around back to the 12th green. The course was closed for Christmas day, so we would carry our bags discretely and shoot greens with no flags in the holes.

Those were probably the best Christmas mornings I knew until my daughters were born.

At that time I worked a job at night, and got off work at 7:00 am. I would leave work and go right to the municipal course of my choosing. Baton Rouge had a bunch. Some were great, some were flat fields with cement water drains in place of real creeks.

I would arrive and usually play before the club-house was open, navigating the sprinklers, and explaining to the grounds crew that I would pay when I reached the club house. I don’t remember ever being refused.

After a couple years of playing every day all year around, I was pretty good. I could shoot in the 70’s consistently, and sometimes even go below par. My forearms and hands were very strong and tan, with the left hand giving me away as a constant player because the glove I wore resulted in a pale white skin tone.

I could hit a long tee shot consistently with my Blue Ridge driver, and my approach shots with my Lynx Masters irons would usually leave me with an opportunity for birdie.

And Paul could always beat me. I can’t remember one time I ever beat him.

For a brief period before I moved to Canada, Paul and I were room mates. The best ‘roomie’ I ever had. And weekly we would play one specific round together. It was called “The Cascade Classic”. The loser of this round would be responsible for doing the dishes for the next week, until the next Cascade Classic could be played.

I don’t remember Paul ever washing a single dish in that apartment.

When I moved to Canada the week between Christmas and New Years of 1985, I packed my car with all my belongings. My golf clubs among them. We went to my Mom and Dad’s apartment in Pensacola and played our customary rounds on the course behind their yard.

And then I moved to Canada. I moved to Canada in late December. I don’t recommend this feat to anyone.

I did not pick up my clubs again until the final round of the Masters was being played. This is the infamous Sunday when Jack Nicklaus won his final green jacket.

But on the farm, we still had two feet of snow on the ground. Winter was not leaving easily. And I took a shovel, cleared a five foot patch, and hit nine irons across the yard to snow bank in the corner. When the snow finally melted in May, I recovered those balls and returned them to my bag.

So my life changed from playing daily to starting all over again in April or May, working on my game through the summer, and then abandoning it again come October.

At Christmas, I would usually return to Pensacola spending Christmases with my parents, or just my Mum after dad passed away in 1990. And golf was a central focus of my holiday.

As the years have progressed, my ability to travel to Pensacola at Christmas has evaporated. We have our own family Christmas traditions in Windsor. There is no Golf yet in these traditions.

In a common summer, I may get to play golf once every two weeks or so. This year I only had four opportunities to play.

Yesterday was one of those opportunities. It was our Company Golf Tournament. And it is a highlight of every fall for me and Darlene. This year Darlene could not play because the implant she has in her back was still healing. As I left in the morning I could see she was sad she could not play.

Instead she spent the day with her brother closing our pool.

We played a best ball scramble format. My partners were Erwin, Tim, and his wife Diane. Both Erwin and Tim hold significant rankings in our company. And both are excellent people to spend time with. Tim’s better half, Dianne, was equally enjoyable, and a good golfer as well.

I will admit that we started the morning with hopes of possibly winning the event. And we started well by reaching a par five in two and achieving our first birdie – beginning the day at one under par.

I would say that of the four of us, we all contributed to the cause equally. And our outcome was most definitely the result of our combined effort.

And it was a lot of fun.

Tim and Erwin both equally ensured we were in good shape in the fairway. My strength has always been the approach to the green. Between the four of us we most always hit the green with the opportunity for birdie or eagle.

But putting was a skill not held by any of us yesterday. So no eagles were accomplished and only three birdies realized.

We finished at two over par.

When we reached the par 3 where the men’s closest to the pin was contested, I liked my chances. I have won this contest before. The shot was a 145 yards and the tee elevated over bush and wasteland leading up to the green.

I put the tee in the ground and sized up the conditions. The wind slightly in my face. The green sloped back to font.

I lined up my nine iron, the same nine iron with the Lynx face cast in the back and “USA Master” engraved on the bottom. My mind held this thought:

Remember the 17th hole at Mums? It is the same shot. Just picture that hole in your memory as you swing through the ball. It’s the same hole. It’s the same swing.

I took the club back to full-square. As I brought the club down through the ball with my left forearm, I was clearly seeing the 17th hole at Carriage Hills.

As I followed through, my ball flight was high, right on line, and looking perfect. The ball hit 12 inches straight in front of the hole. It bit and spun back another 12 inches. It stopped two feet dead straight uphill in front of the hole.

The best part of it was not hitting the shot or watching it. The best part was hearing my partners in our foursome cheering the ball in flight – in that moment that seems like five minutes, as you watch the ball drop from clouds and land beside the pin. The high fives, and the excitement as we drove down to the hole to find it is indeed as close as we thought.

I tried to calmly stroke it in for a natural birdie but missed. Tim stepped up and rapped it in for the official birdie we needed to stay in the hunt. Then he signed my name on the board and moved it to where my ball landed.

I do love golf.

I love everything about golf

But I am awfully glad that I don’t have to play golf to earn my living.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Shutdown Mode

I just sat down on our back patio deck with a cup of coffee to enjoy a morning smoke, and to take account of the work that lies before me.

I appear to be in shutdown mode, in most every aspect of my life.

It’s time to take down most everything in the back yard, prepare it for winter storage and put it away. Odd, because the breeze is warm, and the pool is crystal clear and blue.

Only the few scattered leaves at the bottom indicate we are now officially into fall.

Major League Baseball is also preparing for shut down mode. The final 10 or so games are to be played this week, with the post-season starting the first week of October.

My Detroit Tigers are all but mathematically eliminated from post-season play this year. We sit four-and-a-half games back of the Yankees for the AL Wildcard spot. That’s a lot of ground to make up in a week. But odder things have happened.

Darlene and I will be heading to Detroit to Comerica Park Sunday to watch the last regular season home game of the Tigers against Kansas City. In essence we will be helping the Tigers shutdown for the year as well.

But you never know.

At work, I spoke at both a memorial service for a wonderful colleague who passed away recently, and I spoke at a retirement party for three of the best co-workers you could ask to work with. I guess you could say that we helped shut down their careers.

And in my own job, we are preparing for the shut down of our department. We our literally going through our drawers, cabinets, and computer files, determining if each should be retained for the legal seven year limit, be shredded, or is of personal value.

But nothing in life stays idle.

And very few things stay shut down.

We have already started planning how we are going refinish our deck next spring. We have already plotted how we will re-arrange our gardens. And of course, the pool will re-open.

The Tigers will make some off-season trades, and start spring training back in Lakeland, Florida in February. That’s not too far away.

And I and those I work with in my department are excited about the new directions we will be going after our department ceases to exist in November. And we know that the outcome of the lifetime of our department was a tremendous success, with numerous assets we can carry forward in our new roles.

Those three colleagues who retired have already begun their golden retirement years. I cannot tell you how amazingly healthy and happy each of them appeared to be at their party. You could almost say they were re-born.

And Trudy, who passed so suddenly away a few weeks ago, will continue always in our memories. I am quite positive that she has moved on to something quite wonderful and new as well.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The List

You know its September because time just flys by.

It’s as though the whole world woke up from a summer siesta and discovers that there is a lot of work to do.

So things are busy. Busy at home. Busy at work.

Our girls, like all other North American kids – started school back up a couple of weeks ago. In our case it was the day after Labor Day. All went fairly smooth, understanding of course that they are starting a new school. And while they miss their old friends – are quickly making new ones.

In the mornings, my efforts have had to accelerate. The girls have to get dressed nice for school, not just shorts and t-shirt for the daycare. They have to eat, have lunches packed, and dressed.

Of course each of these steps is met with “I don’t want to eat that”, or “I hate those clothes, can I wear [some outfit that is just not appropriate] instead?

Darlene does the shopping for our family. And she does a great job. But back to school shopping is at least as great a feat to achieve – a chore to tackle – a task to undertake – as Christmas shopping.

I suggested Darlene document the events of her experience this year. She happily obliged - in a little piece she calls:


Well, it is that time of year again. The time where mothers all around the continent rejoice that school is now back in session.

This has, of course one major drawback. It’s called the ‘school list of supplies needed’
In our day, one went to school and everything you needed was supplied. Not so anymore. Now, the first week of school ‘the list’ makes its way home.

I looked in disbelief at the length. My youngest list wasn’t bad. Only five - six items- -for senior kindergarten. My oldest, however, who is going into grade 1, was a whopping whole page.

“When are you going to get my school stuff, Mom, when? When?” she pleaded.

When mommy gets off of work Thursday night”, I replied.

OK” she said, and off she went to watch Johnny Test on the telly.

Well, now it is Thursday night……THREE DAYS after school is in session. I am two hours late leaving work, the border traffic was a mess and by the time I got to Wal-Mart’s of course there was nothing left.

Lesson? OH YES I will know next year what to buy for Ashley-Rae AND to not leave it till too late!

I walked into the store. I looked around. There were still scores of parents frantically looking about with children tugging on their arms.

”NO NO Mom! Not those!! Miss said these ones!!!” I continued down the aisle.

Thankfully I had left my two darlings with their father. As I held the list in my hand another mother chuckled softly and said “Uh Oh, she has the list”. I scowled fixing her with my mutinous green stare.

“I don’t have to do that anymore, thank God.”

”Bully for you!” I said. I turned down the aisle with the markers, crayons, pencils, etc.

Again my eyes widened in disbelief. Nothing. Nada. Big fat donut. There was not a pencil, crayon, eraser, ruler left. I groaned out loud. In the next aisle I had found the same thing. Not one color of duo-tang binder left.

I mumbled a few choice words under my breath and heard a giggle behind me. It was a young woman with her son who was about 9 years of age. He had a on a right wrist cast, long black greasy hair down past his shoulders.

I hurriedly sputtered, “Can you seriously believe this list?!!” She smiled, nodded and her son piped up with, “HA! Wait till you see the Grade 4 list!! It’s THREE PAGES!!” I shook my head and resignedly left the store to head for Staples. I knew at least there I would find everything I would need.

Dinner consisted of a hurriedly wolfed-down burrito supreme washed down with a pop. That is all I knew I would have time for.

Staples. What an experience. The staff are always helpful, friendly and willing to assist you to attain what you need. In no time I was finished and on my way home.

Geez, $185.00 later; I was ready. I did not get home till 10 pm. By the time I got the supplies labeled and doled out it was 12:45 am.

LESSON: Next year I will be ready. Before we start school.

In the end, it was the excitement and joy on my girls’ faces when they got up and saw all their school supplies packed neatly in their packs that made the whole experience worth it. I sure do love my little girls

- Darlene

Saturday, September 01, 2007

The Summers in Lawrenceville Georgia

What a beautiful day it is today.

It is the first day of September, but you would not know it by stepping out on our back deck.

The sky is pure blue. The sun is working its way across the morning sky. Soon it will be above the pool and we can go swimming.

But September is here.

On Tuesday, Alannah will start first grade at her new school. On Wednesday, Ashley-Rae will start Senior Kindergarten.

Both are anxious. Both are excited and apprehensive. Both are absolutely normal.

I remember being a kid, and the last few days of summer were left to those last three days that made up the Labor Day weekend. The fact that it was a three day weekend meant nothing to me as I had just had nearly 3 months off for summer holidays. And I counted down the minutes – those precious final minutes – until school would once again commence.

I didn’t hate school. I just really loved summer.

Baseball, swimming, and gathering up the friends in the neighborhood for pick up games of basketball, football, and baseball.

I really loved summer best when we lived in Georgia. We lived in a suburb of Atlanta between two rural towns of Lilburn and Lawrenceville. Around the corner and down the hill was our community club – Plantation Swim and Racquet club. It had a great pool, and two tennis courts. We would hang out at that pool all day with all our buds in the neighborhood. My brother Paul learned to play tennis there and rose to the top five in the state – on those very courts.

Back then, my best friends were Robby Irby, Steve Stillwell and his brother Ken. John Bartles and the LaFlevbre brothers lived further down on one side. And further down the other side of our house lived Bill Huseby, Stuart Franklin, and Mark Lane.

Directly across from our house was the Tomblins. And next door to them were the Livesays.

On the street behind us – behind my house – lived Donna Rice. A year younger than me – she was the first girl I ever had a crush on.

All the friends we had then seemed to be athletes. Very good athletes. At one time, we had four starting players for our high school basketball team in our neighborhood. And the pick up basketball games were really great.

These are the guys I drank my first beer with. And yes – smoked my first cigarette with – but it didn’t stick back then. It stunk actually. I didn’t start smoking until University.

One of the Livesay’s was Ken. He wound up going to Auburn on a football scholarship in my senior year of high school. He was a legend at our school. And I wish I knew how he made out at Clemson.

Even though Ken never hung out in our little circle of friends, we all looked up to him. His little sister Amy was in our circle of friends. And she was – and most likely still is – one of the nicest human beings you could meet.

Summer was pretty sacred to me. It is funny now to realize those most special summers there with those friends only counted up to five. It seemed like so many more.

I often wonder what happened to some of my friends. Some I have seen on our high school alumni website. Bill Huseby runs a car dealership, Tracey Tomblin has married and raised a nice family. Donna Rice married some very lucky fellow and they own a restaurant somewhere around the Greater Atlanta Area. John Bartles works for one of the school boards in the area.

But I have seen no sign of Robby Irby. And Robby was my best friend of those days.

Last year I downloaded the Google Earth program. I spent many winter weekend mornings using Google Earth to find the homes of all the people that we know and love. If you click on the Satellite view, it actually shows you the satellite photographs from as low as about 500 feet.

View Larger Map

When I found my old neighborhood in Lawrenceville, I zoomed in real close – and I went visiting. I first found our house on Plantation Court. I went around the corner and down the hill to the club. They had added two more tennis courts – and after thirty years – the swimming pool was still there. Nothing had changed – except there were two more tennis courts. I went back up the street and visited the Bartles', the Stillwell's, the Irby’s, and over to the Tomblin's and the Huseby's. Up to the Lanes’s and the Franklin's.

All the while I was looking for any sign that they might still be there. But there was no such sign. “It was 30 years ago you know” I said to myself. “Do you think they will still be there being 13-16 years old still?

Maybe some twilight-zone effect? No … don’t be silly”.

I like to call my daughters over to the computer sometimes. And I take them for a walk through my old neighborhood. I show them the house Paul and I lived in. I walk them down to the club to the pool. And I show them all the great driveways where we played basketball, and the backyards we played football in.

And I tell them all about my friends. And they sit in listen. I can see them imagining us playing in those yards. And I tell them some of our funny stories – but only those that you can tell five and six year old girls.

Do you miss your friends, Daddy?” asked Alannah.

Yes, I guess I do honey”.

Why don’t you call them?” asked Ashley-Rae.

I guess we out grew each other I thought to myself without answering. But I sure did love those guys back then.

I think I’ll load up Google Earth and take another walk through the old neighborhood.

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