Went out to play a round of golf Tuesday with my friend Mike and his ten year old son. Mike's the assistant superintendent of our neighborhood course, Dubsdread. A former auto mechanic, he's also a good guy who changes water pumps and does brake jobs on our family cars and all he asks in return is a six pack of good beer. The maintenance barn sits alongside hole number four, a par five, and over in the barnyard I saw the mechanic, Earl, hitting old golf balls out of the dirt and into the lake beyond the fence. I'd heard he'd gotten real excited when he read in the paper that Bernadette had qualified. Started shouting right there in the shop surrounded by tools, disemboweled machines, barrels of motor oil and cans of WD-40. So I turned my cart in his direction and pulled into the yard.
I said I was glad to see he could still make contact, and reached out to shake his hand. He took it and said yeah, but without enthusiasm.
"Been playing any?"
"Nah, not since - " and he hit another one over the fence.
"Heard about your son," I said. "Hard to believe."
He said yeah, it's a bitch. Hadn't gotten any easier. And something about living day by day. About a month ago Earl's 30 year old son died of an aneurysm. He passed out one afternoon and by 10:30 that night he was dead. He left behind a wife and three kids.
He hit another ball and said, "That's great news about Bernadette. You must be the proud Papa." I said I was doing pretty well. Mike and his boy pulled up in the other cart.
"Come on, Earl, get your clubs," said Mike.
"Nah," said Earl. Down in the dumps he clearly was. Way down. He used to love golf. Played almost every day.
"Get your clubs," I said, "and throw on with me. All you've got here is work."
"Ah, what the hell," so he marched into the barn and came back lugging his bag and got into the cart with me. He wore a light salt and pepper beard, was about my age and about my height. Then he started talking and all he wanted to talk about was his boy, a mechanic like himself who worked at Nancy Lopez's development up near Leesburg, a home and golf course spread called the Villages. As mechanics' jobs went, it was a plum. After he died, the course had thrown a benefit of some kind, and Earl seemed somewhat amazed that Nancy Lopez would give money to help out his son's family.
I reminded him that she hosted an LPGA tournament in the Atlanta area called the Chick-fil-A Charity Championship, and that Bernadette was looking forward to it, not least because her boyfriend lives there. And that Lopez was the first lady golfer from whom Bern had gotten an autograph, back when they still had a ladies' tournament out at Disney.
Earl suddenly lit up. "Man, what a thrill that'll be, caddying for your girl on tour." He wanted to know if I'd do it full time. Part-time at first, I said, then full time in late spring and summer.
"Wow. We're all rootin' for her," he said.
"I know you are. And so does she." Mike had told me the management wanted to throw a tournament for her, to help with expenses. Then it was back to his boy.
They had been buddies. That's what made it so hard. They'd done everything together: boating, fishing, four-wheeling, golfing. He'd taught him everything he knew about golf course machines. "We were close," he said.
"You were lucky," I offered.
"Yeah," he said. And after a while, "It's just hard to give a shit about anything right now." He supposed he was still in the aggravation stage - pissed off at the world, at God. I nodded.
He had a new driver in his hands, new for him anyway. It was a Great Big Bertha titanium some years old, but it kept the ball low. He used to balloon his drives. I kept telling him how much better his shots looked and he seemed to get into the game a little.
When his son's heart stopped, the doctors and nurses had started the resuscitation routine, with the electric paddles and all. Earl had yelled at them, "What the hell are you doing? He's not suffering now. He's got no blood left!" But the doctors said that only his son's wife could tell them to stop, so he had to drag her in there to see that. He was still bitter about it. "That's how he died," he said. "He bled to death inside."
I told him the doctors had probably done that so that later no one could say that they hadn't done everything possible. Yeah, probably, he agreed.
On number seven, Earl finally laughed. Mike's son Jake hit his second shot into the water. Mike gave him some instruction, after which the kid stepped up and hit another one in. Then Mike, telling Jake to pay attention, addressed his own ball, swung, and it too dove for the water, but skipped twice and ended up on dry land. Yeah, hooted Earl, that's how you do it, and drove off laughing. Then there was silence for a while.
As we pulled up to his ball, he said, almost to himself, "You know, the death toll from that earthquake's up to 40,000 now."
Well, I said, then it's up 15,000 from the last time I tuned in. By the time I got home that evening it was up to 60,000, and one network said 70, with many more to come. And that's all Earl said about it, but I think I could see how his mind was working: my son was just one of millions who die every day. What's so special about my son, except that he was mine? He died in relative peace, while elsewhere there are children in the streets, hanging in the trees, laid out on the floor, crushed beneath the buildings, their last moments filled with uncomprehending terror. If I can just say the right thing, or think the right thought, it will all come clear and make sense...
On hole number eight a fellow worker showed up in a cart to give him a ride back to the barn, and Earl unloaded his golf bag and headed back to work. Before he left I told him we'd play again soon, when Bernadette was back in town...
"You betcha," he said, then waved and rode off.
I don't know why he wanted to tell it all to me, but I didn't mind. He can tell me again next time if he needs to.
Bill, you're an incredible friend.
Posted by Lee Anne Millinger email at December 29, 2004 11:21 AM
I don't know about that. But you're a nice lady.
Posted by William Luse email at December 29, 2004 03:45 PM
May God bless you much, Mr. Luse...
Posted by Sparki email at December 29, 2004 05:59 PM
Thanks, Sparki. I think He already has; I just don't always keep it in mind.
Posted by William Luse email at December 29, 2004 06:03 PM
I'll be praying for Earl. I've written his name on my prayer list that I keep in my prayer book. I think he's facing the hardest thing in the world. They're not supposed to go before we do. And nothing makes that right.
And blessings to you too, Bill, for being a good friend.
Posted by MamaT email at December 29, 2004 10:55 PM
a shared blessing is always beautiful.
Posted by smockmomma email at December 30, 2004 10:56 AM