When I was 14, I sometimes hung out with my older brother’s friends, all of them 6 or 7 years older than me. One guy purchased a school bus and painted it black and used it to “bus” party goers where the gathering was. I would just sit and listen to the stories and watch most everyone make a fool of themselves. The older kids that attended these parties were the toughest and most feared around. For some reason, they took a liking to me. If I was walking on a sidewalk and they drove by, they would stop their souped-up car, roll down the window, and ask me if anyone was giving me any trouble. When I told them nobody was, they seemed disappointed as they swiftly peeled away squealing their tires, leaving black tire tracks, in search of trouble. I liked to refer to them as my “posse.”
With the money I saved working at the dairy, I bought my first set of golf clubs from George Miller who owned the dairy. They were Gene Littlers with aluminum shafts. They were light and easy to swing. I also bought an Acushnet Bullseye putter with a bronze head. It cost 20 dollars. I have probably used 50 different putters in my lifetime, and the Bullseye putter was better balanced than all the others. I still have that putter.
My best friend at the time was the son of an eye doctor, and he always had the best golf equipment. He bought a set of Ram Fastbacks. They were top of the line at the time. He would let me feel them, but he wouldn’t let me hit with them. They did feel good, and I was somewhat jealous of him having those nice clubs. He also purchased one of the first Ping putters. It had an open slot at the bottom of the club and would make a “ping” noise when you putted.
One early morning when I was playing golf, the old guy who did all the golf course maintenance asked me if I wanted a job out there. I always said yes when someone asked me to do anything. My function was to mow the roughs on the course. I lowered the mower blades in the areas where I had a tendency to hit an errant shot.
I never had to buy new golf balls. I would find plenty in the roughs I was mowing. But by far, the biggest score of finding good golf balls was in the large pond fronting the first hole’s green especially after the club tournament held once a year. A couple of us would sneak onto the course at night after the big event and go into the pond barefoot, and when we would step on a ball, reach down, and put the found ball in a bucket we carried. Unfortunately, leeches were thick in the water, and we always had some trying to attach themselves to our person.
One day I found a golf ball in the rough that was called “Floater.” I had never heard of that brand before. I showed it to my friend, and he told me that it could float on water. That made sense. I tested it by tossing it in the shallow end of the pond by the first hole, and it indeed floated to the top of the water. I decided to use it every time I played that hole. It definitely gave me confidence that I wouldn’t lose it if I hit an errant shot. Inevitably, I hit a bad shot, and the “floater” found its way in the drink. Confident that I could get my ball back, I did see it floating on top. Unfortunately, it was floating in the middle of the large pond. It was too far away and didn’t have anything long enough to retrieve it. Sometimes, the best-laid plans go awry.
My Grandma on my Mother’s side was approaching ninety and came to live with us. She was still pretty spry for her age. One of her favorite activities was watching television. Her two favorite shows were Roller Derby and All-Star Wrestling. She would sit in her chair and observe intently the non-stop action. She used a wooden walking stick to help her get around, but when those two shows were on, they became weapons. She would swing that stick in the air if her favorite, Joanie Weston were dumped over the rail onto the concrete floor below, or Pat O’Connor was body-slammed on the wrestling mat. I gave her a wide berth during these shows, pretty sure she could “take me out if she wanted.”
Eventually, Grandma went to live in a nursing home 30 miles from where we lived. My Mom never had a driver’s license, so I drove her to see Grandma once a week. I was fourteen and didn’t have a license yet either.
One day at school, I saw a flyer posted on the bulletin board looking to hire 4 kids to help clean up the hotel downtown, so I naturally signed up. We worked 5 days after school, moving furniture and such. When we were done, the owner announced he wanted to hire a busboy for his restaurant located in the hotel. One other kid quickly raised his hand and said he’d do it. The owner ignored him and pointed to me and said, “How about you?” We hardly ever went to a restaurant, so I didn’t even know what a busboy was, but again I said sure. The restaurant had an excellent cook named Helen Drips. She cooked beer-batter chicken and fish that is still the best I have ever tasted. Our best ribeye steak with all the fixings cost under ten dollars.
As a freshman, I was on the varsity golf team. At the time, high school golf in Iowa was played in the spring starting in April. Our second meet of the season was our conference tournament and was held at West Union. The weather was terrible. It was snowing, the wind was howling, and I just had a light jacket on. I have never been that cold. All I thought about was getting in the clubhouse and getting out of this weather. I didn’t care what I shot, and my score reflected that. I scored 107, the highest round I ever had. Our school still was the conference champions, but I had nothing to do with. My score didn’t count. My coach, who was also our superintendent didn’t say a word to me, but the look he gave me told plenty. I had let him and myself down. I vowed never to do that again. Our team won every duo meet we were in that year.
Next season, I shot a 74 and was the conference medalist. Coach never said a word to me, but the look on his face was much more pleasant than last years. Even though I was the individual champion, our team finished second by one stroke. I was not happy. Our number two golfer shot a 97 and cost us the win. I don’t remember, but I might have said something to him, but several meets later as we were traveling on the school bus, he attacked me on the bus smashing my head on the window over and over. He was a big kid and outweighed me by at least 150 pounds. I remember seeing our coach, who was driving the bus watching in the mirror the whole thing and doing nothing to stop it. Since he didn’t do anything, I decided to let my “posse” know what happened. The big fat kid stayed away from me after that and never bothered me again. I never knew what they did to him.