My old man was a stickler. He loved rules and order like kids love candy. He couldn’t stand clutter or disorganization; everything had to be neat and put away in just the right spot. For fun he would go around the house with a level making sure all the pictures were straight. I always thought he would have made a great Nazi.
When he pulled into the garage every evening exactly at six, the car had to be equidistant from the wall and the garage door. Sometimes he would actually measure. And you’ve never seen a more organized closet in your life; the clothes were arranged by size, color, and style. The rumor was that Dad was kicked out of the Marines for being too orderly.
Rules had to be followed at all cost. I once came home a minute past curfew and was grounded for a week. My older sister, Jean, once said “shithead” within his earshot and was grounded for two weeks. If he had known she was talking about him, it probably would have been a little longer.
Chores had to be done in a thorough and timely manner. It was my job to mow the lawn; but not just mow it; it had to be cut in straight lines perfectly parallel to the house. One day I decided, just for a change, to cut in kind of a diagonal pattern. Needless to say, Dad was not happy and I was subjected to a long tutorial on the correct way to mow the grass. Every now and again he’d bring it up, the time I “went crazy” and screwed up the lawn.
Jean and I had to keep our rooms immaculate with the bed made, desk neat, and especially no clothes or anything on the floor. And his inspection could come at anytime: the middle of the night, the day after Christmas, you name it.
Mom was the sane one but unfortunately she had left years ago. No, not really; thankfully she was still around. She was really the only buffer between me and the maniac. I never really understood how she and Dad got together. She claimed he hadn’t always been so stringent, which I found a little hard to believe. I remembered seeing an old picture of him when he was probably around 20. In it he was standing in front of a shelf that was holding several of his golf trophies. The trophies were gleaming and they were all lined up perfectly.
That was the one place my father was the strictest for obeying rules—the golf course. He had lost several friends over arguments about whether a ball was in bounds or where a dropped ball should be placed.
I stopped playing with him long ago. I liked to play golf to relax and have fun but I quickly discovered I could do neither of those things playing with Dad. After I watched him get into a loud argument with a woman who was probably in her 80’s over an errant tee-shot, I swore I would never play with him again.
I was awoken one Saturday morning by a knock on my door.
“Yeah,” I said groggily.
The door opened slowly and Mom came in.
“Hi, honey,” she said.
“Hey, Mom, what’s going on?” I asked sitting up.
“Greg, I need a favor.”
My Spidey-sense started tingling and I immediately wracked my brain trying to think of an excuse to get out of whatever it was she wanted.
“Now, don’t look like that,” she said, reading my face. “This isn’t so bad.”
I relaxed, but just a little. “What?”
“I don’t know if you knew, but you’re father was all set to go out and play golf today with Harry Morten.”
Of course I knew. I had been looking forward to this day all week. I couldn’t wait to spend the day without the imminent shadow of disapproval looming over me. I had even gleefully thought about putting my socks in the middle of the bedroom floor and just leaving them there.
“Uh, yeah I think so,” I said casually.
“I just got off the phone with Harry’s wife, Alice,” Mom continued, sitting down next to be on the bed. “You remember Mrs. Morten, she’s the one who makes those lemon squares that you love.”
I rolled my eyes. I had one lemon square six years ago after a little league game that I said I liked and Mom had never forgotten about it.
“Anyway, Alice told me that Harry hurt his back trying to move a chest of drawers. Why he was moving it by himself, I don’t know, but now he won’t be able to play with your father.”
I waited for her to continue. After she looked at me for a moment, I suddenly knew what she wanted.
“No, Mom, I can’t. I have stuff to do. I might be hanging out with Jim later, I, I can’t, I just can’t.”
“Please, honey. He was so looking forward to playing today. Right now he’s in the garage measuring the car’s distance from the wall.”
“Why can’t he go play by himself?”
“You know he likes having company when he plays.”
I shook my head. “I don’t think I can do it, Mom.”
“Greg, please. I have all this stuff to do for the bake sale and if your father stays home all day he’s going to drive me crazy. He’s already straightened the spice rack three times.”
“But if I go play golf with him, he’s gonna drive me crazy!”
She smiled and put her hand on my shoulder. “Please, Greg. Do it for me.”
Oh, I hated when she said that. I rolled my eyes again. “Fine!” I said. She got up and kissed me on the cheek. “Thank you. Now hurry up and get ready.”
As I looked for something to wear, I gazed out the window. It looked like a nice day and I really did like playing golf; so maybe it wouldn’t be so horrible, I tried to reason to myself.
I found Dad in the garage at his tool wall straightening the already-straight tools. He was wearing his old blue baseball cap, the one he always wore when he golfed. He was a little surprised when I told him I wanted to play but gladly accepted.
“So, do you want to drive?” he asked with a chuckle as he put his golf bag in the car. After I got my permit last year, as another favor to Mom (and yes, she used that “do it for me” line again) I asked him to teach me how to drive. He got me so rattled with his instructions, just pulling out of the driveway I drove onto the neighbor’s lawn.
“The Millers just put down some new sod,” he said with a grin. I didn’t say anything. Before he started up the car, he had to make sure the seat was where he wanted it and he checked all the mirrors twice, even though this was his car and no one else drove it.
It took us 15 minutes to get to the public golf course, even though it should have taken about five. Dad was a stickler for the speed limit, too.
“Look at that,” he said as we pulled into the parking lot. A large SUV was poorly parked and taking up two spaces. “I wonder if the lot attendant is around, I should report that.” After a futile attempt to find the attendant, Dad reported the “crime” to an old man selling ice cream at the snack bar.
“I can feel it, Greg,” Dad said with a smile as we walked up to the first hole. “I can really feel it; I think today’s the day I’m getting that hole-in-one.”
Dad’s life-long dream was to get a hole-in-one. Amazingly, he had been very close several times; the closest coming last year at a little tournament he was in that I was dragged to where the ball actually rimmed the cup.
When we got up to the first tee, two middle-aged men were there. One of them was just about to tee off.
“We’ll be out of here in a minute,” the other man said.
“That’s fine,” Dad said a little stiffly. “Take your time.”
As the man prepared to tee off, Dad tapped my arm. “You see that?” he asked, not too quietly. “The way his head is, the way his legs are positioned?” The man swung and the ball took a big slice to the left. “That’s exactly the wrong way to do it.” The man glared at my father as he and his friend walked down the fairway.
I was a decent golfer but I really didn’t care about my score, I just liked to play fast, the faster the better. My friend Jim and I once played 18 holes in 45 minutes. In addition to getting the game over with quickly, I knew it would really piss Dad off if I rushed my shots.
“Okay, Greg,” Dad began, as I grabbed a club and approached the ball. “This hole is about 300 yards, so what you want to do is-“ I swung as hard as I could. It wasn’t a bad shot but swerved into some bushes. Dad frowned. I smiled at him as he walked up to the tee. I took a seat on a nearby bench knowing this could take a while.
First he adjusted his gloves twice, then his hat, then his gloves again.
“C’mon, Dad, they’re getting ready to close.”
“This golf course doesn’t close until eight p.m.,” he said dryly. After one final glove adjustment, he swung. The ball went straight down the fairway. Dad beamed. “That’s the way to do it.”
Aside from the fifth hole where Dad chased away some squirrels he said “just didn’t belong there,” the front nine was pretty uneventful. He had a 43 going and I was well over 70. After he teed off on the tenth, it started getting dark.
“Uh, Dad, it looks like it might rain. Maybe we should call it a day.”
“Nonsense,” he said gazing after his ball. “We have plenty of time. I’m on pace to break my best score here.” I rolled my eyes and trudged after him.
I made a ridiculous shot out of a sand trap on 15 and then it started drizzling. “C’mon, Dad, it’s raining, let’s go.”
Dad looked up. “It’s barely sprinkling. C’mon, we only have three holes left.”
On 17, it started thundering. Several people quickly began leaving the course. I looked at Dad, hoping to find some sanity, but then I remembered it was Dad. “You’re up,” was all he said.
I tried to time my swing with the thunder to make it sound like I was really crushing the ball, but I was a few seconds off. It had really started getting windy and my ball sailed about 150 yards before being brought back about 75.
“Tough break,” Dad said as he walked up to the tee box. After his usual glove and hat adjustment, he hit another nice shot and smiled. “Wow, I’m hitting them well today.”
Finally we were at the last hole. It was a short one and my opening shot ricocheted off a couple of trees and actually made it onto the green. I laughed but Dad wasn’t amused.
“You know if you actually tried, you could really be good,” he said approaching the tee. I stuck my tongue out at him. “The last time I was here with Harry,” he continued, looking down the fairway, “I put it about 10 feet from the hole.”
Just then there was a big clap of thunder. Dad didn’t seem to notice. Not far away I thought I saw a bolt of lightning hit a telephone pole.
“Uh, Dad,” I said. “Maybe we should uh, leave like now.”
“In a minute, Greg,” he said impatiently. “This is the last hole.” He swung and hit a good looking shot right down the fairway. It rolled past the hole and up a little hill. After pausing for a split second, it came back down and rolled right into the hole. Dad looked stunned.
“It went in! It went in! That’s a hole-in-one! Oh, my god, that’s a hole-in-one!” He started doing a little dance and raised his arms, his right one still holding the golf club.
“Hey, nice shot, Dad,” I said and looked around, hoping no one was witnessing this display.
Suddenly there was a flash of bright light. I turned back just in time to see a bolt of lightning hitting the golf club in Dad’s outstretched hand. He immediately stopped moving and looked at me. “Hole in one,” he muttered and fell to the ground.
“Dad!” I rushed over to him. He was unconscious but I could tell he was breathing. I ran to the clubhouse and yelled for someone to call an ambulance. An older man sitting at the bar said he was a doctor. After I quickly explained what happened, he and I hurriedly went back out to the course.
By now it was raining pretty hard. The doctor kneeled down in the wet grass and put an ear to Dad’s chest. I nervously stood a few feet away.
“Well, he’s breathing and he’s got a heartbeat,” he said. “Those are definitely good signs.” He looked up at me. “I think he just got knocked out.” I exhaled loudly. I hadn’t realized I had been holding my breath. I was relieved; I could imagine what that call to Mom would have been like: “Uh, yeah, Mom, you know how Dad always said he could die happy if he ever made a hole-in-one? Well…”
An ambulance arrived a short time later. By then Dad had started waking up a little. After the paramedics checked him out they said he was going to be okay but still should go to the hospital just to be safe.
The doctor picked up my dad’s club and looked at it. “Ah, ha,” he said.
“What?” I asked.
“I think this is what kept your father alive.” He showed me the end of the club. On the very bottom there was a thin layer of what looked like rubber. “If this whole thing was made of metal, well, I don’t think I have to tell you what would have happened.” I thanked him for his help and he walked back to the clubhouse.
I made my way over to the ambulance; I was going to ride with them to the hospital. On the ground near the ball cleaner I noticed a small piece of paper. I leaned down and picked it up; it was Dad’s scorecard. I smiled. He sure had one heck of a game.
One of the paramedics approached me. “We’re all set to go.”
“Okay,” I said.
“Your father is kind of groggy right now, but I did hear him say ‘hole-in-one.’ Did he actually get a hole-in-one out here?”
I looked down at the card and noticed that there was no score written down for the last hole. That makes sense; Dad had been busy getting struck by lightning. The card also hadn’t been signed which, according to the rules of golf, is a serious violation. The penalty for an unsigned card is a disqualification.
I shook my head. “Nope, but he was close.” I ripped up the card and tossed the scraps into a trash can. Rules are rules, I thought, getting into the ambulance. I’m sure Dad would agree.
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Portland Fiction Project
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