It is 6:31 AM. I just opened the door and for the first time in a while heard the Robin’s singing their morning songs and memories of my job at Raymond Memorial and Wilson Road Golf Courses – where I did maintenance – came flooding back to me.
This happens every time I heard them in the early morning. I had to awake an the ungodly hour of 4:00 AM and before I had my driver’s license would walk in the dark to the maintenance barn on the golf course. I’ll always remember the robins because they were so loud at that time and I wondered how they could be so cheerful at such an hour.
The weather in the summer in Columbus, Ohio is usually hot and muggy. At 4:00 AM the weather is not yet hot, but not cool either and the humidity not unbearable. I would put on my maintenance t-shirt, shorts and heavy work boots then proceed on my twenty minute journey along the sidewalk of the neighborhood, cut through a yard then over a seemingly infinite amount of golf course to get to work. Everyone in Golfview woods would be sleeping and it seemed I was the only one in the world who was awake. I’d pass the houses of my friends and imagine them sleeping wishing I could trade places with them. The grass of the golf course was wet with dew and on occasion a few drops would spring up and hit my bare legs as my work boots disturbed the light covering it had made.
When I first joined I was given the worst jobs and the worst thing to do at that hour was to be sent out to weed eat around every single tree on the entire course. The beautiful music from the robins abruptly ended and the cool, morning smell polluted by exhaust from the diabolical machine in my hands. It was not pleasant.
The following summer I was afforded the privilege of cutting the greens which meant I could ride on a machine. Being a young guy I had no concern for my hearing and would turn up the music so loud that it would mask the engine noise. I’d pull up to a green, and with a loud thud the cutter and buckets would drop while the familiar whir of the blades cut a beautiful path through the green covered with dew which created a brilliant green stripe, eventually covering the entire green. The final step was to do a circle around and I remember once I briefly fell asleep and cut a good part of the fringe off, awakening when the cutters made an awful sound since I had driven them into a length of grass they were not intended to cut.
Another job that was required first thing in the morning was to cut new holes in the green as the many feet had trampled the area of the previous day’s hole. For this job you’d take the hole cutter, a bucket of sand and get on a run down maintenance cart. Arriving at the green you’d take the hole cutter, the bucket, cut a new hole and use it to replace the previous day’s hole, using the sand to balance out the height if the depths didn’t match. The idea occurred to me one morning to make things a little challenging for the golfers and so I placed the holes on the most challenging sloped of the green. Perhaps this was out of spite, seeing as most golfers were rude to the maintenance staff – especially when they didn’t yell “fore” if their ball landed close to us.
One time we were sent to paint the water tank green on the 10th hole and were constantly in the line of fire from golfer’s drives off the 10th tee. Almost nobody yelled “fore.” Now, we had a new recruit -John – who was a pretty large gentleman who played football at a smaller Ohio college. My colleague Jerry, a middle aged guy with a light complexion and red hair and beard pulled up to us, and while we weren’t looking took a golf ball from his cart and threw it as hard as he could at the water tank. Not hearing “fore” John was extremely startled and started yelling at the golfers on the 10th tee. Jerry found this extremely funny and laughed for a good 5 minutes.
Speaking of the 10th tee, the maintenance barn was right next to it and pulling out on our machines we would have to look up at the tee and wait for the golfers to tee off. Well, one time Willie, a very gruff, yet gentle soul of about 40 years old who looked like he just stepped out of Soul Train with his jheri curled locks was waiting for golfers to tee off when one of them hit an incredibly bad shot. The ball struck the unfortunate Willie squarely in the teeth. I didn’t see this happen but saw Willie with Aaron – the big boss – upstairs in his “office” filling out medical forms from the state. Willie was tough but it was easy to see he was in incredible amounts of pain.
One of the reasons I was often extremely tired in the morning was that I would return home about 2:30 PM only to be awakened by my friends – who were unemployed – arriving at 4:00 PM to wake me up and take me out. These excursions were often to the dollar movie theater where we’d stay out until about 1:00 AM. Seeing as I had to awake at 4:00 AM I became pretty sleep deprived after a week or so of this routine. One morning, when I was watering the greens I actually heard voices in the silent morning. They sounded like faint mumbles coming from the ruffling of the grass – fantom whisperings speaking directly to me. This sleep deprivation is one of the reasons I fell asleep on the green cutter in the incident I mentioned above and also caused me to arrive – once I had my license and car – mistakenly at 2:00 AM. In a daze, I had awoken, got dressed and drove to the course only to find the gates to the maintenance area still closed and locked. I looked down at my clock and saw the time which amazed me. I slept for the next two hours in my car.
I get an acute sense of the passage of time when I think back on these memories and those I worked with, quite a few of whom have passed away.
Frank – Frank was about 65 years old when he worked there. He walked with a slight, determined bounce and his favorite saying was “Do what?” with an emphasis on the what. I never liked country music but he did and when he sang Chattanooga Choo Choo I decided at that moment that the song wasn’t half bad. Frank was usually found on the tractors cutting fairways or rough. I was sad to hear that Frank had passed away many years ago and I believe he never would have taken retirement. He loved that golf course too much.
Willie – As I mentioned above Willie stepped directly out of soul train and always had jheri curls which would absolutely be dripping with Soul Glow over which he wore a red jazz cap from Wendy’s. Willie was one of the kindest guys I’ve ever met and drove a hallucinogenic kidnapper van with one small, round, black window. His van had some sort of painting on it which I cannot remember. He always called me “Matty-Matt” as his son’s name was Matt as well and I enjoyed working with him the best. It is a rare opportunity for a young white kid who attends a blue collar Catholic school to get life advice from a middle aged black guy who didn’t attend college. His advice and stories were of the kind I’d never heard before and left me fascinated and always asking more questions. Nobody has any idea where Willie is these days and he has disappeared existing now only as a very fond memory of my youth. I loved Willie for his gentle nature and hope he is happy, singing his 70s disco music somewhere beautiful.
Darryl – Was a middle aged black guy who you’d probably run from if you saw him in a dark alley at night. There was no soul glow in sight on Darryl and he had a hearty and boisterous laugh that would make anybody smile. Darryl wasn’t much of a talker but would open up if you engaged him or asked him direct questions. I remember trying to sound tough telling him about some of our shenanigans to which he replied “Aw, stay away from all of that shit.” Coming from a tough guy like Darryl, his advice hit home and I realized that shenanigans are best avoided, even for tough guys. Darryl also has passed away from what I believe were diabetes. Once it is my turn to cross the threshold I hope to sit with Darryl for some more advice.
Dan – Dan was a young twenty something and a complete hippie. He actually drove a VW bus, listened only to The Grateful Dead but was a hell of a golfer. This was proven when he could easily hit a green with a five wood and did so on many occasion. It was rumored that he had actually beaten Tiger Woods before Tiger hit the tour out in California. Unfortunately for Dan he turned to drugs and The Dead and spent all his free time following them around the country. At work, news reached us one day that Jerry Garcia had died and Dan was in shambles not recovering for weeks. He walked around in a gloom, no more laugh that resembled air trying to escape from his body. Dan eventually quit and I can only assume he is singing a tune on his beat up guitar to honor Jerry in that field of flowers where all hippies visit at least once in their life.
Brad – Brad was the son of Bill – a senior maintenance man. I say “was” because I was extremely saddened to learn that Brad has also passed away. I learned this last year on a trip back home while playing Wilson Road Golf Course in the early morning. I saw Bill and he did not recognize me. I mentioned Brad’s name to which the old man’s eyes quickly became moist and he said, “You knew Brad?” It was then I learned he passed away and I was too afraid to ask further questions as I didn’t want to hurt the old man. Sometimes I wonder if I made a mistake and I should have asked more questions, to let him know that his son is not forgotten, had great friends and is remembered fondly. But I could not. Brad’s death shocks me the most because he was my age and I kept in touch with him until 2004 even finding this e-mail in this very blog where I keep record of my life. Whenever I’m walking along the fairway in the cool of the early morning and almost alone except for the maintenance people I speak directly to Brad wondering if in some way he is not present at that moment somewhere among the whispering of the cat tails of the lake which sway in a cool, gentle breeze. I admonish him for being reckless with his life and although I do not know how he died assume it was doing something he shouldn’t have been. It is not with anger, but instead with sadness, and with a heavy sign try to expel the weight I feel for a buddy, someone my age dying so young. “Brad, you idiot, what did you go and do?” This is followed by memories of him flying up and down the slopes of the mounds on the John Deer grass cutter taming overgrowth like a boss. In that early morning I try to sense his presence even if it is only an overlay of memories I try to transpose over the quiet morning course.
As much as I enjoy catching up with old friends when I’m home, I enjoy playing Wilson Road – a short, beginner, nine hole course alone. There aren’t many who would get up before sunrise anyway, I must always see the sunrise when I play. It is a very spiritual experience where I can vividly remember my high school days, and the memories are so strong that I can feel as I felt back in high school which is exhilarating. (I’ll write another post on the adventures of Golfview Woods, the neighborhood next to the golf course one of these days.) The intensity of these feelings no longer exist in the 38 year old version of me. But in that quiet morning, alone on the golf course I remember old crushes which forever occupied my mind and how excited I’d get at the prospect of even being near one. I remember how grand it was to be playing golf with friends on this very course and how optimistic, happy and excited we were about the future. When young, the future is a wide open opportunity that we cannot stop rushing towards. Everything is possible as soon we’ll be released from the confines of a life structured by adults. Simple things, like receiving a new Sega game hold more joy then than winning millions of dollars would be in your 30s. Speaking to a crush, or even the prospect of seeing one soon, created a euphoria that has become heavily sedated over years of life experiences.
The sunrise on Wilson Road Golf course on a cool morning is timeless; it connects all past, present and future and draws those souls who have played the course to its brilliant glow.
Should those who read this post decades or even centuries from now wish to speak to me when I’m long gone, come to the course and as the sun rises over the trees on that first hole, tell me what you have to say. I’ll be riding the gentle breeze that creates slight ripples over the ponds, my voice will be among the ruffle of dead oak leaves as you try to find your ball. I’ll be there, listening to the songs of the robins; and if you listen closely, I’ll whisper your name.
We were allowed to play these courses for free on weekdays since we worked there. The problem was that we were usually too tired from the day’s work to play so it didn’t happen very often.
One day, I remember we did decide to play but I have forgotten who I was with. There was an older man who worked in the pro-shop of Raymond Memorial around 1997-1998 and he was the person working that day.
Well, he refused to help us, he told us we couldn’t play and was very cruel with his words. The reason is because he looked down on the maintenance people and and thought that we shouldn’t have the right to play the course for free.
I’ve never forgotten how mean he was and if I’m not mistaken this actually made me cry a little. I told my boss that I was going to tell Jack – who was the boss of all the public courses in the city of Columbus. Aaron saw how upset I was and told Kelly the Pro who ran the course. The next morning while I was out cutting the practice green Kelly came out and apologized to me and even gave me a hug. This did make me cry.
I still remember this event very clearly which was almost 20 years ago. What Maya Angelou says is true!
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
That old man made me feel as though I wasn’t good enough to even be standing in ‘his proshop’. He made me feel that by being a maintenance person I was somehow lesser. I’ve never forgotten that feeling.
But I am thankful for this event as it has been part of the many experiences which have shaped how I treat others. The work one does is irrelevant next to the fact that they are a person, a human being who is experiencing this reality, this brief existence just as I am. How insignificant what we do is compared to the life experience and mystery itself!
The lesson here is to be kind to everyone. One day life in Earth will end and the work we have collectively done as human beings most likely won’t matter one bit in this infinite universe. But I have a suspicion that the feelings, emotions and thoughts we create will remain and continue, as a ripple on the pond with no edge.