Somehow I found it easiest to bring alive the Technicolor vision of my mother as my father and I walked and talked the golf course together.
Sue Carswell: I often wonder about the first time I played golf years ago, in early November. What club did I choose and why? Then again, I wouldn't have known if you started with a 3-iron, a 9, or a wooden club with the hole some 150 yards away. I assume it wasn't a graceful swing.
I know the first time I played was with my dad, because that would have made sense. My father was my in-between -- that is, he was the one who helped me learn and appreciate the glory of a new sport. He was my in-between for all the sports I learned throughout my childhood: kick-the-can, kickball, softball, badminton, and tennis, all learned as the rose-colored sun dipped over our yard after he came home from work. So, many years later, as an adult in her 30s, I looked to him again as I learned the lessons and rules of golf that fall more than a decade ago.
I hated golf and thought those who played were fatherly and boring. My dad routinely played golf on those Saturday and Sunday afternoons during that summer and fall as my mother lay dying. We just couldn't admit it back then, because we all believed in miracles. My siblings and I had been raised on her fairy tales and the notion that blowing on ladybugs proved your wishes came true. My mother was our in-between who taught us to dream. Our father was the reality portion of our lives who told us he was making arrangements for her death.
When I visited my parents on weekends, I would babysit my mother so my dad could get outside for a couple of hours of fresh air and golf. That was supposed to be their sport -- golf. My mother loved to walk, and my dad so loved a well-kept lawn. A golf course lined with its majestic elms full of echoing wisdom painted such a wonderful world for them. They had only just begun to face their twilight years together before the devastating news of her illness entered our hearts on the day of my father's retirement dinner in 1994.
Before he headed to our local golf course, I usually walked with my dad to the car. He would carefully place his clubs and pull-cart in the trunk and then close it soundly. One day, I headed to the passenger's seat, sat down, and said to him, "I want to come along, but only if I can rent a cart. I don't feel like walking." He replied, "Fine." It was a beginning.
My father steadily walked the 9 holes, concentrating on what the situation was in front of him, while I acted more like Calamity Jane, using a club like a baseball bat. As was our way, he would shout out what iron I needed at each pit stop, or give me the tips he was learning from reading golf magazines as he tried to go to sleep at night. "Don't kill the ball, Susan! Golf is more graceful. Don't think 'Poseidon Adventure' -- think 'The Nutcracker'!"
Finally, after we made our way through the tees, we reached our final resting spot -- my favorite place on the greens -- the 19th hole. We always ordered beers and grilled cheese sandwiches before packing up the car and going back to the reality we faced. The copious fresh air that came with playing golf suddenly seemed so dead as soon as we entered our family home.
My mom never made it through that coming winter. After she died, and her coffin was shut safely in the funeral car, my dad and I flew to New Mexico and drove to Santa Fe in a red convertible. We were so cool looking, so "Thelma & Louise." A simple car disguised our sorrow. Not too many people play golf in New Mexico the week after Easter, but we didn't mind the solitude as we struck our balls. At lunchtime, my father openly wept as he tried to squeeze mustard on top of his hot dog. Playing what had become "our" game was killing the pieces of my heart. Or maybe playing with him did.
When we returned from our trip, I left my father behind. It was my way of grieving. The summer and fall after my mother died, I started playing golf with my friends. I dropped my golf cart for them and I learned to walk a golf course without a lesson from my dad. In the years following my mother's death, I decided I wanted to bring her alive again, so I embarked on writing a memoir just so I could have her here again, even if she was only in my computer.
And after having interviewed countless people, there was one person whose lessons of life and remembrances of my mother I needed the most. I went back to Albany, and somehow found it easiest to bring alive the Technicolor vision of my mother as my father and I walked and talked the golf course together just last weekend. My dream for her -- a book that honored her -- came alive from the sport that was to be hers, theirs ... as my father and I walked the course beside each other, and very much together.
|Sue Carswell is a Vanity Fair reporter/researcher. She is a published author, former senior story editor for "Good Morning America," contributing launch editor for "O, The Oprah Magazine," former executive editor for Random House Inc, senior editor at Simon & Schuster, and former correspondent for People magazine.|