by Gene Owens
I bought my first golf club the other day -- not for me but for my 3-year-old great-grandson, Levi. It beats the tar out of a dead pine limb.
Levi had complained that there were no toys at our house and added, “That’s bad manners.” To make matters worse, our home is the lurking place of a 11-pound Peke-a-poo who regards any kid under 12 years of age as potential gourmet dog food. When Levi is in the house, we have to keep Miss Candi penned up in my office and the adjoining bedroom. Levi keeps her snarling by making faces at her through the glass sliding door.
The boy usually occupies himself pretty well with his Power Ranger videos and
his Bat Man doll, but one day we got into an argument over the lyrics to the
“Bat Man Theme.” I say it’s “Dada-dada dada-dada Batman!” and he says it’s
I took him along the fairway of the golf course that passes a couple of blocks away from our front door.
We walked through a pine thicket on the way to the fairway, and the little pine cones lying on the ground reminded me of another era when toys were almost as scarce as money. I say “almost” because we could improvise toys but we couldn’t improvise money.
I remembered baseball games played with pine cones as balls and dead limbs as bats. You had to throw and catch the ball gingerly: a pine cone -- especially a green one -- is quite prickly. But days spent hoeing in the fields or chopping firewood could toughen the hands, so the pain inflicted by the pine-cone missiles was quite tolerable.
It’s hard to keep your mind on baseball when you’re at the fairway of a
beautiful golf course. I never took up golf, but I grew up within 15 miles of the
Augusta National, which left me with a latent appreciation for the game.
We were at the edge of the fairway now, and a neighbor lady was taking her exercise walk down the golf-cart trail. She had picked up a golf ball and, seeing Levi swinging at a pine cone, gave it to him.
I grabbed another pine limb, and the two of us began swatting that ball down the edge of the fairway, back toward our street, and finally onto a large green expanse that serves as a commons for our neighborhood of condominiums and patio homes.
When he batted the ball into a clump of greenery, I retrieved it, poked it up my sleeve, then pretended to find it up the back of his shirt.
After that, whenever he lost the ball, he would put his hand on the back of his shirt and say, “It’s back there.”
Occasionally Levi would tire of pine-cone golf and go looking for birds in the trees around the commons. They were just going to roost, having gorged themselves at the bird feeders in our neighbors’ back yards. And when that grew old, we would pluck ripe dandelions and blow their heads off. Not exactly Bat Man action, but what’s a kid to do when he’s stuck with ill-mannered great-grandparents?
When the sun settled below the horizon and the sky took on its nightly sparkle, Levi picked up his treasured golf ball, reluctantly left his pine limb at the door, and went indoors to supper and more sophisticated entertainment: Power Rangers.
But when it came time for Mom to pick him up, he made sure that golf ball
went home with him.
After I had returned the mutt to the house and rewarded her with a Beggin Strip, I went back to the yard sales. In a neighborhood laid out along a golf course, somebody had to have some clubs they wanted to get rid of.
I found them at the second yard sale. They were putters, I think, though I’m no authority on golf clubs.
I asked the lady how much she wanted for one of them.
“Five dollars,” she replied.
I didn’t bother to dicker. I threw in two more bucks for a plastic bag full of golf balls and took them home.
I couldn’t wait for Levi’s next visit. He came in about 4 o’clock one afternoon, bringing with him a bag of toys, including his beloved Bat Man. He threw them aside when he saw the golf club and ball.
I set up a plastic CD container on the carpet of the den, stood a few feet away and putted the ball toward it.
I missed, but Levi got the idea. I tried to show him how to grip the club and tap the ball, but he had a better idea. He used the putter like a broom and swept the ball across the floor.
After he’d practiced a little, we headed out the front door and toward the
”I’ll take this,” he said. “You go find a stick.”
And so I did. I've got manners now.
Gene Owens has been around the Southern journalistic scene for 48 years. He has been senior associate editor of The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va., and editorial-page editor of the Roanoke Times in Roanoke, Va.
As senior editor for Creative Services, a management consulting firm in High Point, N. C., he ghosted more than a dozen published books for professional clients. For the past nine years he has been assistant managing editor, political editor and columnist for the Mobile Register. Register readers last year named him their favorite local columnist, and readers of the independent regional magazine, Bay Weekly, agreed. He was runner-up in the regional Green Eyeshades competition among writers of humor columns.
He has been on the board of directors of the National Conference of Editorial Writers
and was editor of The Masthead, the NCEW’s national quarterly. He recently went into
semi-retirement in Anderson, S. C.
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