Yellow golf balls and an orange van

There I was last Sunday, hitting golf balls in the drizzle on a driving range. The satisfying CRACK as the wood hit the yellow ball, propelled it into the air. An unfamiliar ache in the muscles in my forearms as I tried to remember what I learned about holding a club the last time I golfed, in the mid 1980s.

It was an impulse, to stop at this driving range. I had an hour to make some use of late on Sunday afternoon, the liminal time between leaving the cosy, perfect tiny house that was my base for sleeping, reading, writing and hiking for a solo retreat for a few days, and catching the ferry off the magic of Salt Spring Island to the mainland.

Earlier Sunday, I did my final walk through the seaside forest trail on land belonging to the Tsawout First Nation, my final climb up Reginald Hill. I’d eaten an unexpectedly delicious turkey dinner, had a local cider and some pumpkin pie, and now, with an extra hour to savour, I’d found myself pulling into the golf course.

I learned how to golf when I was a teenager. Driving ranges were a thing my dad and I did together, looking for a shared activity for our awkward non-custodial time. My dad died when I had just turned 27. Golfing was part of my adolescence, time with my dad, my uncles, the men of my childhood who died early deaths. The men I needed an activity to hang out with.

In this in-between space on Thanksgiving Sunday, some force I couldn’t name had propelled me into the golf course. I’d found myself in a warm, well-lit pro-shop that was surprisingly open for a time when most people would be eating dinner with their families. A guy named Nigel rented me a wood and an iron ( $2, “give me something for someone with sense memory and zero skill”) and a bucket of yellow balls ($4, “I think small will be plenty”).

I dropped a couple of the yellow balls into deep puddles as I walked out to the driving range. They were both lighter and more solid than I remembered. The range was brand new, according to Nigel. It had a covered overhang, and one tall young guy was fiercely hitting balls as I walked up. THWACK. Sailing far away. THWACK. I left a two spot distance between us, daunted by his skill, knowing I’d be terrible.

I was terrible. A few times, my club went right under the ball, caught the tee and left the ball right there. I hooked several balls into the woods. I played with my grip, realizing that what I’d learned at 12 in 1977 didn’t really apply anymore. Connected with two, three, four balls. The perfect noise, as soul-satisfying as hearing the lids pop on perfectly sealed canning jars. They didn’t go far, but they moved. I felt the force, an unusual sensation for person who never does anything involving balls.

My companion fished one of his balls back in from where it had flopped and said to me “I can’t end on a bad one.” He looked at me. “I just come out here and… hit. It’s kind of meditative.” He hit the rescued ball long and hard, past the markers. “That’ll do,” he said, and stowed his clubs.

I picked ball after ball out of the basket, kept hitting, thinking about my dad. He would have turned 80 a month ago, if he’d lived past 50. What would an 80 year old Tony have been like? He was a creative, emotional being, a high school English and drama teacher. He liked baseball and amusement parks and the kinds of experiences — like getting lost in a cave — that made for a good, long, hanging-on-your-every-word story over a bottle of wine. He liked comedies, and the poetry of Led Zeppelin. He liked a poem or a play that reminded you that life is absurd and love is possible.

I finished the bucket, and, alone on the grey range, fished a few more out of the ditch for myself. A small bucket wasn’t quite enough, as it turned out. My forearm was aching, but I tried to connect with every ball, figure out the twist of my hips that made a difference.

As I walked back to the pro shop to return the empty bucket and the clubs, an elderly orange VW camper van putted by. Tony’s iconic vehicle, the 1972 van he drove for nearly 20 years. I petted Nigel’s dog and asked his name. “Louie,” he said. My dad’s family dog name.

Outside again, I stood still for a moment, in the rain. The universe felt small, enfolding, connected. “Thank you,” I said.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who is back in Toronto and still feeling a sense of magic.

2 thoughts on “Yellow golf balls and an orange van

  1. Thank you for writing this. It sounds like a perfect, instinctual, physical, social and spiritual experience. With a dog named Louie as the cherry on top of your sundae of remembrance.

    My dad was a championship golfer through his teens and 20s. He would’ve turned pro but for a wife and daughter (me) early on. At 50, his old coach approached him to train for the senior tour– he was shooting in the mid-70s, playing occasionally. He died at 59 of end-stage lung cancer.

    I’m thinking of both of them– two handsome men of their time, cigarettes in hand, golf clubs in the trunk.

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