Fill the Basket Before Dinner!

Deal W. Hudson

It was too pretty, and evocative, a late fall day, to watch football or pursue any other indoor pastime. Without thinking much about it, I grabbed an old pillow case full of golf balls, my hickory niblick, a laundry bag and headed for the front yard.

The grass was still green there, sprinkled with only a few dry leaves, which slithered to the side as I dropped the balls on the grass. Placing the laundry bag on its side twenty feet away, I started to chip, hoping to fill the bag with neatly pinched shots, evidence of the reliable stroke taught to me by my father, Jack, who first put a club in my hands at age 11.

I missed and I missed, then I took off my tweed jacket and my scarf, and got down to business: “Move the body ahead of the hands,” “Lead with a flat left wrist,” “Don’t quit on it, and don’t be quick either.” As the shots started to land in and around the bag, I suddenly felt my father watching me from behind. I missed a few shots, stopped for a moment to smile, before getting back into my rhythm. “I’ll show him!” I thought to myself.

No, he showed me — as I stood over the next ball, I saw myself in the backyard of a small brick house in Ft. Worth, TX. My father was chipping into a laundry basket, dropping one after another neatly over the rim, his hands and hips moving like a dancer. His limbs were loose, but It was his eyes that betrayed the fierceness of his intention, to do this one thing well.

He handed me the Hogan wedge and watched me hit a few — those eyes made me very nervous. Balls were going all over the place, somehow I missed the house and the car. Not registering any disappointment, my father simply said, “Once you’ve hit all these balls into the basket without missing one you can come into dinner.” It was already growing dark when he walked inside the house.

In those days, with men of his generation, sons did what they were told, or faced the consequences. In this case, though, I wanted to rise to his challenge, to charge into the dining room, proudly carrying a basket full of golf balls. So I stayed outside well into the evening — at some point the outside lights came on, probably my mother’s intervention.

All I remember about finally pitching all the balls into the basket was that the darkness made it easier. I knew how far away the basket was without looking it at, and I knew where the next ball would lay after I dragged it towards my feet. Without the distraction of the target or the ball, my swing became smooth like my fathers, my feet moved in his rhythm, until there were no more balls to hit, or any to pick from the ground.

I won my father’s smile that night. He was a war-hardened man, who had lost his father early, but his heart was soft with the kind of vulnerability that comes with seeing death up close and believing fervently it is coming for you.

His smile, as I know now, was not for demonstrating my skill, but for persevering, for standing in the dark until all my fears of failure had passed.

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