Golfing with Frank

Last Wednesday was beautiful: approaching 50 degrees and full sunshine. I pick Will up at 12:30 on Wednesdays, thinking with next year being mandatory all-day first grade, we’ll have an afternoon a week together this spring. The day’s plan with Will had been to play Monopoly. He still has bragging rights to bankrupting me in January when Bill and Liam were in England. He tells complete strangers about the upset. No ‘did you know my mom had chemo and that’s why her hair is so short?’ But rather ‘You know, I bankrupted my mom in Monopoly!’

With not a cloud in the sky, I couldn’t put a game board on the dining room table. I went for gold-star status: I loaded my golf clubs and Will’s in the van and called the professional gold-star golfing Dad to see where he suggested I take Will for nine holes. Bill gave me some other pointers: make sure to get a golf cart and to play off my ball so as not to create a bottleneck on the course. I got a little nervous about the speed we would play at – but onward. I had already committed to it mentally. After a short guessing game with Will about where we were going, I couldn’t hold back: “I have golf clubs in the back.” “Are we going mini-putting?” No. “To a driving range?” No. “Are we going to a real course?!?!” Yes! “YES!!”

The owner of the course rang us up and went over basic etiquette and rules, which I appreciated the brush-up. Let people play through and only drive the cart in the rough. I put a big floppy hat on to protect my wig-less head. “Are you wearing that?” (That was nearly capitalized the way a pre-teen would say it.) He was OK with it when I explained its practicality. I saw myself in the reflection of the office window. Poor kid.

We loaded our clubs on the cart. “Do you know how to drive this, Mom?” I haven’t broken out my baby blue golf bag in years. Will didn’t know the full extent of my prowess at this silly game of chasing little white – or in my case, hot pink – balls over acres and acres of land. “Yes, I do.” But the real question, I thought, was can I even come close to making contact with a ball? We approached the first tee and were up after a five-some.

Then Frank joined us. I immediately thought that we had just ruined this poor guy’s first day out. What was he thinking? Something like, “Great, a floppy-hatted mom and a chatty little boy”? After introductions, Frank asked us where we wanted to tee off. I had forgotten there were two sets of tees. We took the ones closest to the flag. Frank started farther back. Despite his reserved confidence in his abilities, Frank could crank that ball. “Wow, that’s pretty good for the first time out!” I lauded as I set up for my first worm burner of the day.

At nearly 78 years old, Frank gave Will pointers and listened intently as Will told him about bankrupting me at Monopoly while we waited on a hole to tee-off. And he seemed genuinely interested in what ball color Will was using, and he learned quickly that collecting tees was a side hobby on the course for Will. Then they began collecting balls that had been deserted in the water-logged areas of the course. “Yeah, you can cross that tape and get that ball, Will. Go ahead!” Will’s sure that Frank’s advice to “take gentle swings” helped him hit the ball 200 to 400 yards. Fish stories and golf stories are in a genre all their own.

Will would hit the ball and ask, “Did you see that one, Frank?” Then Will would skip to his ball 10 feet or 50 yards away. He fell into this course-chat very easily. To hear him say “Frank” you would’ve thought they went out on the course every week. As for me, I picked up my ball many more times than Will did. I had to back track and get the golf cart, so often times I dropped my ball next to his and took a shot. Yes, often we were playing best ball with Will’s ball.

Frank and Will burned up the greens with one- and two-putts. “Will has great strokes on the green!” It sounded natural for Frank to say “Will.” I told Frank that Will and his brother had been practicing at home. After the snow melted, Will and Liam were digging in the yard one day, in the “anything goes” zone. I saw a hole about a foot in diameter and six inches deep form. Then the golf clubs came out and they practiced chipping and putting into this cavern. I put the kibosh on another hole in a part of the lawn where grass actually grows. They had quietly broken ground in pursuit of another golf hole in the course on our property. No gold star for me that day for impeding construction.

My expectations of us slowing play didn’t come to be. Ahead of the five-some in front of us was a six-some. This would’ve been painful to other golfers, but to Will that meant he could hit balls all the way down the fairway without anyone telling him to hurry up. Frank seemed to enjoy the walk, while I worked on getting re-connected to only three clubs: my driver, the 8 iron, and my putter.

After the ninth hole, nearly three hours later, Frank shook my hand and roughed up Will’s hair. I told him it had been a real pleasure golfing with him, and I thanked him for being so patient. “Well, I was a school teacher. I know kids.” Indeed, he did.

An airplane ride, a day at the beach, a scuba diving trip, an afternoon on the golf course. Sometimes you meet the kindest people in fleeting moments. Sometimes it’s hard to say “good-bye” to these gems. But it’s OK, because afternoons like these give me faith that the world is filled with Franks. We just need to be open to finding them. And to letting them find us.