Sunday, June 19, 2011

Golfing with Gumpy on Father's Day

My favorite memory of Gumpy on Father's Day was the year my grandparents took us to Idaho to visit my Uncle Jim and his family.  It had been only a few weeks since my dad declared that he wasn't going to be living with us any longer, which was the beginning of my tumultuous teenage existence.  I was angry, confused, hurt and generally unpleasant at best to deal with.

We arrived in Lewiston a few days before Father's Day with the fifth-wheel in tow, which gave us plenty of room for two sets of golf clubs, mine and Gumpy's.  I am not sure of the exact sequence of events, but somehow we decided to play in a father-son golf tournament at Bryden Canyon Golf Course.  The course was on top of a bluff overlooking the subdivision Jim lived in, which was the most remarkable thing about the course.  It played fairly easily with little water to contend with, which was well suited to my game.

It was overcast and occasionally drizzly the day of the tournament, which I suppose is a rarity given that the course still boasts it only receives nine inches of rain each year.  Jim teamed up with his step-son Reid and Gumpy teamed up with me.  Since Gumpy nor I knew our handicap, that was determined by the score of our first two holes.  Luckily, those happened to be my worst two holes of the day.  

The format of the tournament had the "father-son" combination rotate shots, so I would take every other shot regardless of how well I was playing.  I remember stroking a few worm-burners (the term Gumpy preferred for shots that never made it off the ground) and missing a few easy putts those first two holes.  Gumpy played his steady, straight as a string game.  He never hit the ball hard but usually struck the ball pretty straight which helped him keep his scores reasonably low.  We ended up having a pretty decent score, good enough to avoid humiliation.

We usually walked the golf course, so this tournament was a bit of a treat for me because we rented a cart to ride in.  This was also the first time I was allowed to drive a golf cart, so Gumpy spent the entire day coaching me on how to accelerate and stop properly.  We avoided mud puddles and he was very adamant about me not spinning the wheels in the mud.  The only reason I remember that is he watched Reid do it and knew I probably wanted to follow his path, so he put the kibosh on me pretty quickly. 

On the surface, this memory seems pretty unremarkable and I really do not want to give it weight than it deserves.  Gumpy and I played hundreds of rounds of golf together, this certainly was not our first nor our last.  We had already signed the best buddy contract and I was just beginning to understand that my dad wasn't coming home.  

What makes it remarkable to me is that this is the first Father's Day I didn't spend with my dad and Gumpy just stepped in.  There were no grand speeches, no proclamations, just his calming presence that I came to rely on.  This is my second Father's Day without him, I have no idea how I would have gotten here without his presence.  Thanks Gump, I miss you.  

Monday, June 13, 2011

Skinny the Baby

When I was 14, my grandparents took my sister and I on a wild adventure to Washington, D.C.  Okay, wild is a bit much.  The closest thing we got to wild was watching our first drug bust in a parking lot inside the Great Smokey Mountain National Forest.

The trip was fun, even for an angst filled teenager.  We went to the Lincoln Memorial, took a tour of the White House, wandered around the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and walked through the Vietnam Memorial.  When we left D.C., Gumpy pointed our little fliver (his affectionate term for a car) west to take us down the Shenandoah Parkway and the Blue Ridge Parkway, which were filled with gorgeous vistas that I still appreciate today.

One thing that is burned into my memory of that trip is the little song he liked to sing.  He started teaching us the words to Skinny the Baby until Ema told him to stop.  We only learned the first verse and by the time he thought I was old enough to be taught the second verse, he could no longer remember the words.  

The first verse:
Went downtown to see my lady,
Nobody's home but Skinny the Baby.
I was drunk and he was sober, 
He blew his nose and he knocked me over.

If you know the rest of the words to this song, please share them with me.  It's been 23 years since I learned the first part, I still want to know what Ema wouldn't let him tell me!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

My watch

I don't wear the watch Gumpy gave me for my college graduation very often.  I usually save it for special occasions or big meetings where I think I need just a little edge.  I wore it last night again, this time for the graduation ceremony at Maple Valley High School, which I attended to help hand out the awards for the Maple Valley Memorial Scholarship Foundation.

My high school graduation was not much of a milestone for me.  Sure it was important but we had moved to Traverse City in my Sophomore year of high school, so I had little emotional connection to my school and going to college was already a forgone conclusion in my mind.  That high school diploma was more of my ticket into college than a piece of paper to celebrate.  Family came out to visit and I had a graduation party with my best friend at the time, but it is not the graduation I am most proud of.

That day came six years later when I graduated from Oakland University with my Bachelors in Political Science.  Walking across stage at the Meadowbrook Music Theater, shaking Dr. Nesbary's hand first then having Dr. Klemanski hand me my diploma was an incredibly memorable experience.  I had worked hard, paying for school myself and I felt like I had earned every drop of ink on that certificate.

Afterward, we had a party at my Aunt and Uncle's house with family and close friends.  Gumpy gave me my watch that day, telling me just how proud he was of me.  My watch was just like his watch that I had admired for many years.  It symbolized that Gumpy was proud of me and my accomplishment.  It is a gift that I will always cherish.

Twelve years later, after aggressively fighting cancer for years, he began to really worry about me having something to remember him by.  He came back to the watch as the one accessory that a man needed to complete a professional look, and he wanted to give me a watch like his.  Whenever he was worried that I didn't have a watch, I would remind him that he gave me one just like his for graduation.  He would usually seem shocked, then pleased when Ema reminded him that I was correct.  And I would always be a little bit heartbroken, knowing that he could no longer remember one of my favorite days with him.  He desperately wanted to win his fight to the death with cancer, so he did everything he could to win.  The aggressive chemotherapy treatments that were meant to extend his life did just that, they extended his physical time with us.  Those same treatments robbed us all of the best of Gumpy.

When I wear the watch now, I always pause for a minute.  The green and red leaves that surround the 12 and 6 positions are a bit understated.  Citizens watches are not spectacular timepieces, they are functional.  I pause not for the beauty of the watch, although I find it to be a nice looking timepiece.  I pause with a twinge of pain, knowing that my proud, strong grandfather could no longer remember the moments in our relationship we both cherished.  That pain quickly fades to a smile, because putting the watch on gives me another reason to think about why Gumpy gave it to me and the college graduation tradition I hope to continue.