From time to time I like to play golf. I play golf badly, most of the time. Even though Mark Twain once called golf “a good walk spoiled,” I still like to play. And I ride in a cart. I don’t walk.
More often than not I play with my buddy, Mark Hope, who usually doesn’t play quite as badly as I do. But Mark’s not quite ready for prime time, either. Nonetheless, we enjoy one another’s company and enjoy competing on the golf course, where we have established our own little set of rules. We give ourselves one mulligan per side, for example — but only one. We have to make our putts. No gimmes. That’s my rule. It drives Mark crazy. He makes up for it by looking for every lost ball in the woods for 10 minutes before dropping 30 yards ahead of where the lost ball entered the forest.
We pick up after we’ve reached triple bogey. No use being a danged fool about things.
The game suits us. We have fun, and it makes us nervous when we are paired with golfers we don’t know because we don’t want to hold anybody up by our slow play and we don’t want to be embarrassed by our lack of skill.
Now I told you all that to tell you this. This column isn’t really about golf. It is about old times not forgotten in a Porterdale cotton mill.
Monday, you see, at The Oaks, outside Porterdale, we were paired for our early morning round with two other people, John and Randall. As usual, teeing off in front of folks I didn’t know made me nervous, and we offered the twosome the opportunity to go on off without us. I am so glad they declined. Both were great guys. John is former military and Randall is pushing 80 years old and shamed me by hitting from the whites while I was using the senior tees.
But they were great guys, and we all enjoyed playing together. Around the third hole I asked Randall, who is tall and slender — sinewy, would be a good word to describe him — to repeat his last name. Or tell me his last name. I wasn’t sure I had ever gotten it. He told me it was Wilson. Randall Wilson. From Porterdale.
Immediately my mind sailed away — across the years — and about 2 miles south. I was no longer on the third green at The Oaks golf course, I was on the second floor of the Porterdale Mill — fixing twister frames — with Randall Wilson Sr., James Darby and Joe Parker. It was 1971. It could have been last week.
You see, I worked in the Bibb cotton mills, after school, on weekends and over the summer, from my 16th birthday until I graduated from college. I learned a lot from the men I worked for and with and appreciated the things they could do that I knew I would never master. And one summer I was under the tutelage of James Darby, Joe Parker and Randall Wilson, whose 80-year-old son I was now playing golf with, 50 years after the fact. Ain’t life grand?
James Darby was a slightly built, fiesty man with a twinkle in his one good eye. I was never bold enough to ask how he’d lost his other. He loved Ray Stevens and would often regale us with that great man’s songs about Clyde the Camel. James Darby could do the camel talk better than Ray, himself. Joe Parker was more stoutly built — strong, not fat — and always had a smile on his face and a joke on his lips. Randall Wilson was tall and slender, and when he spoke, he chose his words carefully. He was a Braves fan and listened to the games every night (pre-Super Station televising all games) and would give us a report the next morning during our first coffee break.
Unless Bob Priddy had been brought in from the bullpen to pitch. Randall Wilson was not impressed by Bob “Purdy,” as he called him. I’ve seen him shake his head many a time and say, “They brought ‘Purdy’ in, so I just cut off the radio and went to bed. I don’t know who won, but I bet it wasn’t the Braves.”
One of the funniest things I ever heard in a cotton mill involved Randall. We were sitting around the Dope House one afternoon, waiting for time to blow off. (Find a linthead and ask for a translation) and talk had turned to the Bible. Randall, in his usual deliberate manner of speaking, had just asked, “Now who was it that turned the water into wine?”
At that exact time, my friend, Joe Lord, walked through the door, heard the question, clapped his hands together and shouted, “Buddy Whitehead!”
Precious memories. How they do linger.
I hope Mark and I get to play golf with John and Randall again soon.
Actually, I shot 91 and Mark shot 106 — so I hope we get to play golf with them again real soon!