Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Time for another family story--it has been a while

Playing Through

Mark pulled into the parking lot and switched off the motor. "Here we are, folks," he said to his two passengers, "and it looks like we'll have the place to ourselves."
"I should think so," said his sister Quail. "Not many people would want to play golf at this hour, would they?"  She looked at her watch, tilting the face to catch a bit of light from the street lamp, and could barely see that it indicated 5:25. She mentally supplied the "a.m."
"Not to mention the fog," said Forrest. He assumed a virtuous tone. "Not that I'd know the proper time to play golf."
Mark looked over his shoulder at his brother, who sat like some righteous scarecrow in the back seat, grey-streaked straw-colored hair spiking out in all directions. He smiled broadly at Forrest, and said, "You just don't know what's good for you. Golf is not only a game for gentlemen, it is good for the soul."
"That explains why he doesn't play," said Quail, tilting her head at Forrest.
"I'm a perfect gentleman," said Forrest, always ready for a spat with a sibling. That was a good thing, as he had been the penultimate child of a poor but honest family of seven children. And a hard-working mother and long-suffering father, too.
"I don't think that's the part Sis was thinking about," said Mark, opening the car door, and wincing as the dome light came on. He shut the door quickly, and reached up and turned the light off. "Come on," he said, opening the door again and starting to climb out gingerly, protecting his bad back. "Let's get on with it. It will be daylight soon."
Quail got out of the front passenger seat, and peered back at Forrest. "Bring George and let's go."
Forrest picked up the Folger's coffee can from the seat beside him. "Got him, Sis," he said, wondering why it took a two-pound size can. He made sure the plastic lid was firmly in place, pushed up the front seat, and struggled out of the car, being careful not to drop the can.
"Be careful not to drop the can," said Quail, unnecessarily.
"Yes, Sis."  He sighed. She was the oldest, and was always giving what he thought were unnecessary orders, even now that they were all old enough to manage. Or they should be.

Quail at 16

The three of them stood there at the edge of the San Francisco Municipal Golf Course, looking out over the expanse of fog-shrouded green. The fog was thin in some places, and they could see a greater distance, if you could call dark grey against light grey seeing. In other places, there was just the grey wall of fog droplets.
"Maybe we should bring a flashlight," Quail said, nervous about the bumpy grass and the long way they had to go.
"Shhh," whispered Mark, "voices will carry a long way in this fog. We'd better not talk."
"What about the light?"  whispered Quail, "won't we need it to find our way?"
"Better not," Mark replied, "someone might see it and come to find out what's going on."
"Yes, Quail," said Forrest in a stage whisper that could have been heard across the Golden Gate Bridge, "what we are doing is not legal."
"Ssssh," whispered Mark, "you'll wake the dead."
"Not funny, Mark," Quail responded. "But how will we find our way?"
"I know this course like the back of my hand," Mark responded, patting his sister's shoulder. "C'mon."  He set out to their right, his sneakers squeaking on the damp grass.
"You can't see the back of your hand," grumbled Forrest, hurrying to follow before Mark disappeared into the fog.
"Wait for me, my legs are too short to keep up if you go that fast," Quail said in a normal voice, as she scurried after them.
"Ssssh," said Mark, slowing down so she could catch up. "Here, take my arm. Sometimes there's a divot gone, or a bumpy place. Wouldn't want you to fall."
Quail took his arm and kept to herself the fact that he had waited just a tad too long to be chivalrous, though such an observation had sprung immediately to her lips. She stoically tried to keep a decent pace.
Forrest shook the Folger's can, and was a bit disturbed that it rattled. He shook it again, listening to the noise, and trying to guess why it made a noise at all.
"Stop that," Quail whispered sharply, "the top might come off."
"Would that matter?"  Forrest asked.
"Not to George," muttered Mark, "but all the same, it would be better if you didn't spill him."
"Picky, picky," Forrest muttered back.
The three tiptoed across the green at a good clip in spite of the fog. "Silently, on tiptoe stea-al-ling," sang Quail, remembering her Gilbert and Sullivan and forgetting where she was. She was quickly shushed by her brothers.
"Think of the headlines, Sis," Mark admonished.
"Yes," Forrest chimed in, "I can see it now--on the front page of the Chronicle--'Septuagenarians Apprehended on Golf Course'."
"Attempting to Scatter Brother's Ashes."  Mark added the subhead.
"Oh, stop it," Quail complained. "Besides, I'm almost an octogenarian."
"But not quite. Anyhow, this is where we all stop," Mark said, indicating a path at the edge of the cliff.
Mark at 10
"Now what?"  Forrest asked, leaning out to look down at the rocks, and what he presumed was the water below, though he couldn't see that far.
"It seems to be getting lighter," Quail said, tightening the knot on her head scarf against the breeze that was rather strong here at the edge of the golf course. "And the fog seems to be going away."
"'Seems' is a good word, Sis; the fog can fool you. You think it's gone, and--whoosh--there it is, blocking your way and keeping you from seeing the damned green."  Mark nodded his head to emphasize his words.
"Don't tell me you play in fog like this," said Forrest. "You couldn't tell where the ball was going."
"Oh, you can tell from the sound when you hit the ball," Mark assured him. "Playing every day, rain, fog, or shine, you get used to it. And if you get enough practice, you can even make sure it goes in the right direction."  He was proud that he, a retired custodian, was able to play golf every day. He even had important friends like newspaper columnists to play golf with.
"I suppose George was getting to be pretty good?"  Forrest asked.
"Not so's you'd notice," Mark answered glumly, remembering how George often managed to horn in on those games with the important newspaper columnists. "He always had a terrible time hitting to the green."
"Sis, you're being awfully quiet," Forrest said, changing the subject. He didn't understand golf. He had much better things to do than play golf every day. He had a garden, and a part-time job installing drapes, and a girl friend, all of which kept him pretty busy.
Quail raised her bowed head. "Hush. I'm saying a prayer for George."
"Well, you should have been doing that for years, now--" Mark chuckled at his own wit.
Quail glared at him, and returned to her prayer. She was a devout and dedicated church-goer, and was much comforted by this in her declining years. She had sold books for a living, and had written several, too. She was the only girl, and had never married--probably had enough of males, with all those brothers. Therefore Quail had been the one to provide a home for their mother for many years after she became a widow. That, according to the boys, was enough to drive anyone to prayer, if not to drink.

Forrest at 4

The breeze freshened a bit, and Quail shivered. She brought her prayer to an abrupt end, and said, "I really think we should do it now."
Her brothers nodded in agreement.
Forrest held out the Folger's coffee can. "You want to do it, Mark? You're the oldest."
"I'm the oldest," Quail said with asperity.
"Then you do it," Forrest said, proffering the can.
"Oh, go ahead. I'm not a good thrower."  Quail made a dismissive gesture.
"You do it, Forrest. I have a bad back."  Mark encouraged his brother.
Forrest carefully pried the lid from the coffee can. He peered inside. A mass of soft, grey ash, mixed with a few white specks of heavier-looking stuff sat meekly inside. All that was left of the brash, loud, golf-loving youngest, George. Forrest sighed into the can, ruffling the top layer. "Bye, bro," he said softly.
He grasped the coffee can firmly by its top edge and aimed its contents over the edge, reaching out as far as he could toward the water he knew was below. He gave the can a quick jerk, and the ashes came flying out, heading off in the intended direction.
The ashes had sailed about six inches beyond the cliff's edge, into the air over the water, when the gust of wind caught them. The three siblings watched in horror as the remains of their brother George were snatched up and hurled back toward them, up, up and over their heads, and off onto the still fog-shrouded green.
They regarded each other in stunned silence. Then first Mark, then Quail, and finally Forrest began to laugh. They laughed and laughed, tears running down their cheeks. All their careful planning, all the sneaking, all the whispering, undone in a trice by a capricious gust of wind.
Mark wiped his eyes, his laughter subsiding to a thoughtful chuckle. Maybe it wasn't so capricious after all.

"You know, that's the first time he ever made the green in one," he said. 

George at 2

[Note: This really happened; Forrest told me about it when we were driving from Portland to San Francisco for Mark's Memorial.]

That's all for now--Nan