Photo: Mabel Hotz Memorial tournament winner 1964, Donna Fox, unidentified player and Susan Basalo.
Being a teenager in any decade is NOT easy. Working in the golf shop at Miami Golf and Country Club during those years opened my eyes to the vast array of personalities walking through the golf shop.
Mother stared at me with her hazel green eyes and tightly pursed lips. When I heard the sucking sound of her lips pursed together, I knew I was in trouble. “Letty, if you can’t say anything nice, then say nothing at all.”
“Mother,” I labored throwing my body into a forward slump, “If I say nothing at all, then I’d never talk. You’re always telling me to ‘kill them with kindness’, but I’d much rather trip those girls, and watch them fall in front of the boys.” Shaking my head, I continued ranting.
Placing a hand on each of my shoulders, attempting to calm herself she sighed and said, “Never, never stoop to their level of rudeness. You will only be the loser. With kind and thoughtful words, you will be a better person, and people will respect you.”
“But these girls are the most popular and all of the boys like them!”
Now her voice steamed, “You must learn to control your mouth. Your father’s job could depend on your behavior.”
My only defense came in a few lines, “Fine! Then why did you have me? I’m not attractive and I’m certainly not pretty with these pimples and flyaway hair. And I think telling the truth is more important than spreading rumors.”
With a heavy sigh mother growled one last time, “Go to your room now. One of these days your words will come back to haunt you.” Out of the corner of my eye, I could see my little sister spying on us from her middle bedroom.
During my teenage years I worked summer mornings at the golf shop and spent afternoons practicing my game or swimming. Evenings were my favorite time when Dad and I took the scooter (golf carts in the ’50-60 were often called scooters) out to the driving range to chip up the range balls. The Kildeer was our favorite bird to watch and dad would often put sticks around their nests so machines and people would not step on them. We rescued more baby rabbits than I can count, all with no success but many memories.
One night I overheard my parents talking in the kitchen. My father’s voice seemed quaky like he might cry. I knew that tone of voice meant something was wrong. Slipping out of my bedroom, I crawled into the living room and hid behind the large cushioned chair. “Helen, he is just plain nasty to everyone at the club. He glares at the women’s breasts. He rudely burps and belches in front of decent people. He embarrasses the women with his vulgarity and condescending remarks. He calls any man who disagrees with him a Son-of-a-Bitch, no matter whether children are nearby or not. So, I finally told him to take his business elsewhere, if he couldn’t be a gentleman around women and children. Now he says that he’ll have my job. At the next board meeting he plans to ask them to fire me.”
The tension shook the floor of the house that night. I barely took a breath because I knew they were talking about a club member who we nicknamed “Nasty.” I understood that those words stayed inside our four walls, or else!
“Johnie, will you have a chance to speak at the board meeting to defend yourself?”
Nearly stuttering my father replied, “I certainly hope so, but I have nothing nice to say about him.”
“Then say something nice about the families of the board members. Remind them of the advancements we’ve made at the club with golf carts; how we host golf tournaments that make money for the club; how you conduct one of the best Jr. Golf programs in the state of Oklahoma. Bring some of the state trophies that our junior boys and girls have won.”
I could hear my father’s fist nervously pounding the table. My mother continued, “Always focus on the positive. Somehow Letty cheerfully greets the club members every morning on the job with a smile on her face. She listens to their complaints and never says an ugly word. Remember that time Nasty came in and yelled at her about the condition of one of the greens, and how he couldn’t make a putt.”
“See that’s what I mean, Helen, he has no respect for any of us. Letty didn’t need to be confronted with those harsh words.”
“My point, Johnie, is this. Remember how she handled him? She listened, then said something like, ‘Mr. B, I know you are a very good putter, and I can see that it makes you mad to miss a putt. I saw you sink that putt on number 9 the other day when you won a wad of money off the Springfield guys. That was fun to watch, and all of the people in the bar upstairs cheered and tapped on the windows. You are a great golfer.’”
It was quiet in the kitchen, but my heart pounded in the living room. “Johnie, she simply fluffed his feathers and softened him by treating him kindly and with respect, even though I can guess what she might have been thinking.”
That night, I felt like crying tears of joy. For all of the times that I had said it wrong, my mother remembered the time that I said it right, and slayed a dragon with kindness.