Simple Amusements, Part Six – Mini-Miniature Golf

The Walden, New York soapbox derby.

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Popular Mechanics Projects

            By the time I was ten years old, I loved Popular Mechanics Magazine.  I still love it. They always fill it with exciting projects.  Some are complex, and some are simple.  Most of the articles are about new things.  The ads are for cars, and tools.  I always dreamed about building the projects myself.  Eventually I did.  Several issues caught my attention.  The projects captured my imagination, and increased my appetite for adventure. My  wish to build the project wouldn’t let go.  I remember three of the projects very clearly. They were, an ice boat, a soap-box derby car, and a table top golf game.

Although the idea of the ice boat fascinated me, the practical side of me went to work quickly.  I searched around for material, and could not find the right junk. None of my junk piles had ice runners, or the sail-cloth. Then there was the matter of finding ice. Even with these obstacles in my path,  I had visions of sailing on ice. Most of the time, my dreams took me ice sailing around Our Lady of Hungary school yard.

The second project really got my juices flowing. One issue of Popular Mechanics had a half page article showing a kid getting out of a tiny race car as  he was presented with a trophy for winning the Soap Box Derby in Akron, Ohio.  The next two pages of the article had a blueprint for making a car. It described details of construction, with tips to make it competitive.  I loved the idea of building my own gravity racer. Entering a car that I made, into a race got me excited.  It was winter when I read that article, but I saved it, as I did all of my Popular Mechanics magazines.  I went through them often to review project plans that interested me. I put this one-off for the future also.

I did build the table top golf game. The game provided me, and my friends with endless joy.  The plan was for a table with a nine-hole golf course on top of it.  My course had tees, sand traps, fairways, and greens.   I didn’t have the wood or the tools to make a table, so I substituted. Instead of wood, I cut up the largest cardboard box I could find.  By laying the box out flat I had material with which to work.  I drew the course on the cardboard using crayons.  The most exciting part to make was the little golfer.  My golfer was a play action figure. He stood four inches tall.  He held a golf club that swung.

I made the man out of quarter-inch balsa wood.  The head, torso and legs were one piece.  His arms were separate pieces. A dowel that ran through the man’s shoulders joined the arms together.  The arms had an extension protruding above the shoulders. They stuck out from the man’s back.  The man held a golf club made from a piece of dowel. A balsa wood mallet, on the end of the dowel, completed the club.  Golf games began when I assembled the man.

A player held the man between his thumb and second fingers. The player’s pointing finger rested on top of the extension at the end of his shoulders.  By pushing down on the extension the arms swung the club head up.  He looked more like someone playing croquet than golf.  I painted the man in bright colors to make him look real. As a final touch, I stretched a rubber band between the club and his legs.  The rubber band provided tension to control the club. A  marble was  my golf ball.

Golfing was more fun when two people competed.  We’d place the board on the living room floor, or up on the dining room table.  Playing required skill because the marble rolled easily on the cardboard surface.  Getting the marble to stay in one spot to take a shot was hard because the board was so smooth.  It wasn’t long before we learned to ‘tee-up’, by pressing the marble into the board.  The dent kept the ball from moving until hit by the club.

Life Can Change in a Moment

The summer after freshman year in high school was one of my best. My level of activity was high. I had achieved a new level of ability and confidence. I filled the days with activity that involved my grammar school friends. During the school year we were not able to spend time with each other as before because of all our school activities. Some of my friends got jobs that kept them from hanging around as much. My own job was becoming more a part of my life. Mr. Tumey increased my hours, so I worked several days during the week, and on Saturday too. In between all the grocery work, I caddied at Ravisloe Country Club as often as I could. In spite of all the activities, the old gang met in the evenings after supper. We hung out at each other’s homes, at the corner store, or at the soda fountain. On most nights, I got home by 10 p.m. After ten we collected on someone’s front porch for a while. I played golf often with Joe Barath, Rich Makowski and Jack Adams. Most of the time, we rode to Jackson Park golf course on the street car; clubs and all.

The newspapers headlined stories about the polio epidemic almost daily. Mom kept me away from the beaches and crowded places where I might come in contact with the virus. Our gang wasn’t big for beaches anyway, although we did occasionally take the streetcar to Rainbow Beach near 75th Street.

The summer of 1953 was hot and dry. I rode my bike to and from Tumey’s, and pedaled anywhere I needed to go in the neighborhood. If a friend was with me I let him sit on the top tube while I pedaled. The big basket hanging off the front made it impossible to ride someone on the handlebars.

In August, I celebrated my fifteenth birthday. School was only a few weeks away and I dreamed about trying out for football. A lot of my friends were going to do the same at their schools. On the Monday after my birthday, I remember playing eighteen holes of golf with my buddies in the morning. We got home by noon. After lunch, I rode to Tumey’s on an intensely hot sunny afternoon, and delivered groceries until closing. The temperature was in the ninety’s during the ride home. After supper I went to hang with my friends. That night we had a great time socializing, and stayed out on the porch until eleven. Finally, I went to bed. The next day was another work day.

I slept late, and woke up with a giant headache. My throat hurt so bad it hurt to swallow. When I rolled out of bed, my neck was stiff, and so sore I couldn’t move my head. Mom came to check on me. She felt my forehead and declared that I had a fever. I went back to sleep. When I didn’t get out of bed at noon she checked my temp with the glass thermometer. She called Dr. Horner to ask for advice. He said he would come over after his office hours.

Dr. Horner’s office was on 79th and Cottage Grove Avenue so it wasn’t far for him to come by car. My neck kept getting stiffer and stiffer, my throat was on fire, and I ached from head to toe with the fever. Bright light from the window made my head hurt more. I slept most of the day. The doctor arrived around supper and examined me. He took Mom outside to talk. He told her that I had polio and needed to be hospitalized immediately. It took a couple of hours, but that night an ambulance took me to Contagious Disease Hospital at 26th and California.

By the time I got my ride in the ambulance, I didn’t care what was happening. The fever made me delirious. Visions of football tryout looped continuously through my mind . . .

Ya Gotta Love Wrinkles!

     Writer’s block is a bunch of crap. I haven’t written a thing in a week because of writer’s block. Like I said, that’s an excuse for laziness. All it takes is to sit in front of the computer and start. Today, I choose to write instead of going out for my healthy three mile walk. I’ll do that a little later. My mind seems to be sharper after a night of rest, and morning is when I write the most.

     Right now, I’m sitting at the kitchen table with my second cup of coffee. Every once in awhile I stare out the sliding glass door to watch the early morning golfers drive by in their carts. Our back yard borders the approach to the third hole at Pebble Brook Golf Course.  This morning the sky is pure blue, and the sun is so bright it is hard on the eyes. The quiet of the desert and the songs of the birds are broken only by an occasional squadron of F-15 jets roaring over head.  Yesterday, during my walk, there were large billowy white clouds scattered all across a deep blue background.  Later in the day, they collected and turned the sky gray. Last night it rained again. This place is like Camelot, It rains at night. A normal rain in the desert is like a drizzle at home. A person can walk in the rain for an hour and not get soaked, only damp.  The way I can tell that it rained is from the water dripping from the edge of the roof. It has taken all morning for the water to run down the pitch of the roof.

     The temperature this morning is fifty-nine degrees. By this afternoon it will warm up to sixty-five.  Yesterday, I talked with a friend who is staying with her son in Fountain Hills. She is ninety-five, and lives near us at home. She asked where we were located relative to her son, I told her just a few miles to the west. She asked, “Is it warmer where you are?” Temperature is relative, or should I say relative humidity is relative. Sixty-five degrees seems warm when it’s fifteen degrees and the wind is blowing over your face. Sixty-five feels cool when you are dressed in light clothes.

     Last Saturday, Peggy and I were at Mass at Our Lady of Lourdes church. We arrived early to secure a seat.  We prayed and meditated while waiting for mass to begin. The church filled quickly with a parade of old timers. All of them looked so much older than us. The servers had gray hair, the ushers needed canes, but the priest was young. We are staying in a fifty-five and over community, I thought.  Most of the homes were built in nineteen seventy-nine through the mid eighties. A retired couple of fifty five who purchased would now be eighty-six. No wonder everyone looks old.  The priest announced that it was a special day because he was honored to bless the marriage of a couple celebrating their sixtieth wedding anniversary.  Back home, in Frankfort, they would have received a standing ovation. Here it seemed like  . . . eh.  

     The attitude of the people here is to have fun.  They emphasize the positive. Wrinkled skin is normal. Everyone has wrinkled skin here. What is out of place is smooth skin, young people, and babies.  Infirmities requiring canes and walkers are just part of the age. They are looked upon as a way to extend the quality of life to the next level. I don’t think I could bring myself to live full time in a community of old people. I miss seeing the youngsters, and the babies around me. Here the parking lot is filled with Lincolns, Buick sedans, and golf-cars. SUV’s and vans, are for young people.

     It occurs to me that the seniors in this community are the pioneers of the “Green” movement, but they don’t get any credit for it.  They drive golf-cars around town on errands, to church, and on the golf course too.  They do it because it is cheaper, and more practical than driving a four thousand pound car around town. Besides, the Lincoln would probably get stuck in the rough, and make grooves in the fairway. Opening the trunk each time to select a club would be a pain in the ass too.

Joey and I

MortyAngel on Skye Scooter

MortyAngel on Skye Scooter

The hell with it. My back can crumble and crack. I wasn’t going to let a day like today be spoiled by bulging disks. Early this summer, my grandson told me he was learning to play golf. I thought that was amazing because I didn’t even know what golf was when I was eleven. I told him that after he had a few lessons, and had hit a few balls, I would take him to play a round of golf.

Yesterday, he called me and asked when we were going to play.  “Tomorrow,”  I replied.

“What time?”

“I will pick you up at eight a.m.”

The opportunity clock rang this morning, and I rolled out of bed. My back was very sore. “Mind over matter,”  I told myself. I dressed, ate breakfast, and was off to pick him up.

It’s been over ten years since I last played. Barbara and I played at Frankfort Square Links, formerly Hickory Creek, a small course just a few miles from the house. It is a nine hole course, that is very short. It was the perfect place to play our first round of golf together.

When Joey and I arrived, it was cloudy and cool. I rented clubs for myself.  Joey has his own. I paid for a cart to help preserve my back, and to have a way to get back to the car in case my back collapsed.  Peggy, the clubhouse attendent took the greens fees, and we were off to the first tee.

I watched as Joey teed up, and knocked the ball a hundred and fifty yards straight down the middle of the fairway. Oh boy, I’m in for a long day I thought. I teed off and did the same thing. Surprise, surprise. Maybe the back brace I wore made me relax, or maybe the fear of the ice pick in the back kept me from swinging too aggressively, but it felt good.  I hit the ball far and straight. He was just to the left of center, and I was on the right.

The course is short, but very tough. It is loaded with water hazards. Hit the ball slightly off the green and splash. Nevertheless, we had a beautiful time together. I used some of the time to teach course etiquette. An eleven year old just isn’t into stodgy stuff like keeping a foot out of the path of a ball rolling toward  the cup. A couple of times, I restrained myself from braining him. After all, he is my grandson. My daughter would kill me if I brought him home with a club wrapped around his neck.

At the end of nine holes his score was eleven strokes lower than mine. We walked to the car, and it started drizzling.

We had lunch at Culver’s in Frankfort, then picked up dessert at the Creamery on the way home.

How does that commercial go?

Club rental–$6.00

Green fees–$16.00

Bonding with my grandson–Priceless