Until my fourteenth birthday, I only knew two men who golfed: Dick Powell and Grady Sanford. Prior to that, summer Sunday afternoons consisted of fishing. In the space between church meetings, I’d race through Jeff Sanford’s house to grab a Zebco reel and see Mr. Sanford sitting with his feet up intently listening as commentators whispered the difficulty of Nicklaus’ next shot – like watching paint dry, I thought to myself.
Yet, when I turned fourteen, I discovered golf for myself. I only hit one in four straight, but that’s all it took. I was hooked. The problem was that golf required time and money – both of which were scarce on Sunday afternoons in the Blackmon house.
I managed to scratch up enough couch change to pay for nine holes at Gravitt’s Golf Course, but there was still the problem of time. You see, my father applied religion militantly in our home. There was never a sickness bad enough to keep us away from church. In fact, my father knew of no sickness that a good preaching would not make better.
Full disclosure, our faithfulness to organized religion had significantly slipped until my grandfather passed away in 1980. After that, my father rededicated our commitment to church. We did not vote on it.
If we were less than ten minutes early, we were late. I sat quietly and listened during meetings for fear of his disapproving gaze that was so penetrating it could crack the polar ice caps. I even learned to nod my head in agreement with the preacher when I caught Daddy looking at me out the corner of his eye.
I strategically judged his mood and once I caught him having a particularly good day, I proposed Sunday golf. Doing his best to live a Christlike life, my father was a just man. He laid it out plainly. “You can go after church, but you will be back in time to get dressed and make it to evening church on time. Do not be late.”
I called my golfing buddies, Truett Wilbur Moss II, who we called T2, and Shane Moss, and shared the good news. Still, they were both younger than me, and I was only fourteen. Transportation was a problem, but Daddy was benevolent enough to solve that problem for us as well.
“You can drive the truck. Just take the backroads and be careful,” he counseled.
My father was black and white. The laws of Heaven were nonnegotiable, but man is flawed, so breaking his rules might get you in a little trouble, but they wouldn’t tally a sin.
T2, Shane, and I would sit on the edge of the pew idling as Winford Casey wound his Sunday sermon up. We prayed that he would not get caught up in the Spirit, decide to try and capitalize on a good sermon, and opt for an alter call. Or, call on the wrong man to close our meeting in prayer. The old man who would get up, move to the end of the pew, get down on one knee and begin a simple closing prayer that would end up blessing everything from starving children in Africa to old lady Butterworth’s gout. We would be crawling out of our skin by the time he finished.
In reality, the old man should have prayed for our safe travels to and from the golf course. We learned to prep our gear and after a few weeks, we could make it from Amen to tee time in a half hour. By the eighth hole, I was as nervous as a cat on a porch full of rocking chairs. It seemed that we were always running late, and I dared not tempt Carl Blackmon’s anger on a Sunday. Cards tallied, victor crowned, we’d race to that old 1971 Chevrolet, and I’d hit the Dews Pond Road squalling tires on every corner.
One day, we were running especially late. I hit the dirt and gravel, where Lovebridge becomes Langford Road, rounded a curve, and there was Randy McElrath coming the other direction. I could see the whites of his eyes, the fear in his face, as we passed one another. I dodged him on the left, locked up the breaks, and came to rest in a cloud of dust in the ditch. I heard something that sounded like, “Jimbo, have you lost your ever-loving mind,” as I inspected the truck for damage. Luckily, they put a little steel in trucks back then, so no damage done.
Back when hackers had nothing to do with a computer, we were just that – Hackers, but man did we have fun. Sometimes we were still sweaty for Baptist Training Union (BTU), maybe a bit ripe, but thanks to Carl, we were never late.