A Chance Reunion

I’m backing out of my parking spot at the Dollar Store. I’m so lucky. The newest area DG is in Pine Mountain Valley about 3 minutes from my house. Right across from the pallet shop, a custom car shop, Hadley’s Taxidermy and Roosevelt Memorial Church. That about sums up downtown PMV, though I suppose no one here would even say that there is a “downtown”.

As I start to roll away I notice a fella walking toward me waving and smiling. I’ve been around long enough to know a lot of people in this little area. But I am terrible with names. His face is sort of familiar but not immediately. It looks like he obviously knows who I am. I hate that I might have to fake it like I know him.

It’s a sick feeling to me. To know that you’re supposed to know who this guy is but the brain cells are not connecting the dots. I get that a lot these days.

I take my chances. “How you doing?” Maybe he can’t see the confusion in my eyes. My mind is running wild, searching for clues. The main frame at NASA couldn’t be any more busy than my brain right now.

He speaks. “It’s sure is good to see you. It’s been years.” That did it. The voice, the eyes, a slightly chubbier face, but I knew who it was.

“My goodness, Oscar.” I shut off the truck and got out. “I ain’t seen you in years. How’ve you been?”

In support of public outcry, we bumped knuckles.

“Oh, I’ve been real good. My wife passed on three years ago, though. That’s been real hard. But I’m about to get used to her being gone, ‘cept I reckon I’ll never really get used to it.”

Oscar is a mechanic by trade. He’s 75 now. We met during the years that we worked at Callaway Gardens. He was the superintendent of the golf maintenance facility. Although golf course equipment took priority, they worked on a lot of our horticulture equipment for us when our shop was overloaded. He put in 36 years in that place and I admire him for it.

For me, one of the highlights of our work together was the PGA Buick Challenge. Some pretty big names came to Callaway during the tournament years of the mid-90s. That wasn’t the fun part. The fun part was getting the grounds and course ready and keeping it up through tournament week.

My crews showed up at 5AM. It was early fall. The floral and foliage displays were everywhere. Mums and exotics by the hundreds. Clubhouse. Media tent. T-boxes all over the course. Walk of Champions. The free Hole-In-One-Buick on display behind the par 3 green. Everything had to be watered and groomed and replaced as necessary before the first group teed off at 7AM.

Golf maintenance was on the course even earlier. Greens crews. Fairway mowers. Teams dragging chains through the grass to knock off the dew. Cutting new cup placements. Repairing sand traps. Making every hole perfect for the day.

The golf course reminded me of a scene from some sci-fi movie. You could hear the hum of machines, but all you could see were the dots of head lights moving in waves across the fairways. In the fog, portable generators powered lights enough to mow greens; each green looking a little like a football stadium lit up in the distant darkness. Tall Pines silhouetted against the glow of artificial light. Shadows of men walking a fast pace behind the small reel mowers.

Back then, I knew that course like the back of my hand. Oscar was running one of the greens crews on the back nine. Once I got my guys going and made sure our job was covered, I’d head out on the course to catch up with Oscar. He would be waiting on me.

“I’z a wondering when you was gonna show up” he’d say. My coffee is about gone.”

Oscar knew that I had a thermos of hot coffee with me. Truth is, and I never told him this, the only reason I had the thermos was so I could share it with him.

“What you talking about? I had work to do.”

“Awh, you ain’t been doing nothing. We been out here an hour fore you got outta bed.”

I loved the banter. We sat on the tailgate in the dark of a fall morning and talked about everything but work for a few minutes. It’s in moments like that, that you can’t afford to miss the simple gifts of life and work and friends.

We get so wrapped up in what we think are the troubles of this life. If you’re not careful, you can get turned so upside down in your own small world that you forget the good that is all around you. Good conversations. Good friends. Good moments. Good people.

I had several options for my small errand on the way home. Just buying a box of trash bags. I would normally stop in Pine Mountain for something like that, but for whatever reason I drove on out to the DG. I’m glad I did.

Oscar and I stood and talked for maybe 15 minutes. I don’t think I’ve laid eyes on him since I left Callaway 18 years ago. Friends living nearby, but on different paths. But for a few moments we were sitting on the tailgate in another time of our lives. The only thing missing was a thermos of coffee.

“Well, I better let you go. Sure is good to see you” he said.

I can’t believe he recognized me after all this time. I was embarrassed to tell him I didn’t know him at first. If he had been wearing his mechanics shirt with his name patch over the left pocket it would have helped.

As I drove away, I couldn’t help but smile to myself. Man, it was good to see him. I love living here. I am reminded that not everything is falling apart. Not by a long shot.

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