It’s Storytime at Rockbottum CC.
During a recent session with Rockbottum Behavior Modification Therapist Dr. Ludell Hogwaller, I experienced a monumental breakthrough. Using his special donut-hypnosis, he uncovered a long buried childhood memory that finally revealed just how I acquired my secret golf nickname–and why I have an unnatural fear of fish, fishing and fishermen.
It all began in ’63, when the US Army assigned Dad–or Cap’n Ahab as I called him–to teach ROTC and coach the rifle team at Sewanee Military Academy in the mountains of Tennessee. Sewanee was a little college town–more of a village, really–and was home to The University of The South. It was a tough little village; on my first day at Sewanee Elementary, I was severely beaten–with my own book satchel–by the school bully. Her name was Colleen.
I was a mere third grader, but Colleen was a sixth grader, twice-divorced.
On this mountain was a golf course, with the unlikely name of St. Andrews, and it was here where
Ahab Dad reigned as club champion. One fine October Saturday morning, Dad took me out on an empty fairway, handed me a cut down niblick, dropped a ball and said, “Hit it.” I looked away, “I’d rather play football.” Dad’s face muscles twitched as he pointed at the ball. “I said hit . . . the . . . ball.”
“Dad, let’s just go watch the Tigers play today.” I was hopelessly obsessed with Sewanee’s football mystique. My third grade teacher was Mrs. Majors, her husband coached the team and her son Johnny had been an All-American for the Holy University of Tennessee Vols. Sewanee was famous in football lore for the legendary Iron Men of 1899, when the Tigers pulled off the greatest miracle in football history. With only 16 players, they won 5 road games in 6 days–all by shutouts–went undefeated, 12-0 on the season, and was only scored on by Auburn.
Sewanee was clearly #1, but one of those Nawthen schools–Yale, I think–claimed they were National Champs because Sewanee didn’t have to play anybody. (Yale was apparently unfamiliar with LSU, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Tennessee, UNC, Texas, Texas A&M, Ole Miss and Auburn.)
Ahab Dad refused to be distracted by my intended career path and ordered me to strike the ball. “You’ve seen me do it, hit it just like I do!” I unleashed a flurry of savage hacking, slashing swings, cutting ugly, irregular divots that brought shame upon our family name. Exhausted before I could actually make contact with the accursed orb, I paused to rest and looked up to see Dad staring at me in shock. (Later that night, Dad told Momma that watching my swing was like seeing an unmedicated mental patient fending off an attack of invisible wharf rats with an axe.)
Gritting his teeth, Dad snatched the niblick away–and that’s when he said it, in a low, growling voice: “Dammitboy . . .”
I knew then, when I wrote my autobiography, it would begin exactly like the classic novel I was living, except rather than Ishmael, the first words would be: “Call me Dammitboy.” I was to hear that name, at special times, for the next decade, especially if my feet were planted on a golf course at that moment.
“Maybe you should play football,” Dad muttered as he held the niblick out of my reach and strode angrily toward the car. Tossing the club in the trunk, he grabbed a fishing pole and said, “Let’s try this, maybe you’re a fisherman.” We went back out onto the course, to a small lake, where I was instructed in the art of casting. Within seconds, I had snagged the hook into my crotchetal regions and was vigorously engaged in shredding Levis to remove the stubborn thing before it did any real damage. Dad muttered my new nickname, grabbed the fishing pole and said, “Here, I’ll fish, you just watch the ground for snakes.”
I quickly deduced that fishing was a team sport with assignments and I enthusiastically fulfilled my role, intently watching for snakes attempting to ambush Dad. At the exact same moment that Dad hooked something, a horrible insect, a massive and terrifying wasp-like creature with extra wings and a wicked stinger at least four inches long, landed upon Dad’s leg. Unable to form words, I pointed at the flying scorpion and yelled, “AAAAHHHHH!!!!!”
Dad began to levitate. He shot upward and remained suspended like Wile E. Coyote after stepping off a cliff. Dad matched my hysterical yelling while treading air furiously and searching for a snake-free landing zone. He never saw the flying scorpion, which I later learned was called a Dragonfly, or in the latin, ‘Snakus Doctorus‘. All Dad saw upon touchdown was me . . . laughing. It was a mistake on my part.
Dad failed to see the humor. His eyes bugged out, his jaw quivered and that’s when I heard it again, only in a little more malevolent tone: “Dammitboy . . . ”
I knew a serious butt-whuppin’ was imminent. Before he could get a good solid grip, I was in full Red Grange mode, running routes that Deion Sanders couldn’t have covered, all the while cursing niblicks, flying scorpions and especially fishermen.
For years afterward, no matter what happened, no matter who was at fault–I heard my special nickname again and again.
Something as innocent as a mower burning up would trigger my name in the smoky wind. After ten or twelve swing blades slipped out of my hands and landed in the lake, Dad would bellow it out. For a while, my secret nickname didn’t feel quite so secret. When just once, I overfilled the truck with sand, he yelled it for everybody to hear. (If he had not accused me of failing to shovel enough sand in the truck bed, the tires wouldn’t have burst.) Every time a Night Waterman quit mid-summer, wailing about ghostly apparitions and ice cold hands of death gripping his arm, Dad’s reaction was predictable:
He always turned slowly and said “Dammitboy” through clenched teeth, like Clint Eastwood, only really pissed off.
Until, that is, Dad took up church-going and his vocabulary was suddenly and severely limited; yet, he still found a way to tag me, especially when he was around his superintendent buddies, like Palmer Maples or Bill Womack. Dad would point at me and say, “That’s Randy. He’s not really slow, but he’s not fast either. He’s just sort of . . . half-fast.”
Now, however, in my third childhood, I have come to terms with life and I’m at peace . . . except with fishermen.