Phoning Home

I’m standing over fresh dirt and stale flowers, choked up but not teary. Freddie wouldn’t want teary. I fish the golf ball out of my pocket, uncap the purple Sharpie and write with an unsteady hand.

The world has lost its greatest storyteller.

I blow on the ink and drop the ball into the dirt, pushing down with my shoe so it won’t roll away. It’s a Titleist Pro V 1X, fresh out the box.  I wish it were a Top Flite XL, a range ball in disguise. Freddie always said, “It ain’t the ball, man, it’s the player.”

He was right.

I’m feeling terrible regret. Regret for not visiting more often after Freddie’s retirement from the Augusta National Golf Club at age 70, regret for not attending his funeral, held in a college gymnasium because of the expected attendance.

The church just wasn’t big enough, and when Pop told me the news I couldn’t help but smile.

I look up, admiring the vast arrangement of flowers and cards, stuffed animals and notes. An abundant display of admiration. My eyes stop on an extravagant arrangement of chrysanthemums, roses and lilies. Beloved wife and mother, the card says.

Beloved wife and mother?

Son of a bitch. I’m at the wrong grave.

I look beyond the dedication to another grave surrounded by the same goodbyes. I can’t help but laugh, and I know Freddie’s laughing, too. Me getting all choked up at the wrong gravesite. Even in death Freddie is alive, still looking over my shoulder and pointing me in the right direction.

I dig the Titleist out of the wet ground and walk over to his grave, still not believing he’s gone.

People like Freddie aren’t meant to die.

Suddenly, I am ten years old, and this ominous figure of a man with black skin and white golf shirt is knocking on our back door.

“Hey, man. It’s Freddie. Is my doctor home?”

His voice is warm as a favorite blanket, and when I open the door he shakes my hand. Just reaches out and grabs it. It is the first handshake I remember.

I’ve never met Freddie before, but I recognize him from the picture in our den. He and my Pop, standing outside the bag room at Augusta. Pop smiling like he won the lottery, having just played the National for the very first time.

Another memory taps on my shoulder as I toe the dirt with my shoe. Our phone book, and the number my mom taped to the cover every year without fail. Peel it off and stick. Peel it off and stick. Freddie’s private number at Augusta, the number you dialed when it was important and the only person who could make it right was Freddie. The phone was an old rotary, big and bulky. He called it The Black Bat. When it rang, Freddie stopped everything and answered it.

I push the Titleist into the dirt, close my eyes and dial the number.

It rings.