ANY cost accounting of my emotions, I think, would prove that golf has given me more pleasure than pain. It would be a close thing, and I do not include in my debits the grief my game may have caused my partners. No; but purely on a personal basis and assessing all the temper lost, all the profanity for which (afterwards) I mentally apologize, all the grim discipline with which, each summer, I try to iron out my hacker’s swing, and all the side bets paid — add it all up and still I am ahead.
I am blessed with a photographic memory which enables me to replay just before sleep the holes I have misplayed — or, occasionally, played well — on my favorite links. I remember the satisfaction of starting off with a par on the first at Baltusrol,
the autumn dew still heavy on the green; I remember a drive I made to close out a 23-hole match in a tournament al Essex County; I remember the birdie 4 on the long seventh at Ekwanok: a good drive, a spoon over the high saddle, a No. 5 iron and a 15-foot putt; and in such fashion I have replayed Myopia a thousand times, forgetting my flubs and remembering how I recovered from the rough.
But I am getting way ahead of myself in this dream world. In my golf the pain always comes first. I sometimes think golf is the perfect purge for this nervous, belligerent century; in four hours it will drive the black bile out of any man, returning him to his wife limp, humbled, and thirsty— thirsty for a long drink and a kind word.
Three mentors made me the golfer I am, and in the initial phase each one of them was more of a tormentor than a friend. The first was my fatherin-law. The relations between sonand father-inlaw are edgy and competitive by reason of the lady in the case. My father-in-law loved to win, and he insured his victories by the artful bets and handicaps he imposed the night before we played. After dinner he would also occasionally mimic my swing. Now I bring to my golf the habits of a tennis player — the instinct to hit quickly and on my toes. It was to Unkie’s advantage to get me lunging before we had finished the third hole. Then I lost my temper and the murder began.
I kept losing my temper for years. When it wasn’t to my father-in-law, then it was to my friend Jim. Out of these humiliating defeats came the slow realization that only as I sat back on my heels and kept swinging and grinning could I hope to win. I paid a king’s ransom in side bets for this imperishable truth.
Dick is my third mentor. A far bet ter golfer than ever I can hope to be, he is given at times to a wildness which lands him in the most impossible places; yet out of these places — from the root of a tree, behind a water tank, or a hanging lie — he will recover with the most prodigious shot, hit; the green with his approach, and go down with one putt for what he calls a “scrambled par.” His cheerfulness as he scrambles is devastating, especially to an opponent who has been short and straight, and who for the first two shots thought he had the hole won. From Dick I have learned that the fairway — the straight and true — is not the only way to the cup. From him I have also learned not to curse at my lie and never to despair, it’s never too late to sink a chip.
There are other rewards than those silver-plated ash trays which sometimes fall my way in the Consolation Flight. There’s the banter; there’s the fun of playing with older men and of learning from them the rules, the niceties of the game (most Americans break the rules at least twice in every round); there’s the joy of seeing a terrier elder taunt and wear down an erratic but far more capable junior — a joy which has been perfectly described by Stephen Potter in his little classic, Gamesmanship: The Art of Winning Games Without Actually Cheating. Finally there is the unrestricted comedy of seeing fat men, lean men, nervous men with waggling mannerisms assume with full gravity the postures which seem natural to them in golf.
The comedy of golf
The beauty of golf is its reciprocity. No matter how you laugh inwardly as Ray takes 5 to get out of a sand trap, your turn is coming. And when you are seized with fury and disaster you will be just as funny. Once, while playing together in a foursome, my wife and I struck six times at our ball, which lay at the base of a thornbush. I nudged it on the seventh try, and looked up to see the course convulsed with prostrate figures. No one had said a word, and I had forgotten it took so much time.
The comedy of golf shows its smiling face in a new book of ihis season, 73 Years in a Sand Trap, by Fred Beck and O. K. Barnes (Wyn, $2.00). This pair know all there is to know about a duffer. They have some laughable things to say about Woman’s Place on the Course, the Overequipped Mr. Sidebottom, the Intimidating Caddie. How Not to Play a Water Hole, and the Annual Tournament sponsored by the M-G-M Studios. They have collected the most incredible believe-itor-nots from pros the country over, and for good measure they have thrown in a spicing of stories, a few of them chestnuts but most of them good raisins. I particularly like the one about the little Negro caddie at the Brae Burn Country Club in Houston following a lady in one of those eye-catching sweaters. At about 130 yards from the first hole she turned to the twelve-year-old caddie and asked, “J.C., can I get home with a No. 3 iron?" J.C. hesilated a bit before he replied, “Miz T., Ah doan even know wheah you live!”
Eudora Welty of the Delta
It was in December of 1940 that Mrs. Frances Curtis, then our first manuscript reader, came bursting in with a short story by a new writer, a Southerner, Eudora Welty. The following spring we published three of her narratives in the Atlantic: the first, “A Worn Path,” which was to receive an O. Henry Award, a Chrislmas story of deep pathos about an old Negro woman and her invalid grandson; the next, “Why I Live at the P.O.,” with its touching spinster portrait of eccentricity; and the third, “Powerhouse, a terse, powerful study of a Negro jazz band and of the spell the leader exerted over his men.
Talent as varied as this made us wonder and we wrote for particulars. “I was born in Jackson. Mississippi,” she replied, “and since Southerners by all traditions discover a relationship if possible the moment they are introduced, I might remark that I am a little kin to Walter Hines Page, who once edited the Atlantic. The schools I went to are Mississippi State College for Women, the University of Wisconsin, where I was graduated, the Columbia University School of Business, from which I came forth into New York side by side with the depression, and edged on back home.”Since then five books have appeared under Miss Welty’s signature. In mood and portrayal they have established her as the best short-story writer in the South.
Her new book, The Golden Apples (Harcourt, Brace, $3.00), is a narrative — or rather a sequence of narratives — about the half-slumbering, halfarchaic, strangely alive little town of Morgana, Mississippi, a town where kinship and jealousy, inhibition and passion, Southern poverty and Southern generosity, form a close-knit, fascinating, and ever changing pattern. The stories, dealing with kinfolk and neighbors, add up to a cumulative understanding of human nature. Now we are in the woods with Mattie Will as she is tumbled by the MacLain twins or hunted by their father; now, in “June Recital,” we see how, by the skillful use of the cutback, Miss Welty discloses half the lifetime of that German teacher of the piano, pathetic Miss Eckhart; now. in “Moon Lake,”we are given a picture of girlhood, the “nice” girls and orphans at their summer camp — a picture very young and sensitive and identifiable. The style is so idiomatic you can hear the drawl; the atmosphere, hot, brooding, and peculiarly Southern, is conveyed by the sensuous details and by the feminine divination of character. These people so luminous in Miss Welty’s prose throw light upon a strange heritage; they light up a privacy in the Delta every whit as human and touching as that of Winesburg, Ohio.
The eagle that grew
An archaeologist trained at Harvard and Tulane, a close student and defender of the American Indian, a novelist who scored with his very first book, Laughing Boy,Oliver La Large brought to his duties in the war the observation of a scientist and the training of a writer. In 1942 he was appointed historian of the Air Transport Command, and his single-volume history, The Eagle in the Egg (Houghton Mifflin, $3.50), is a vivid and compact chronicle.
Colonel La Farge does what I wish every war historian could do. Having assimilated an enormous amount of detail — fifty manuscript volumes, I believe — and having checked the written records against the personal notes he made of his hundreds of flights, he has been able, by a feat of perspective, to bring the huge diversified picture into clear focus for the general reader.
This is an exciting book, a good book particularly for those who followed the Air Corps. The story begins with the incredible beginning, when in December, 1941, there was a total of eleven crudely converted Liberators, two Martin Flying Boats, nine Clippers (they were being purchased from Pan American), and five Boeing Stratoliners in what was to become the ATC. That was our whole fleet when we set out to transport our high personnel and vital equipment to Britain, the Philippines, Hawaii, China, the Middle East, and Russia,
Mr. La Farge describes the early adventures in ferrying; he shows how the imperatives of war forced twenty years of development into three; he shows our erying need for expert pilots, pilots who could fly by instrument, and how we got them; he makes us understand the differences in the training of a transport pilot and a combat pilot. He shows the legal difficulties which arose between the airlines and ATC, and how they were solved; lie gives specific incidents of how command planes and pilots were cannibalized by the combat units in the different theaters, and what hell that raised; he shows how Pan American grew jealous of losing its prerogatives in Latin America, and how it was pacified. He gives us fine pen portraits of the moving spirits in the ATC, General Turner, General George, General Olds, and General Alexander (his chapter on how the men under General Alexander flew the Hump is one to bring tears to your eyes even though most of it is in the classic military terminology). He shows the incredible growth of this Eagle as it chipped its way out of its egg (in January, 1942, the ATC counted 1650 men; at the end of that year, 47,000). He makes it clear beyond question that not one more ton could have been delivered to the Chinese in their years of desperation — and at what cost those tons were delivered. He uses footnotes as footnotes should be used — to disprove rumors and refute the uninformed. And in his final chapter he takes a long look into the future, with conclusions which should be borne in mind by anyone interested in our reserve strength. This was a service to be proud of, and this is the book to make you so.
The reasons for fishing
At Kennebago I have been absorbing piecemeal the wisdom, humor, and how-to-do of two books on fishing which, laid end to end, cover most of the gamiest streams in Canada, Britain, and the United States.
John E. Hutton brought to our Atlantic salmon streams the skill and sagacity of fifty years of angling in Britain. Fishing the Southwest Miramichi in the low water of midsummer, and fishing it deliberately after the other guests at camp had beaten the pools to a profitless lather, he tempted the sulking fish to rise and then take his fly. This he did in successive summers in a record performance: be did it using leaders as short as 30 inches and with flies some bedraggled from fifty strikes! His Trout and Salmon Fishing (Atlantic Little, Brown, $5.00) is the observant, unorthodox, entertaining fly-fishing philosophy of the expert, written with nice humor and modesty.
Fresh Water Fishing by Arthur H. Carhart (Barnes, $5.00) leaves those streams Mr. Hutton conquered and travels westward across the American continent. It is a wide-ranging and demonstrative book, speaking of the rainbows in Oregon, the bass in Ontario, the northern pike and muskies in Minnesota, the cutthroats in Wyoming, the crappies in Iowa, the black-spotted trout in Colorado. Mr. Carhart reasons with you in a friendly prose; he gives detailed advice about your equipment, your casting—with bait, plug, fly, or spinner; he gives you explanations for his preferences; he guides you without pressure and makes his points stick with many a personal anecdote.