My mother has a rather strange aversion. It’s not a stereotypical one, like fearing rodents, or freaking out over spiders, but one that filled her with dread for more than a decade: She cannot enter the women’s locker room at her old golf club.
There was something in the room that made her feel unwelcome. The vibe, the energy in the women’s locker room was bad. She described feelings of claustrophobia, being weighted down, laboured breathing and of not feeling right. It wasn’t felt in the other areas of the clubhouse she frequented, like the restaurant or the pro-shop. Just the locker room.
Mum mentioned this aversion to us casually, as casually as she would that mention that mangoes are on sale at the green grocers around the corner. We were headed toward the club in question to play a round with my Dad. She wouldn’t be joining us. She entered the club’s unassuming driveway in the heart of an industrial area in Sydney. Pausing long enough to allow us to exit the car, she wished us well and left to spend the afternoon elsewhere – free from the grip of the locker room.
It was a warm, sunny Thursday afternoon at the course. The Lady Members were enjoying their AGM luncheon in the dining room. A bloke with a prosthetic leg was practicing on the putting green. Cessnas were circling overhead in an endless cycle of touch-and-goes. It was rarity to meet up with my Dad during business hours for a sneaky round of golf. In fact, we couldn’t remember the last time he’d played hooky from his own business. It was rather thrilling for all of us.
Dad had already stocked up on water, counted his golf balls and grabbed a bucket of sand to repair divots. So as soon as we arrived, he marched to the first tee before we’d even warmed up. ‘No mucking around’, his demeanour said. Right on, Dad. We kicked off the adventure with reasonable drives down the first fairway and set off on the afternoon’s seven kilometre walk.
The first few holes had their ups and down – some great saves from green side bunkers, and some cold putting – and it was great to have him guide us around his home course. I took a mental (and photographic) note of all the physical aspects being back home afforded me. The feel of the bark on a paperbark tree, the sun burning my skin, the orange glow of the dirt tracks, the whoosh of a squawking cockatoo flying past me, the expansiveness of the blue Australian sky. I filed them away in my memory bank to be accessed in times of homesickness. I breathed deeply, trying to commit the feel and smell of the Sydney air to memory.
We had felt the change blow in on the ninth teebox. The smell on the wind indicated rain. I thought it looked a good ways off, until the heavens opened when half way through the 12th hole. Unlike those in the Bay Area, storms in Sydney usually have plenty of lightning. And this one was a cracker! The storm front brought an incredible number of lightning strikes with it, and I did what I’d learned as a kid: I counted the seconds from the flash until the sound of the thunder to gage the distance of the lightning.
All I could envision was two of my favourite people in the world ending up as human Van de Graaf generators. I can’t lie – I was really worried. After we putted out, I voiced my concern and we paused a few minutes to see if the front would pass quickly. We stood at the 13th tee, and Dad regaled the times he (re)married Mum in the club’s yearly Gretna Green tournament. Stories of club presidents acting as ministers, ‘marrying’ the playing partners in celebration of the town of Gretna Green in Scotland being the capital of young English couples eloping in ye olde times.
“Okay, let’s go,” Dad said. He was not prepared to let pouring rain and sheet lightning ruin his surreptitious round. A true Australian male, he was not phased in the slightest. We soldiered on.
Down the line, the storm lifted. No one else was out on the course. It was just the three of us, and the ducks. Dad stopped to check in with work. The American went in search of his ball that had rolled off the back of the green. I watched rays of sunshine peek through the clouds. We were all doing our own thing, but it was just one of those moments that takes your breath away. I whipped out my iPhone, hoping that fleeting beauty could be captured forever.
The rain stuck around for the rest of the afternoon, like an afterthought. It didn’t fade our hot streaks on the 18th, holing in for birdies and pars for pleasure of the one-legged gallery. We wandered into the clubhouse to finalize the afternoon. Dad treated us: a Coke Zero for the American, a lemon squash for me. The ice bobbed around the glass, and I took big gulps, thirsty for this moment of nostalgia.
We loaded our gear into the car, and Dad proudly showed us how his new golf buggy collapsed into next to nothing.