Monday, August 27, 2007

My father's visit to Pinsk…

The third and finishing hole at the Big Apple Golf and Country Club of Belarus
So my father was here with us last week for a long anticipated visit. I had not seen my father in a long time. We had talked about his coming last year but the situation simply never materialized. This last spring though he had a renewed interest and we set out to do the necessary paperwork to get him here.

To me the most interesting part of this whole summer was the preparations we did for his coming. I have a lot of respect for my dad insofar as how he kept himself for the whole of his adult life. He is a very strong man with a passion for sport and living well. He likes to laugh and be with friends and most of all what he likes is to be on the golf course. He also has many traits which absolutely come from here; a fact he doesn't put as much stock in as I do. His father was exactly from here and his mother was from Minsk and if I were to go on about how many of his habits and traits exactly fit the profile of the locals, he might say I was having him on. But it is true and the very much Pinsk-like hard-eyedness and unapologetic judgmentalism led us to want to make things ship-shape for his arrival. We cleaned up the house, painted a bit and brought in some new things. Generally these were things that we had been wanting to do anyway but had never had the money for. We still didn't have the money per se but we used the excuse to go ahead and do it. And of course, I made a golf course.

This golf course was really not so golf course-ish as it was three targets carved out of the field at our farm. The idea came to me when I first heard that my dad was coming and was as much an attempt at humor as it was a real place to play. Or maybe, this was the thinking at first. After I got into it though I really started to take the idea of laying out a place to hit some balls seriously. The idea even got out in front of the necessities involved in caring for what we had planted. I left certain places unplanted and let grass grow in other areas where otherwise I would not have allowed it to stay. The end result was certainly rough, but what was satisfying to me was that at least it had the look and feel of a place where people could strike balls.

If you have been following you might know that there had been a lot of rain this year. In the days leading up to my dad's coming the grass had been trimmed to perfection but heavy rains a week before his arrival left the field a bit shaggy. This was not a heartbreaker by any means but there was a certain smoothness which I had hoped for that wasn't in place. But nevertheless, when my father saw the flags and what I did for the holes, he broke a smile which I guess was worth the whole thing.

My dad brought a wedge and a putter along with him as well as a dozen or so balls and in the morning, we walked the course, weed whacking some rough spots and talking about where the tee boxes should be; an aspect of course design I had completely forgot about (I thought we would just roll the balls some distance from the cups and fire away). But basically there was some great excitement in the air that we might actually get to play a round of golf on this little three-hole course.

Around eleven we fired up the big grill and tossed three chickens on along with some fresh, straight-from-the-garden new potatoes and corn. Nina and Egr were with us as well as Vassa, Egor's best friend. The boys went mushrooming in the morning, practiced hitting golf balls and the women prepped the table and the food. I found my home made BBQ tongs worked very well, if they were a bit on the heavy side and the not-too hot/not-too-cold weather looked like it was going to be one of those perfect days.

But you know, things have a way of evening out. Or perhaps a better way to say it is that you are not supposed to go too far from the fairways if you wish to play the game. Golf, as I am sure you know, is not a poor man's game and Belarus, regardless of the news we see on the first national channel is not by anyone's standards a wealthy country. In trying to explain the bad luck which just at this minute began to come upon us, perhaps in trying to please my father, I had overstepped the boundaries of reason and tread with spiked shoes upon the very foundations of the culture: If Belarus is about the land, this is far more for bread than it is about manicured fairways and greens. I think it is even possible to believe there might have been sins involved here. Was it my Ego that led me to forgo my crop in favor of this abomination? Was I specifically offending my neighbors when I set flags and holes in my field? Or even, had I offended Belarus itself by forgetting for a moment the ethos of the worker's paradise in favor of a sport played only by the financial elite? In any case when the rains of punishment came down, they came down in buckets. Apparently he gods allowed us to finish cooking the chicken, food I suppose a base necessity, but we were not allowed to remain under a pleasant sky one second more.

We scurried to move the beautifully set table from under the grape vines and into the house. It was violent and torrential downpour. We have been plagued by excessive rains all year and the water table has been barely more than half a meter below the surface. The volume of water that was now dropping on our heads quickly caused massive puddles to appear and sink holes to form on places without ground cover. The flags marking the holes listed and sank, lightening and thunder filled the skies.

Under cover we quickly made up a pretty table. The meal was very nice; Nina brought some sweet wine, the chicken and potatoes were tasty. We had a few sips of vodka in praise of our guests; we laughed, told jokes and enjoyed the food. After we had serious discussions about money issues and the reality of the difficult life we have in Belarus- a favorite topic. But it never stopped raining.

Later in the afternoon our guests began to talk about taking the first bus home. Sitting in our little domic isn't all that comfortable and with the food and drink gone, there didn't seem to be much point in staying. But to my mind, there was still the issue of golf needing to be played. Curse or no curse, how could we not even try to go around at least once? How often do I even see my father? I looked at my dad hard in the eyes, willing my soul to project the essence of bag pipes, visions of the old course at St. Andrews, Mashie Niblicks, Plus fours, The 17th at the TPC, the 18th at Pebble; The Masters, the Open, Tiger, Nicklaus, Palmer, Hogan, Hagen and Snead. "Let's play some golf" I offered. The rain had lessened just a little and for a moment, my dad and I were indeed carried away by the thrill of the grass and a mildly evil smile came onto his face. I downed a glass of vodka for fortitude and, over the objections of the women (probably also a must), we marched out into the former strawberry patch and picked a spot to tee from.

A bolt of lightening shot across the sky. My father turned to me and advised that rain was not a problem but one should not play under electricity. Obviously the initial we-golf-or-we-die attitude had given way to the reality of being soaked through in the first fifteen seconds. It was really raining hard. I had changed clothes to go out in the rain but he had only what was on his back. The corresponding thunder rang out. "Come on pop." I urged, "Let's play this damned thing."

I addressed the ball, took a full cut and sent the ball right, into the tall grass under the old apple trees. My father then hooked his shot left into the neighbor's potato patch. There was another flash of lightening and my dad handed me the wedge and went back inside. "Sorry kid, this year's open is rained out."

So there I was alone, standing in the rain, the wedge in my hand and mud creeping between the toes of my bare feet. I watched my father walk off the course. I saw Tanya looking at me through the kitchen window. I looked back to where I had hit my tee shot. It occurred to me that though it made for a better looking fairway, practically speaking the height of the grass under the old apple trees would make finding any ball hit into it pretty much impossible. I had the thought that perhaps a mower would have been a better investment than a weed whacker because it would make the fairways more even and the rough more manageable. But then I thought again: was I speaking of a golf course, or was this really a farm? More lightening, more thunder. What was the point of all this anyway?

I was very, very wet and I was beginning to shiver. My father has been a golfer his whole life. I myself never mastered the game. This is not to say that I didn't have a few moments out there, but obviously if it had remained important to me, I would not have come to a country without even a single golfing links available. Not that golf played a part in my thinking when I came here. But then agian, times are changing: Maybe soon there will be golf here. But as of the moment, mine was the only one. I felt a trickle of cold water run down my spine. What in hell had I been thinking?

But then a smile of understanding crept onto my face. Why even ask such stupid questions? Yes it is a farm, but it was also MY farm and on this day, it was to be, rain or no rain, MY GOLF COURSE. I tipped my hat to Tanya and marched off to find my ball. Just as I thought it was lost in the high grass and so after only a minute or two, I took a drop onto the fairway and chipped up onto the green and promptly three putted (chipped) into the over-sized cup. I dropped the ball into our tee box on the second and made an easy half swing, trying only to get enough elevation to clear the trees and hit the green just on the other side of the new strawberry patch. Unfortunately the ball hit the tree and landed just over the strawberries but under the tree. I had a shot though and made a nice chip and took two more to hole out. I teed up for the third and final hole. My shot again went right but it landed on the lawn a few meters from the BBQ. Everyone was watching me as I came up the "fairway" and lined up my shot which needed to go over the small fence that separated the lawn from the field. I addressed the ball, dug my toes into the mud for support, kept my left arm straight and my tempo smooth. The ball exploded out from the muddy grass and made a soft arc over the grapes; landing softly, pin high, about five feet from the cup. The rush from the gallery went over me like a warm towel and I smiled and raised the club in the air. I tapped in for par and was very satisfied when I picked my ball out of the mud puddle inside the hole; I had indeed made a golf course.

When I came back in out of the rain, my dad applauded me. What more could you ask for.

There is a bit more to this story such as that I went around again and lost a couple of balls; should have quit while I was ahead. And then there was the part about getting to the bus through the rain which was not so pretty. And then there was the moment when we realized that we had forgotten the cat. I had to go back and get him and after slogging through hip deep water, ended up missing that first bus home. At least there was hot tea and cookies when I finally got there. But I will save those stories for another time.

We didn't get a chance to take my dad back to the farm that week and he left the following Sunday so he never did get to play. It was good to have had him with us though. It was good to be able to sit with him and talk about things, to watch movies and have him meet my people and his new granddaughter. We even made it to the synagogue for an interesting only-possible-in-Pinsk Shabbos.

These meetings are very rare and special and I am glad that we took it seriously and made efforts to make my father comfortable. It was fun and I hope we get another chance to go around some time. Though for sure when we do, I have to make the rough a lot shorter. The course is a little too unforgiving at this point.

As an aside, just after writing this theme today, Tatyana and I went to the police station and finally picked up the Red Schwinn. While there, they asked us to sign a paper saying that I was not opposed to the reason for their holding the bike for two more weeks. The officer also acknowledged that the original price of the bike would have been something more than $1000 and that after it had been used and without the damage done to it by those who held it for the last three months, the value was in fact what I said it would be. They also apologized for laughing. It was said however that as of the moment, they are not sure if they really have a case against the man who we know took the bike. I don't really understand why, but now they are saying that even with the statement that it was he who gave the bike to the man found riding it, there are still loopholes. We will pursue a prosecution against this man though even if the theft of the bike is not available specifically. Breaking our windows and bringing pain and misery to our home will not be tolerated.

But as of the moment, I am most interested in getting started putting the bike back into working order. The good feeling from having it back is coming on to me slowly. Every time I see it here safely in our corridor I feel it a bit more. And the best moment so far was not walking from the police with the bike on my shoulder; it was when I came to get Anya from kindergarten on it. When she saw it waiting to take the two of us home, the first thing she said was "That's poppa's bicycle". Yes it is.

More soon


Anonymous Mike said...

be sure to thank the cops for helping you and make sure you have made friend of some of them.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007  
Anonymous Bob D said...

I enjoyed reading the account. Golf is for those with disposal income. They say soccer is for those with no disposal income (you only need a ball and a field). I also read with interest about the theft of your bicycle. Be glad they recovered it. In the Washington, D.C., area the police would not have bothered with a bicycle theft. The photograph of the domic in the rural area is post card perfect. I wish you well.


I received in the mail the receipt for the Brest Archives. Thank you.

Saturday, September 01, 2007  
Blogger BEING HAD said...

I am glad to have the bike back though trying to put it back together is sort of killing me financially- not that I am so hard to kill. But let me make this clear: The cops did not find my bike- I found my bike. I also found the guy who stole it and so far the cops are refusing to see the relevance in any of this and the kept the bike in their possession for more than two weeks on a stupid bureaucratic issue. I am happy to have it back though. It would have been nice to have had it running while my dad was here. Going for a slow ride in the nice weather is one of the things you can do here.

Also, I am glad things are going well for you in your archive search. I know this can be frustrating but hopefully, it will also be rewarding for you when you come out again next year.

Saturday, September 01, 2007  

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