Friday, August 19, 2011

Miami Memories: Tick Tock

One of the saddest days of my life occurred on a hot summer Monday at Elk River in Missouri when I about ten years old. Our family had enjoyed a relaxing day of swimming, light fishing, meals of campfire hot dogs covered in mustard and relish, and baloney sandwiches with dessert of roasted marshmallows on gram crackers (the chocolate Hersey bars never lasted till evening). My sister and I had spent hours in the cold waters of Elk River trying to catch perch in our summer sand buckets. Oh, those wise parents of ours, who convinced us that we could catch them in tiny little buckets! What we caught, in the end, was a good night's sleep. Our little dog Ticky accompanied us on our Monday outings and never strayed far from our campgrounds. Late in the afternoon with the campfire roaring and sticks ready to grill the hot dogs our little dog failed to appear.

Ticky, our pet, had found us one summer evening a few years before, and I knew in my child's heart he'd find us again. This stubby short brown haired dog with the face of a pug that had been pushed out from the inside appeared in our backyard one night on E st SW about the time Dad hauled out the homemade trash barrel BBQ grill. The grill must have smelled like a dozen nights of steak and hamburger drippings. This nameless stray dog plopped himself down by the grill and watched Dad's every move.

Mother reached down to pet the little stray just as I picked him up. Then I heard her screech, "Ticks." Too late. I carried the dog in my arms over to my dad, who was now seated in a lawn chair with a beer in hand. On the ground beside my father I placed the little dog like an offering to a God, all the while my mother screeched in the background, "He's covered in ticks, let him go." At my dad's feet, this little dog began to scratch his belly and with his bucky teeth tried to clean himself before the man who might have a hand out. Even dad's hand jerked away when he saw the revolting ticks on the dogs back. Then we realized the poor little dog was covered head to toe in ticks.

Dinner was delayed that night as a team of surgeons went to work on the dog. Dad put some gasoline in the bottom of a coffee can, then Jonya, Dad, and I sat down and pulled ticks off and dropped them in the can. The fat ugly ticks squirmed in the gas until at last they sunk to the bottom, dead! Mother stayed in the kitchen. The stray little dog waited and wiggled patiently as we worked to clean him up. At long last the poor dog was somewhat presentable to mother. When at last dinner was served the little dog was rewarded with table scraps of hamburger and a steak bone, and our little dog, Ticky, had found a home.

But now time was ticking away for our lost little dog.

But now time was ticking away for our lost little dog. Mother and my sister, Jonya, who had the melodramatic voice of a heroine tied to the railroad tracks, yelled for Ticky, while dad and i walked to every camped area asking and calling for our ever faithful companion. It wasn't like Ticky to leave Dad's side, he was a daddy's dog. The four of us choked down our hot dogs that night between tears. After dark we'd given up hope, and I saw tears stream down my dad's face as we packed the station wagon for home.

We all gave one last tearful call for Ticky and then two little girls, crying their hearts out, were loaded into the station wagon. With windows down we screamed, "Ticky, Ticky, Ticky," all the way to the highway. Just as the dirt road stopped at the paved highway, the headlights of the car spotted a little brown dog sitting off to the side of the road watching every pair of headlights driving by. I've never seen my father so jubilant and teary eyed as he jumped from the car, nearly forgetting to put it in park, and picked up that forlorn little brown dog with dark woeful eyes. Happiness flooded our car that night as we sang "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window," and every other happy song my mother could remember. Truly that was one of the happiest moments of my life.

Letty Stapp Watt
storyteller and historian

Friday, August 5, 2011

Play Each Shot As If It Will Only Happen Once

Alexa Osborne and Letty Watt
This past week I had an opportunity to play some of my greatest golf shots and to enjoy and follow up on many awesome shots played by our youthful Kansas Fore State team. I am also fortunate to have the opportunity to play golf at Prairie Dunes Country Club (Hutchinson, KS) and to be acquainted with the cleverness of Perry Maxwell's golf course architecture. His par 3's can humble the best of players either with gaping bunkers lining the front and sides of the holes; lakes beckoning the golf ball to cool off; tall prairie grasses that offer permanent shelter to wayward golf shots; winds that blow the balls off course; or trickling creeks and out of bounds stakes defining the direction the ball must fly to reach the undulating greens.

My last hurrah at 2011 Fore State came on the par 3 hole 15 at Hardscrabble Country Club (a Perry Maxwell design). I was one down and Sidney's tee shot was sitting pin high on the green to the right. I inhaled the humid Arkansas air, smiled at the beauty of the hills, the trees, the lakes and green grasses then starred down the par 3. "Perry Maxwell," my focused words spoke, "you can't scare me." My tee shot took dead aim at the pin and dropped eight feet short of the hole leaving me a simple uphill putt to win the hole and go even. Sidney missed her birdie putt. With focus and confidence I stroked the ball toward the hole. My head stayed down listening for the rattle of the ball in the cup, that didn't come. My birdie putt strayed slightly to the left and sat there peeking at the empty cup. I thought I heard an old man's voice chuckle, "You didn't see that tiny touch of an uphill break did you?" "No, I didn't," I thought in reply, "but it was a hole well played." And then my 63 year old bones and back began to quiver with exhaustion. Hole 16 passed in a blurry tie.

Next, I found myself on 17 still playing and thinking I could win. After dunking my tee shot in the water to cool off, my next shot landed on the green pin high to the right. I needed to make the putt to tie. For one brief moment in time I tied the match on the 17th hole, but the putt had been hit with too much authority. I saw the blood drain from the young Oklahoma player's face, as she, too, thought I'd drained the putt. "Hit the HOLE, " I yelled. And it did, hitting the bottom of the cup and then bouncing out. In that hop the hole and the match were lost.

I could only smile, proud that I'd played as well as I could. She beamed with delight as we shook hands, and I congratulated her on the win. Her Oklahoma team eventually won Women's Fore State 2011 that day. Our Kansas team returned the trophy from last year's win and walked away standing tall, with pride, spirit, grace, and youthfulness, knowing we'd all done our best.

Twenty-four hours later I was sauntering through the field north of our house with Lucy, when a cool gentle breeze stirred a vivid memory.

The Women's Oklahoma Golf Association State Championship was held at Oakwood Country Club (a Perry Maxwell design) in Enid, Oklahoma in June 1967, and I was a competitor for the championship that week. In an early round of match play I played against an "old gray haired lady" who nearly beat me, a youthful strong determined 19 year old golfer. We tied our match at the end of 18 holes which meant we had to continue on until someone won the match. On the 19th hole of "sudden death" I finally chipped in to beat her, doing what she'd done to me all day--chipping and putting like a pro. She smiled and walked toward me with pride and grace that day. In her firm handshake of congratulations she let me know age was not a hindrance for a determined mind.

I could never image at age 19 that I would be standing in her shoes on the 17th hole at Hardscrabble Country Club at age 63 shaking the hand of a 19 year determined college student.

So to those who've gone before; the golf course designers, the dreamers, the club pros, the parents, the coaches, and especially the women amateurs and professional golfers who've given us their best, who've laid the groundwork for our programs and tournaments today, I bow my head in silence and say thank you. My hope is that through our continued dedication to the game of golf that some young girl golfer may write the sequel to this story in another forty to fifty years.

Picture of 2011 Kansas Fore State team--front row: Krista Peterson, Katy Nugent, Letty Watt, Lauren Falley, Jennifer Clark, Alexa Osborn; back row: Becky Tetrick, Hannah Martin, Kelsey Jensen, Michelle Woods, and Capt. Julie McKinnis.

Kansas Women's Golf Association
Women's Oklahoma Golf assocication
Missouri Women's Golf Association
Arkansas Women's Golf Association

Monday, August 1, 2011

Miami Memories: Sisters

I have a younger sister who is a truly deeply loving and beautiful woman, so it brings a giggle to my lips whenever someone asks her, "Are you older than Letty?" She has our father's blue eyes and curly gray hair while I have our mother's olive green eyes and blond, brown, graying "Lady Clairol" hair. We both love to learn whether in classes or just venturing out into new elements. In golf she is a natural. Her smooth rhythmical swing helped her win tournaments during her teenage years while I have grit, tension, and a swing that requires practice. Her relaxed and focused "head game" in golf and life helped her win a state tournament and become a beauty queen. My "head game" required maturity; I was fifty before I began to win golf tournaments.

Little Sister Jonya
We are both December birthdays, but school separated our lives by five years. I began school at age five in a Catholic school (Mother said I was a precocious child. I think I was a pain.) Jonya began at age six. She was just a baby when I left home early each morning giving her quiet time with mom.
We walked to school together only one year. I was the all wise sixth grader holding the hand of a shy first grader. One day during her recess time she ran around the corner of Roosevelt school in Miami, OK to peak at me sitting inside Mrs. Murphy's sixth grade room. Had it been Mrs. Murphy in the room there would be no story. Instead, our principal, Miss Hamilton was teaching class. Miss Hamilton walked to the window and scolded that little girl for disrupting the class, then she went out to the playground and scolded her again.
There was fear in my heart at that moment, knowing that we'd both be in trouble with dad that night. I spent the afternoon daydreaming about how and where we could run away to and avoid getting in trouble again. In the end we walked home together shedding tears in anticipation of the trouble we'd be in with dad. In the end our parents somehow agreed that what Jonya's little spying did no harm and so we were free to play outside that evening with the neighborhood gang.

I'd like to say that Jonya never spied on me again but that would be a lie. Our next ten years together were sprinkled with many memories of a nosy spying little sister and strong stubborn defiant older sister. Then time sped up. I graduated and left home. Over the next forty-five years we only lived near each other for a few of them, separated mostly by time, distance, families, and complicated lives.
Jonya and Letty ready for the game.
We've spent more years apart than we have together, so when we get to spend an evening or a day together it's a real gift for us. A few weeks ago Jonya drove to Kansas and spent seven days in our home. That's probably the most time we've been together since the summer of 1968. It was a special week for us as we rested, chatted, laughed with friends, toasted a few glasses of wine, played golf together, took casual walks, and relished in the minutes our lives as sisters. Now we seem to think more alike, laugh out loud alike, hurt in the knees, shoulders, and hips alike, but our hair is still vastly different!