Sunday Man

’twixt Heaven and Earth

By Jim Dodson

It’s Sunday morning in the
kitchen, two hours before the sunrise.

A welcome silence fills the house, and at this hour I often hear a still, small voice that may indeed belong to God but is more often than not the mewing of young Boo Radley, eager to be let out in order to roam the neighboring yards.

On the other side of the door sits old Rufus, balancing a universe, home from his nighttime prowlings, the crankiest cat of the known world, complaining to be let in and fed. The noisy one comes in, the quiet one slips out.

I am a butler to cats.

On the plus side, Sunday morning lies like a starry quilt over the neighborhood at this hour. A thin quarter moon hangs on the western horizon like a paper moon in a school play and Venus shines like a jewel in an Ethiop’s ear. Somewhere, miles away, a train rumbles by, a reminder of a world that is always going somewhere. But luckily I am here on Earth, a Sunday man beneath a hooked moon, for the moment going nowhere except the end of his driveway to fetch the Sunday paper for reading over the week.

Back inside, I sit for spell with my first coffee, reading one of what I call my Sunday morning books that run the gamut from the sonnets of Shakespeare to the essays of Wendell Berry, from Barbara Brown Taylor to Pierre Teilhard De Chardin — with a dash of Billy Collins and Mary Oliver for proper spiritual seasoning.

This particular Sunday is a gem long out of print, one man’s memoir of spiritual rejuvenation first published the year I was born, the story of a successful big-city writer who was forced by reasons of health and age to return to the small Wisconsin town of his birth. There he built a big house on ancestral land but initially struggled to find his place on the ground.

“A man, faced with the peculiar loneliness of where he doesn’t want to be,” writes Edward Harris Heth in My Life on Earth, “is apt to find himself driving along the narrow, twisting country roads, day or night, alone, brooding about the tricks life can play.”

Life is lived by degrees. Little by little, the author’s lonely drives along country roads yield a remarkable transformation of the angry city man. Heth gets to know — and admire — the eccentric carpenter who builds his house. He drops by a church supper and meets his neighbors, including the quirky Litten sisters “who play a mean game of canasta,” know all the village pump gossip “and have an Old Testament talent for disaster.” The ancient Litten girls both feed and inspire him to broader exploration.

His neighbor Bud Devere, a young and burly farmer who always shows up uninvited just to chat, insists that Heth see the Willow Road.

“I did not want to see what Bud saw. But the reluctance began fading away in me, that first time we went down the Willow Road. It covers scarcely more than a mile, but in that mile you can cover a thousand miles.” Traveling along it, the author sees spring wildflowers, undisturbed forests, a charming farmhouse with narcissus and hyacinth in bloom. He feels his pulse slow, and something akin to simple pleasure takes root.

“Bud kept silent. He wanted me to open my own eyes. . . . Since then, I’ve learned how many country people know and enjoy this art of the small scene and event, the birth of a calf, a remembered spot, the tumultuous labor and excitement of feeding the threshers, who come like locusts and swarm for a day over your farm and disappear again at night, the annual Welsh singing competition in the village — these are the great and proper events of a lifetime.”

Funny thing is, I have no idea how this little book, something of a surprise bestseller when it first appeared in 1953, got into my bookshelf, and now into my soul. It just magically appeared, a gift from the gods or perhaps a wise friend who knew I might discover it

Now the sun is up and so are the dogs. I am a butler to them, too. Despite a late frost, birds are singing and there is a new angle to the light — not to mention the first green tufts of daffodils rising like green fingers from the Earth.

Anticipating their Sunday walk, of course, the dogs think every day is the first day of spring. Mulligan, a black, flat-haired retriever I found as a pup a decade ago running wild along a busy highway, trots ahead off the lead, our tiny pack’s alpha girl, while Ajax — whom I call Junior — a golden retriever far too good-looking for his own good — lumbers along toting his own lead, deeply impressed with himself.

The neighborhood is old, with massive hardwoods arching like cathedral beams overhead. A man in his bathrobe steps out and shuffles hurriedly to the end of his sidewalk to fetch his Sunday morning paper. He gives a quick wave, bobbing a neighborly head, and hurries back inside to read.

The news of the world can wait. Because it never really changes, a story as old as cabbages and kings. Besides, we are briefly off the clock of the world all of Sunday, footloose upon the Earth, officially out of range, in search of an earthier divinity. Truthfully, I’m a bit sad to see winter’s cold and prospects of snow give way to the advance of daffodils. I am a winter’s boy, after all, but happy for a wife who is an endless summer girl dreaming of white lilacs in bloom.

“What is divinity,” asked Wallace Stevens in his lovely poem Sunday Morning

“if it can come

Only in silent shadows and in dreams?

Shall she not find in comforts of the sun,

In pungent fruit and bright, green wings, or else

In any balm or beauty of the earth,

Things to be cherished like the thought of heaven?

Divinity must live within herself:

Passions of rain, or moods in falling snow;

Grievings in loneliness, or unsubdued

Elations when the forest blooms; gusty

Emotions on wet roads on autumn nights;

All pleasures and all pains, remembering

The bough of summer and the winter branch,

These are the measures destined for her soul.”

By the time we reach the park, Lady Summer Bough and Lord Winter Branch, the strengthening sun has melted away the year’s final frost. Across the way stands an ancient oak I peddled by a half a million times as a kid on his way to the ball field; it looks like a lighted candelabra, limned with golden morning sun.

Funny how I only recently noticed this.

It is middle Sunday morning at church, our usual pew back right. The young preacher is named Greg. Not long ago we attended his ordination as a priest. My cheeky wife thinks Greg is almost too good-looking to be a priest. Lots of women in the parish seem to share this view.

The gist of his Sunday sermon is the need to look with fresh eyes upon Matthew’s Beatitudes. But the true strength of his Sunday morning message lies in the suggestion that we all should aspire to become our true selves and Christian mystics: “Don’t be scared by that word mystic. It simply means someone who has gone from an intellectual belief system to actual inner experience.” The journey from head to the heart, Greg says, means we are called to be mysticsto chuck rules-based, belief-system Christianity in favor of something far more intimate and organic as the Earth around us.

To coax the point home, he mentions Franciscan friar Richard Rohr’s observation that religion is largely filled with people who are afraid of Hell, and spirituality is for people who have gone through hell.

And with spring on the Sunday doorstep, Father Greg provides the perfect metaphor directly from renewing nature — the mystery of how a caterpillar becomes a butterfly, how becoming our true selves is not unlike the chrysalis that must crack open in order for the butterfly’s wings to gain strength and allow it to fly.

“And as we struggle,” notes the bright new associate rector, “it breeds compassion within our hearts. Just as the butterfly pressed fluid into its wings, our struggle enables compassion to flow through our bodies, a compassion that allows us to empathize with the suffering of others.”

I’ll admit I am a Sunday man who digs a good sermon. And this was a mighty thoughtful one. Young Greg is off to an excellent start, even if — like Junior — he is a tad too good-looking.

Speaking of digging, after a Chicago-style hotdog, I’m home for full Sunday afternoon working in my new garden, digging in the soil and delving in the soul.

Having pulled down an old pergola and cleaned out a handsome brick planter long overgrown with ivy, I lose complete track of time in the backyard planting Blue Angel hostas and a pair of broadleaf hydrangeas, repairing and raising a much-loved birdfeeder, hanging chimes high in a red oak and transplanting ostrich ferns. If one is closer to God’s heart in a garden, then perhaps I am a backyard mystic with dirty hands.

By Sunday sundown, my knees are aching but the healing is real. Renewed for a week of cabbages and kings, we settle down with the Sunday paper and a bit of Netflix before bed, though I tend to doze off halfway through the program.

Old Rufus goes out; Boo Radley comes in. The dogs follow us to bed. For some reason I seem to sleep so well on Sunday nights.  PS

Contact Editor Jim Dodson at

The Path Home

Finding roots among the brambles

By Jim Dodson

Not long after dawn on New Year’s Day, my wife, Wendy, and I picked our way through a patch of misty briar-choked woods to the base of an Interstate bridge that spans the Haw River in
Alamance County.

One hundred fifty years ago, my father’s great-grandfather operated a gristmill on the banks of the Haw, one of the state’s most important rivers. His name was George Washington Tate. As a kid, I’d seen the remains of the long-abandoned mill sitting at the river’s edge below the railings of the bridge, overgrown with weeds but clearly visible.

Half a century later, I was curious to see if the ruins of the mill might still be there.

George Washington Tate was something of gentrified Jack-of-all-trades — accomplished land surveyor, cabinetmaker, gristmill owner and prominent figure in the affairs of his church and economic development of neighboring Alamance and Orange counties. I grew up hearing that he was the man who officially established the legal boundaries of the state’s central counties following the Civil War. Greensboro’s Tate Street, which borders the campus of UNCG, is reportedly named for him.

Bits of family lore hold that old GWT was a circuit-riding deacon or lay minister who helped establish several Methodist churches across the western Piedmont, another that he forged the original bell in the Hillsborough courthouse.

The tale that has long fascinated me, however — first told to me by a pair of elderly spinster great-aunts named Josie and Ida, who lived into their 90s on Buckhorn Road east of Mebane — was that my father’s grandmother (Tate’s youngest daughter, Emma) was actually an orphaned Cherokee infant Tate “adopted” and brought home from a circuit ride out West, adding to a family that already included three sons and three daughters.

My dad soon confirmed this. As a kid, he’d spent many of his happiest summers as a kid staying with Aunt Emma at her farm off Buckhorn Road near Dodson’s Corners, and often talked about his grandmother’s closeness to the land and keen knowledge of natural medicines made from native plants he had sometimes helped her gather. “To a lot of her friends and neighbors, Aunt Emma was the community’s healer,” he explained to my older brother and me one Christmastime when we went to shoot mistletoe out of the huge red oaks that grew around her abandoned home place. “In those days the only doctor around was over in Hillsborough, 20 miles away.” He added, almost as a wistful afterthought: “She was happiest out in the woods and fields and knew the names of every plant. Local people loved and depended on her.”

Aunt Emma died in 1928, when my father was just 13. Aunt Emma was 70.

“She was an old lady,” he told me many years later, “but her death was shocking — the way she died. For years it was our family’s darkest secret, the thing nobody spoke about. No one saw it coming.”

Aunt Emma reportedly hanged herself from a beam of the house she shared with her husband, Jimmy. Years later, my father’s take on this was that she was challenged living with a foot in two worlds.

A grieving Uncle Jimmy soon gave up his farm and went to live with relatives in Greensboro, abandoning the family property. He lived another 14 years, passing away in 1942, the year my father enlisted in the Army Air Corps and trained to be a glider pilot for D-Day.

Because I heard this part of the story late in life — during a final trip to Scotland with my dad in 1994, when he was dying of cancer — I became more or less obsessed with Aunt Emma’s mysterious death and the colorful stories I’d grown up hearing about her important papa, George Washington Tate.

To some in our family — those who never heard this part of the story — my father’s grandmother is simply a tiny name on perhaps the largest family tree anyone has ever seen. I own a copy of this massive genealogical document, boasting a thousand or more family names branching off the taproot of one Thomas Squires and wife, Elizabeth, English settlers who arrived in the state in the late 1760s.

Most likely, they were part of the massive migration of Europeans along the so-called Great Wagon Road that brought an estimated half a million Scots, Irish, English and German settlers from Pennsylvania to Virginia and the Carolinas about that time. The Great Wagon Road, which began in Philadelphia and roamed out toward Lancaster and Harrisburg before turning south through Maryland and the valley of Virginia, crossing the Carolinas before terminating at the Savannah River in Augusta, Georgia, at 800 miles, was the most heavily traveled road in Colonial America.

Built over ancient Indian hunting routes, it’s the trading road that populated the South and served to open the Western frontier beyond the mountains. Thomas Jefferson’s daddy surveyed and named it. A young George Washington served as a scout along it, and no less than three wars were contested along it — including several key battles during the French and Indian, American Revolutionary and Civil Wars.

Today, if you ever travel Interstate 81 north of Roanoke, you’re traveling the path of the Great Wagon Road. The original road veered southeast from there and crossed into the Yadkin Valley, bringing the Moravians to Old Salem and the Quakers to Guilford County, before moseying along rivers toward Salisbury and the city named in honor of Queen Charlotte. After that, it split into two routes as it crossed South Carolina until meeting again in Georgia.

Last summer, my dad’s first cousin Roger Dodson, a retired missionary and wise family elder who grew up hearing many of the same stories I did about Aunt Emma, provided me with the only known photograph of the family mystery woman and shared his memories of having Uncle Jimmy live with his family for a time after Emma Dodson’s death. Roger also showed me a magnificent corner cabinet made by George Washington Tate, who operated a carpentry shop at his gristmill on the Haw. The cabinet is a one-piece work of art.

George Washington Tate was laid to rest beside his wife, Rachel, in the cemetery behind the Lebanon United Methodist Church in the country above Mebane.

Aunt Emma rests beside her husband, Jimmy, in the smaller burying ground at Chestnut Ridge Methodist Church, not far from Dodson’s Crossroads in Orange County.

Which brings us back to the edge of the historic Haw River on a cold and misty New Year’s morning a month or so ago.

Almost every American’s ancestors hailed from someplace else. But an old road, as the saying in the country goes, always brings someone home.

At a time when polls show many Americans are thinking anxiously about what direction our frontier democracy may go, I’m planning to spend the next year traveling and researching a book on the Great Wagon Road — the road that brought my people, and quite possibly yours, to this part of North Carolina.

It’s a book I’ve been keen to research and write for over a decade and a quest to try to find old George Washington Tate’s lost gristmill seemed like the ideal way to begin such a journey.

Unfortunately, time and progress stand still for no man. And part of me feared that the site where I first laid eyes on the foundation of my ancestor’s mill in the late 1960s — a popular river ford dating from the earliest days of the colony — had most likely been subsumed beneath an interstate highway that has doubled in size since I last visited.

As we stood on the banks of the river, we saw old trees and a handful of boulders in the slowly swirling eddies but, alas, no trace of the mill’s foundation.

I decided to take a couple of photos just the same, as my wife wandered over to a thick patch of brambles and pushed through to a small wooden maintenance bridge that crosses a gully to the base of the bridge.

“Oh, my gosh,” she said moments later, quietly adding, “Come here and look.”

Below the bridge was the old millrace, the sluice that once turned the wooden water wheel, half hidden beneath a curtain of old vines. The race was deep and still running with water, and we knew it belonged to the mill because foundation stones were also visible where time and water had exposed them.

As an expert I’ve been talking to about America’s “lost” roads once said to me, our past lies right before our eyes if we only know what we’re looking at — and where.

For this son of the ancient Haw, Aunt Emma and old George Washington Tate, this moment was like finding the start of a long path home.

We took a picture and went to find a robust country breakfast to celebrate our discovery, the start of a promising new year.  PS

If your family came down the Great Wagon Road, Editor Jim Dodson would be pleased to hear about it. Contact him at

Saving George

An anchor of enchantment in the front yard

By Jim Dodson

His name is George. That’s what we’ve taken to calling him, at any rate. George is old and bent, weathered by age. We think he might be pushing 100 years old.

I’ve known George most of my life. Grew up just two doors from down from where he lived but I never paid him much notice until recently.

That’s because George is an old tree, Crataegus phaenopyrum, we think, based purely by his leaf pattern and bark. His common name is a Washington hawthorn — hence the nickname we’ve bestowed on him.

But here’s where the sweet mystery deepens.

According to my tree identification book, Washington hawthorns are relatively small flowering trees — in some cases, shrubs — that produce early and abundant white flowers in the spring and vivid red berries that last into winter, a bounty for winter birds, especially cedar waxwings. They’re also reportedly poisonous to dogs, which could be a problem, since Ajax, our shameless golden retriever, will eat anything put before him. On the other hand, he’s one lazy brute, unlike his Greek namesake, and not much for climbing trees. So Ajax is probably safe.

We moved into the neighborhood just before Thanksgiving. On our first day in the Corry house, I stopped to admire George. He was magnificently arrayed with gold and crimson leaves, like Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. The neighborhood is famous for its old graceful hardwoods, many of them well over a century old. George is clearly one of the neighborhood patriarchs. That’s why I paused to admire him the afternoon we moved in, suddenly remembering him from my childhood, making a mental note to free him from the tangle of English ivy vines that had grown around him like something from a fairy tale.

In a year of small wonders, it seemed wonderfully providential that we were moving into the Corry house, 100 feet from where I grew up. The Corry boys were my pals growing up. Their parents, Al and Mama Merle, were my parents’ good friends. Big Al was one of Greensboro’s leading builders, and the house he built for his wife and four kids — a gorgeous wooden bungalow with flowing rooms, parquet floors and host of innovative design touches — was one of the first houses built in Starmount Forest after the war.

For more than a year, my wife, Wendy, and I had quietly scouted houses throughout Greensboro. Then one Sunday after I heard the Corry house was for sale, we went for a look. I didn’t let on that the Corry house was always my favorite in the neighborhood. But after she walked through it, on the drive home to the Sandhills, Wendy quietly announced, “I think that’s the house. It just feels like us.”

The Corry kids, all four of them, were thrilled to hear their homeplace was being purchased by a Dodson.

Each quickly got in touch to offer their enthusiastic congratulations. The  Corrys were the most self-sufficient clan I ever knew, natural builders and people full of life. Chris, the oldest boy, actually lived in a tepee with his bride as they built their own dream home west of Greensboro. The Corry boys hunted, fished and could build anything with their hands. They were also crazily musical, playing stringed instruments of every sort. In 1969, son Craig and I made the Greensboro Teenage Talent Show playing guitars and singing Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice.” We called ourselves Alfred and James.

Big Al informed us that Alfred and James needed something “extra” to win. “You boys need a shtick to impress the judges,” he said.

I asked him why we needed a stick on stage.

Big Al laughed. He hailed from Buffalo, New York. “That’s a Yiddish word,” he explained. “It means a comic gimmick, something to make people laugh. First rule of vaudeville — always leave ’em laughing.”

He suggested that we add kazoos to the act. We thought that was the silliest thing we’d ever heard, but Mama Merle bought us a couple anyway.

The director of the show asked us to play a second song while the judges made up their minds. So we did an encore — with guitars and kazoos. The audience gave us a standing ovation. We wound up in third place. I still have the program. TV host Lee Kinard invited Alfred and James to come on his Good Morning Show at Christmas. We worked up a couple of Christmas carols and did the second one with kazoos. The shtick worked wonders.

Craig grew up to marry Marcy Madden, his first girlfriend from just down the block. He became a veterinarian. Britt, his little brother, was a musical prodigy who became a music teacher and recently signed on to direct the music for Horn in the West. Ginger, the oldest and only girl, became a lawyer.

Like his papa, Chris was a jack-of-all-trades, a born builder of almost anything. He now sports a full-grown gray beard and knows his late mama’s house better than anyone alive because he built much of it with his father and took care of the place until Merle passed away a year or so ago. His wife, Fenna, told me in an email that Mama Merle and Big Al would both be so happy that a Dodson kid had come home again to purchase their house. From faraway California, Ginger wrote that she hoped we would have many happy years living there.

Which brings me back to George.

A week after we got settled, we took ladders, handsaws and a hatchet and liberated George from those wretched English ivy vines. The job took two afternoons, but George looked considerably more at ease, maybe even grateful. My nephew came and helped me clean out the area around his base, where I’ll soon plant Spanish bluebells and English daffodils for the spring.

I also planted six young trees, three Japanese maples I’d raised from sprouts and a trio of river birches like the three I planted once in Maine.

They stood in front of the post and beam house I built on a forested hilltop surrounded by birch and hemlock. The beams were rough-sawn Northern fir, with pegged heartwood pine flooring salvaged from a 200-year-old New Hampshire barn. On cold but sunny winter days, whenever the sun streamlining through that house’s large south-facing windows warmed the beams, you could hear gentle sighs and faint cracking sounds as the wood relaxed, expanded, exhaled.

That peaceful sound told me something I guess I’ve always known. That wood — trees — are something more than just fellow living and breathing organisms.

They are enchanted.

Maybe this explains why one of my first memories of life is of sitting on a low limb in a sprawling live oak next to our house by Greenfield Lake, in Wilmington, waiting for my father to come home from the newspaper where he worked. I was forever climbing trees, much to my mother’s chagrin, and sometimes falling out of them. My dad liked to call me Mowgli, the orphaned boy from Kipling’s Jungle Book, one of the first books I ever read on my own.

Come to think of it, the books I loved early on all seemed to have extraordinary trees in them — Greek and Roman mythology, the Tarzan books, almost every fairy tale I ever read contained forests that were either forbidden or simply enchanted, home to magic creatures, wizards, evil queens and noble woodsmen.

And why not? Plato and the ancient Greeks believed souls resided in sacred groves of trees, and the Buddha found enlightenment sitting beneath a fig. The Egyptian Book of the Dead mentions groves of sycamores where the departed find eternal bliss, and the Bible speaks of a Tree of Knowledge that altered paradise. The Irish word “druid” derives simply from a Celtic word for oak, while in India to this day people seeking miracles hang family rags on trees to make shrines to the gods. My Baptist grandmother always insisted that the dogwood tree with its perfect white petals and crimson heart was a symbol for Christ’s resurrection, and showed me the old Appalachian story to prove it.

The Glastonbury thorn, holds English lore, is a hawthorn tree that is said to have sprouted miraculously from the staff of Joseph of Arimathea when he traveled to Britain after Jesus’ crucifixion. The hawthorn blooms at Christmas, and the queen is traditionally brought one of its blooms with her tea on Christmas morning. In broader English lore, wherever hawthorns and oaks reside together, kindly fairies supposedly live as well.

I do hope that much holds true even if, come springtime, the old tree I liberated turns out to be something quite different.

There’s an old saying that an optimist is someone who plants a tree he may never live long enough to sit under.

That’s probably true for the six young trees I planted around George.

But come spring, home at last, I plan to sit under George when those bluebells and daffodils bloom.  PS

Contact editor Jim Dodson at

The Great New Year’s Dirt Clod War

By Jim Dodson

This was the year my dad’s rural relatives, several distant aunts and uncles, a Bible-quoting grandmother and five girl cousins from the country came to our house between Christmas and New Year’s Day. I barely knew them. I was almost 13, my brother Dickie was 15. We were informed by our mom in no uncertain terms that we had to be good hosts and proper young gentlemen for the duration of their visit. She had that look in her eye that said she meant business.

Five girl cousins in one house, if only for a couple days during an otherwise unblemished holiday week, is a serious challenge to the mental stability and character formation of any boy approaching teenagehood.

Dickie at least had a Life Scout project to work on, which took him out of the house most of the week. I wasn’t so lucky. It was 1965. America was still buzzing about the Beatles. I was smitten with George Harrison and taking Wednesday afternoon guitar lessons at Harvey West Music downtown. I tried sticking to my bedroom to play along with “Rubber Soul” but the oldest girl cousin kept coming in without knocking and sitting cross-legged on the floor just to stare at me. It was unnerving. My mother said she “just really likes you, it won’t kill you to be nice to her.” Her name was Cindy. She was about my age — the oldest girl cousin — but she scarcely spoke, just sat and stared at me with her huge round eyes as I fumbled my way through “In My Life.”

The other country girl cousins, meanwhile, occupied my tree house and turned it into a teahouse for their dolls. They played board games and poured imaginary tea. I came home from my Wednesday afternoon guitar lesson and found them there acting like my tree house was Buckingham Palace and they were visiting the Queen. I wondered how I could survive the week.

By Saturday morning I had to get out of the house, so I grabbed my baseball glove and bat and prepared to head for the park to play roll-the-bat with my buddies Bobby, Chris and Brad. I hoped Della Marie Hockaday might be there, too. I’d just given her a genuine imitation sapphire dimestore ring that meant we were kind of an unofficial thing.

My friends and I played roll-the-bat most Saturday mornings, but the country cousins weren’t leaving until later that afternoon.

“Listen,” said my mom, “maybe you should take the girls to the park with you. They’re a little bored. They might like to play baseball with you guys.”

I wondered if my mother had lost her mind from having all those rural uncles and aunts and a Bible-quoting grandmother under the same roof. She clearly wanted them out from underfoot while she prepared the big lunch that would send them all home.

“Come on, sweetie,” she said. “Do this and I’ll make you a chocolate pie and you can stay up and watch ‘Bonanza’ tomorrow night.” Sunday night was a school night and her chocolate pie was the ultimate bribe. We made the deal.

As agreed, I led the girl cousins and their dolls to the park, hoping with every ounce of my being that Della Marie Hockaday wouldn’t be there to witness my complete humiliation.

The park was across the creek from a new housing development where the earth had been churned up into mounds of fresh, angry red clay. Some other kids from another part of the neighborhood were over there messing around one of the new houses. I recognized Randy Fulp. He was the spawn of the devil, the meanest kid at my junior high school, always trying to intimidate younger kids.

The school we attended was a tough school full of scrappy white mill kids and a large number of black kids. This was years before public schools in North Carolina officially desegregated. You learned to survive by keeping your mouth shut and avoiding trouble. Fortunately, I played JV football that year for the Jackson Junior High Trojans and earned enough street cred so that Randy Fulp wouldn’t mess with me. I had a couple of oversized teammates who would happily have pounded him into the red clay of South Greensboro.

Not long after the girl cousins found spots on the hill to watch and my buddies and I began playing roll-the-bat, a large red dirt clod landed at my feet as I was preparing to hit a ball. I kicked it aside and looked across the creek, where Randy Fulp was grinning like a jackass with his friends. He threw another dirt clod that I had to step out of the way to avoid being hit.

There is almost nothing as deadly as a dirt clod made from authentic sticky red clay earth from the upper Piedmont region of North Carolina. It can blind, maim or simply wound for life.

Naturally, I picked up the dirt clod and threw it back at Randy Fulp.

I missed. He laughed.

All hell broke loose.

Suddenly dirt clods were raining down on us and we were throwing them back.

I turned to see the girl cousins and their dolls fleeing the scene of mayhem.

All but one, that is.

Cindy was standing beside me in the creek bed, grinning as she formed hard clay clods with her bare hands. She turned and winged one with stunning accuracy at our attackers. It splattered on the windshield of a bulldozer where they were crouching. They scattered like frightened birds.

Cindy had an unbelievable arm, far more accurate than any of the boys in the fight. Her finest moment came when she caught Randy Fulp with a fireball to his throwing arm and he let out a yelp, turned and led the retreat around the corner of the unfinished house.

By the time we climbed out of the creek, both of us were soaking wet and streaked with red clay mud. Even more amazing, everyone else had vanished, including my friends.

Cindy and I walked home together. I wasn’t surprised to learn that she played softball on her junior high school softball team back home. She was also her class president.

My mom was so put out at me, however, she made me strip down to my orange-red underwear before she would let me back into the house. Cindy’s dress was equally filthy, but she got to go inside and change.

The Great New Year’s Dirt Clod War was the topic of lunch that day and many years thereafter.

Cindy and I sat together and watched the Rose Bowl on TV. I almost hated to see the country girl cousins — one at least — go home.

More than a decade passed before I saw Cindy again. We met at the last family reunion I attended before heading off to college. She was going to N.C. State hoping to become a small animal vet, but not planning to play softball.

She had a boyfriend and was much prettier than I recalled.

At one point she asked me if I remembered the New Year’s Day when we got into a dirt clod fight with some boys across the creek, getting so filthy my mother made me strip off before I could come into the house.

“Yes, I do,” I replied. “That scarred me for life. Worse than any dirt clod.”

She laughed. “It was kind of unfair. I was dirtier than you were. But wasn’t that fun?”

I heard from Cindy a few years ago. She was a new grandmother living in Indiana. She’d read a book I’d written about taking my young daughter and aging golden retriever on a 6,000-mile cross-country fly-fishing and camping trip across America one summer. The book had just been made into a feature film. She asked me to autograph her copy of the book. She said Faithful Travelers was her favorite read.

I happily signed her book and sent it back, thanking her for saving my skin during the Great New Year’s Dirt Clod War.  PS

Contact editor Jim Dodson at

The King of Everyman

By Jim Dodson

November’s arrival never fails to put me in a grateful mood, even before the far-flung clan assembles around a Thanksgiving table worthy of a king.

Speaking of kings, in the spirit of giving thanks for the people who have touched our lives, past and present, here’s a grateful little ditty I wrote in the hours after my boyhood sports hero — and quite possibly yours, given his strong connections to this state — passed away.

Around five o’clock on a Sunday afternoon, Sept. 25, my wife, Wendy, and I were watching a late afternoon football game when I suddenly felt overcome by a chill and went upstairs to lie down for an hour before friends arrived for supper.

I’m rarely sick and assumed this peculiar spell was simply brought on by fatigue from working since four in the morning on a golf book I’ve been writing for almost two years, a personal tale called the Range Bucket List.

The first chapter and the last are about my friend, collaborator and boyhood hero Arnold Palmer.

The prologue explains that he was the first name on what I called my Things to Do in Golf List around 1966 after falling hard for my father’s game and reading somewhere that Arnold Palmer started out in golf by keeping a similar list of things he intended to do. Many decades later, while interviewing him early one morning in his workshop in Latrobe, I confirmed this fact with the King of Golf.

The final chapter details an emotional visit I made to see Arnold at home in Latrobe in late summer, about a month before his 87th birthday. I knew he wasn’t doing particularly well. When I walked into his pretty, rustic house sitting on quiet Legends Drive in the unincorporated Village of Youngstown on the outskirts of Latrobe, I found the King of Golf watching an episode of “Gunsmoke,” the No. 1 American TV show about the time Arnold Palmer ruled the world of golf.

He greeted me warmly without getting up. A walker was standing nearby. His wife Kit brought me a cold drink. He turned down the sound and we had a nice time catching up, almost but not quite like many we’ve enjoyed over the past two decades. Arnold’s once seemingly invincible blacksmith body had finally given out, yet his mind and spirit were strong. He insisted on joining Doc Giffin, his longtime assistant, Kit and me for an early supper that evening across the vale at Latrobe Country Club.

The trip was like a homecoming for me — and something I feared would be a farewell.

For two full years, from early 1997 to late 1999, I had the privilege of serving as Arnold Palmer’s collaborator on his autobiography, A Golfer’s Life. I was deeply honored to have been chosen by Arnold and wife Winnie for the project, and touched that he insisted that my name share the cover and title page of the work. I always called the book his book. He always called the book our book.

Not long after we began working on it — both being unusually early risers who often chatted in his home workshop before official business hours — Winnie was diagnosed with a form of ovarian cancer. Arnie, which is what he insisted I call him though I never could quite make myself do so, withdrew from his busy public life so we could get the book completed and published before time took its toll, narrowing the horizon of what was supposed to be a three year project to just under two.

We brought the book out in time to celebrate Arnold’s 70th birthday in September 1999 and the opening of a beautiful, restored red barn that Winnie had always loved just off the 14th fairway at the same club where Arnold grew up under the firm watch of his demanding papa, Deacon Palmer, whom Arnold simply called “Pap.”

Rather than a conventional autobiography of facts and figures and tournament highlights, my objective with Arnold’s book was to create an unusually warm and intimate reminiscence or memoir that read as if Arnold and his fans were simply sharing a drink after a day of golf, and he was quietly relating the 15 or so key moments of his life, revealing how these moments shaped the most influential golfer in history and arguably America’s greatest sportsman.

Both Winnie’s barn and Arnold’s book were a hit. The book was on the bestseller list for almost half a year. The handsome red barn stands in quiet tribute to them both. Winnie passed away less than two months after that special evening Arnold turned 70.

After lying down and lightly dozing for an hour, I heard our guests arriving and got up to go downstairs. The cold and queasiness had passed and I felt much better —  only to find my wife waiting at the bottom of the steps holding out my mobile phone with a very sad look on her face.

A nice person named Molly from NBC News in New York was on the other end, wanting to know if I could confirm a report that Arnold Palmer had passed away.

We spoke for an hour as my incoming call alert continued to light up from news organizations around the world. By midnight I’d spoken with reporters from all the major networks, several cable news organizations, CNN International, a pair of wire services, the Canadian Broadcasting System and Australia’s leading sports call-in show — all of it testament to the drawing power of Arnold Daniel Palmer.

The conversations about his incomparable life and times and seismic impact on popular culture and the world of sports went well into the early morning hours.

Was the chill and queasiness a coincidence, or something more sympathetic in nature?

That’s impossible to say. This much is certainly true: As Winnie commented early in our collaboration, Arnold and I enjoyed unusually strong chemistry and an uncommon connection that is instinctively felt and shared by his millions of adoring fans — and was still apparent in late summer when I visited with him at home.

The morning after our dinner at the club, I also visited with Doc Giffin and Arnold’s amazing staff at Arnold Palmer Enterprises and even saw his younger brother Jerry when he popped in to say hello.

Finally the boss showed up for work around 10 o’clock, trailed by a couple of cheerful young therapists from the local hospital who were planning to do a stretching and exercise session at the Palmers’ home gym aimed at restoring Arnold’s ability to swing a golf club again.

As he signed books and the usual stack of photos and personal artifacts from fans that are always waiting for his immaculate signature every morning of his life, we chatted about various family matters and other things large and small. With Doc and his therapists we even watched a recently colorized CD release of the historic 1960 Masters, where Arnold closed from two shots back to claim his second green jacket, setting off a national frenzy in the process.

At one point as we watched him teeing off on the 72nd hole of the tournament, needing a clutch birdie to secure the win, Arnold declared excitedly — “There, girls! There’s my golf swing!”

The therapy girls were standing directly behind the King of Golf. They were beaming, part of a new generation that never had the pleasure of experiencing the game’s most compelling star in his prime.

Arnold’s eyes were alive with pure joy. There were tears pooling in them.

And even bigger tears pooling in mine.

Doc Giffin, a legend in his own right, just smiled from a few feet away.

A little while later, I did something I’d meant to do for many years.

I handed him my first hardbound copy of A Golfer’s Life and asked him to autograph it.

He accepted the book but gave me what I fondly call The Look — a cross between the scowl of a disapproving schoolmaster and a slightly constipated eagle, one way he loves to needle his friends.

I watched as he took his own sweet time writing something on the title page.

He handed me back the book and said, “Don’t open this until you’re safely home.”

Facing a 9-hour drive home to North Carolina, I somehow managed to wait until I reached my driveway just as the summer day was expiring, at which point I opened the book. He could have written it to 100 million people around the world, all of whom share the same kind of connection with the King of Everyman.

“Dear Jim,” he simply wrote. “Thanks for all your wonderful works. You are the greatest friend I could have — Arnold”

That’s when my waterworks really let loose.

Over the days and week to come, we’ll all be reminded of Arnold Palmer’s extraordinary impact on golf and American life in general, and the mammoth-hearted legacy he leaves behind, especially here in Pinehurst, where his father brought him as a teen to experience the “higher game,” Wilmington, where he won his seventh PGA Tournament, and Greensboro, where he had so many friends but always came up just short of winning the Greater Greensboro Open.   

Still, Arnold’s 62 PGA Tour wins, 90 tournament victories worldwide and seven major championships only partially defined the life of a man from the rural heartland of western Pennsylvania who almost single-handedly pioneered the concept of modern sports marketing, created a business model that turned into an empire stretching from golf tees to sweet tea, and grew to be golf’s most visible and charismatic force, its greatest philanthropist and most beloved ambassador.

During his half-century reign, and largely because of him, in my view and that of many fellow historians, golf enjoyed the largest and longest sustained period of growth in history, a remarkable period that included the formal creation of no less than six professional tours, witnessed television’s incomparable impact, saw the rebirth of the Ryder Cup and revival of European golf, the rise of international stars, and nothing less than a scientific revolution in the realms of instruction, equipment technology and golf course design — all of which Arnold played some kind of role.

How much of this cultural Renaissance was due to this kind, genuine, fun-loving and passionately competitive family man who grew up showing off for the ladies of Latrobe Country Club and earning nickels from them by knocking their tee shots safely over a creek on his papa’s golf course?

Impossible to fully quantify, I suppose. Though I would be inclined to say just about everything.

Golf is the most personal game of all, a solitary walk through the beautiful vagaries of nature. And Arnold Palmer was the most personal superstar in the history of any sport, a true blue son of small town America, the kid next door who grew up to become a living legend, a homegrown monarch for the Everyman in each of us, a King with a common touch.

His charm and hearty laugh and extraordinary undying love of the ancient game he was meant by Providence to elevate like nobody before him will surely live on as long as people young and old tee up the ball and give chase to the game.

His beautiful memorial service at Saint Vincent’s Basilica in Latrobe on Oct. 2 brought out the golf world in force along with hundreds of ordinary folks — the foot soldiers of Arnie’s fabled Army — who in some cases drove all night just to stand and pay homage to their hero on a gorgeous Indian summer afternoon, holding signs that read “Long Live the King of Golf” and “Thank You, Arnie!”

Outside, immediately following the service, as a Scottish bagpiper played “Amazing Grace,” Arnold’s longtime co-pilot Pete Luster made a pair of low passes over the spires of the Basilica in Arnold’s beloved Citation 10 with its signature N1AP registration number, turning sharply toward heaven and flying almost straight up until the airplane was a mere glint in the blue autumn sky.

The woman standing beside me in the silent crowd actually took my arm to steady herself and burst out crying. I hugged her and she kissed me on the cheek like we were old friends saying goodbye.

I’d never seen her in my life but we were friends, as everyone is in Arnie’s Army.  PS

Contact editor Jim Dodson at

Dark Clowns

By Jim Dodson

I was deep in the country at twilight, heading home with the radio on when I heard about the dark clowns. The BBC presenter sounded skeptical, even amused by reports out of Greenville, South Carolina, where people dressed as clowns were reportedly trying to lure children into the woods with candy and money.

“So . . . is this just a hoax or something people there are really concerned about?” the host asked a local reporter covering the story, his tongue half in cheek.

“I can’t say it’s a hoax,” she replied, “because the police are taking this very seriously. They have warned parents and doubled patrols. This really has a lot of people freaked out.”

So-called “after-dark clowns” have been spooking America quite a bit lately, it turns out, most recently in Winston-Salem and Green Bay, Wisconsin, where a photograph of a dark clown roaming early morning streets carrying black balloons set the Internet on fire. Two Octobers ago residents of Bakersfield, California, were spooked by photographs of “evil after-dark clowns” roaming their streets after hours, showing up under lampposts and frequenting kiddie rides. Since then, reports of dark clowns have cropped up in a dozen other places around the country.

“The police don’t know whether the stories are coming from the imaginations of children or something sinister is afoot, but panicked residents seem to be taking the law into their own hands,” The New York Times noted about this latest outbreak of clowns in South Carolina, adding that shots had been fired into wooded areas where the sightings occurred.

Whatever else may be true, clowns occupy a peculiar space in American popular culture, somewhere between what’s perfectly innocent and downright terrifying. My September issue of Smithsonian notes that clowns have been with us since man’s earliest days in the guise of everything from mythologized tricksters to painted medicine men. Pygmy clowns entertained bored Egyptian pharaohs, and medieval court jesters were entitled to thumb their oversized noses at the king without fear of losing their heads. Ancient Rome had professional clowns whose job it was to pacify unruly crowds at festivals, peacekeepers who kept an eye out for troublemakers. “Well into the 18th and 19th century,” writes Smithsonian’s Linda Rodriguez McRobbie, “the prevailing clown figure of Western Europe and Britain was the pantomime clown, who was sort of a bumbling buffoon.”

Once, standing in a crowd of camera-wielding tourists next to my young daughter on the main drag in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, awaiting a parade of local rodeo riders, I spotted a mime working the crowd and approaching us. My daughter was delighted. But I wasn’t.

Mimes have always made me uncomfortable, a modest phobia I trace to a powerful moment in my early childhood in Mississippi, where my father briefly owned a small newspaper. One evening in the late fall he took my brother and me to a political rally in a cornfield just outside town where a group of strange people showed up wearing white robes and hoods and stood around a bonfire. We didn’t stay long, just long enough for our father to get a quote or two from the mayor and the hooded figures and to frighten the bug juice out of his sons. We asked our dad why those men wore hoods. “Because people who wear masks are weak people often up to no good,” he replied. Our mother gave him holy hell when she found out where he’d taken us just to harvest a quote.

Forty years later, picking up on my post-Klan jitters, the mime paused right in front of us and attempted to make me smile. He made a huge happy face followed by a tragic sad one, rubbing away imaginary tears when I wouldn’t yield. The crowd ate it up.

“Thanks,” I said through gritted teeth. “Feel free to move along now.”

Clowns were everywhere in the America where I grew up. Most were fun-loving and perfectly innocent in those faraway days — Clarabell the Clown on Howdy Doody and Bozo the Clown with his internationally syndicated show — which according to Smithsonian had a 10-year waiting list for tickets.

There was even a clown I liked on my favorite weeknight TV show, Red Skelton’s alter ego Clem Kadiddlehopper, a bumbling painted-up fool who was tolerable only because he often broke up halfway through his skits. In my bedroom I even had a harlequin desk lamp. I attended Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus about that time, exactly once, on the other hand, feeling bad for the animals and truly bothered by the clowns. Only the acrobats appealed to me.

“So the question is,” Smithsonian’s McRobbie wonders, “when did the clown, supposedly a jolly figure of innocuous, kid-friendly entertainment, become so weighed down by fear and sadness? When did clowns become so dark?”

The truest answer is, long ago and far away.

Classical operas and Shakespearean dramas, after all, have long used clown figures as sinister messengers of mystery and intrigue. But in the modern American context it may well have been an evil clown named Pogo who established the motif of the dark clown around town.

His real name was John Wayne Gacy Jr., a friendly chap who entertained children in the Chicago suburbs for years during the middle 1970s before he was arrested, tried and convicted of killing 33 young men. “You know,” he reportedly told investigators, “a clown can get away with murder.” Before Gacy faced execution in 1994, America’s Crown Prince of Killer Clowns spent his time in his cell painting pictures of clowns and self-portraits of himself as Pogo the clown.

After seven years of writing about dark things for my magazine in Atlanta, I officially swore off watching horror films after writing a piece for Boston magazine about a reclusive teen in western Massachusetts whose mother allowed her son to gorge himself on the Friday the 13th films only to have her troubled son don a hockey mask one Halloween night and slash several kids before hanging himself in the woods. The psychologist who’d been treating him for years told me “his identification with Jason seemed pretty harmless.”

A toxic flood of even more ghastly films continues to flow into your local Cineplex, feeding our insatiable desire to terrify ourselves. Heath Ledger’s brilliant if disquieting Joker in the 2008 Batman remake The Dark Knight seemed almost too real and sadly prefigured the gifted actor’s own demons rising to the surface when he shortly died of an accidental drug and alcohol overdose.

I sometimes wonder if we aren’t simply hardwired to value a good harmless scare in a world that appears damaged beyond repair and full of very real dangers, providing new purpose to whatever bogeyman has always lurked beneath the bed. In another age, after all, fairy tales and fables of trolls loitering beneath bridges and witches in the woods were meant to instruct children on the dangers of straying too far beyond the light or down a road of ruin, real or imagined. “Always keep a-hold of Nurse,” goes a famous ditty by a French writer, Hilaire Belloc, “for fear of finding something worse.”

Once upon a time, Madge the beautician and Speedy Alka-Seltzer were icons of commercial television spots. They’ve given way to pharmaceutical companies peddling expensive drugs for maladies whose side effects may kill you, security firms eager to surveil your home against intruders who are just waiting to pounce, identity theft, and internet investment firms that torched your 401-K plan a few years back while reminding you that you haven’t put aside nearly enough for a “happy” retirement.

Perhaps this explains why Americans can’t seem to get enough of Halloween’s faux gore and fright wigs, projected to shell out a record $7 billion or $75 per ghoul among those celebrating the holiday this year — rivaling Christmas retail.

It’s all part of the funhouse ride that thankfully isn’t real, and every town larger than the hips on a snake seems eager to cash in on the phenomenon with its own haunted corn maze or woods of terror peopled by chain saw–wielding psychos and evil clowns, bless their dark little hearts.

In a broader context, all our lives are challenged by Dark Clowns of one kind or another and things that go bump in the night — a sick child, a worrying diagnosis, a lost job. The worry list is endless.

Maybe the way to fight back is to simply make light of such darkness the way John Candy did in the 1989 John Hughes’ classic Uncle Buck. In one of my favorite scenes in the movie, a drunken clown shows up to entertain at a children’s birthday party where Uncle Buck Russell, good-natured loser — played to perfection by the late great Candy — is babysitting his nephew and two nieces. Upon discovering that the clown is drunk from an all-night bachelorette party, Uncle Buck suggests the clown’s behavior is inappropriate for children. Offended, the clown snarls, “In the field of local live home entertainment, I’m a god.” At which Uncle Buck points to the clown’s rodent-eared VW and firmly says, “Get in your mouse and get out of here,” and proceeds to flattens the clown’s big fat rubber nose to drive home the point.

According to Smithsonian, only 2 percent of grown-ups suffer from excessive fear of clowns, technically a phobia called coulrophobia.

But don’t try telling that to the anxious parents of Green Bay, Bakersfield and Greenville anytime soon.

Truthfully, I’m more worried about some of the dark clowns we’ll have to decide between in the voting booth a few days after Halloween. Bottom line, if a dark clown is foolish enough to show up at my door on Halloween night, don’t be surprised if I give him a shot of John Candy to remember me by.  PS

Contact editor Jim Dodson at

Walkin’ Man

By Jim Dodson

After two years of being sidelined from a severe injury, I recently underwent knee surgery and began walking to work in the mornings again and with our dogs in the evenings.

Frankly I’d forgotten how good it feels — how walking through a busy world at a neighborly pace provides useful time to think and helps one notice important small things right in front of your nose. 

“I tell people that I walk for sanity, not vanity,” says my friend Dennis Quaintance, the Greensboro hotelier who has been a dedicated daily walker in historic Green Hill Cemetery for years. “A walk helps me make sense of the world.”

The health benefits of a daily walk are also amply documented, and I’ve even managed to drop a dozen pounds since I resumed my regular walks three or four weeks ago. Soon I hope to be up to walking a complete golf course again, just in time for my wife and me to slip away to Scotland later this month.

In some ways my involuntary removal from golf prompted a true awakening. I probably took the ability to walk for granted and am both relieved and resolved to be back cruising the world on two feet.

Ditto my new friend and fellow golfer Kevin Reinert.

We met last Father’s Day at a family golf event I host annually for the Pinehurst Resort, a gathering of like-minded souls created around a surprise best-selling book of mine called Final Rounds, a story about taking my father back to England and Scotland, where he learned to play golf during the Second World War.

On the first night of the event I typically welcome 125 or so folks from around the country and give a little talk aimed at setting a lighthearted tone for golf and fellowship.

After this year’s opening dinner, a fit-looking fellow about my age came up to say hello with his wife, Jean.

“This is my first year here,” explained Reinert, offering me his hand.  “I just want to say thank you for saving my life.”

I smiled, waiting for the punch line.

But there wasn’t one.

“No, seriously,” he said, “your book on Ben Hogan inspired me to get up and teach myself to walk again.”

And with that, he told me an absolutely extraordinary story of courage and one man’s resolve to put his shattered world — and legs — back together.

It was a beautiful evening a year ago this October when Kevin Reinert put his golf bag on a trolley at Greensboro’s Starmount Forest Country Club, hoping to get in a quick 18 before meeting Jean at a special fundraiser at the club. “It had been raining for days,” he remembers, “but the weather had suddenly cleared. It was a beautiful evening.”

Reinert, 62, is a retired Air Force colonel who spent almost 30 years working in recruiting and public affairs for the Air Force and Air Force Reserve. He was the administrator responsible for overseeing public affairs for 35 different Reserve units around the United States and the men who helped transform the Reserve’s recruiting profile.

Eleven years ago, Kevin and Jean, who met and married while both were captains on active duty in 1985, relocated from Georgia to Greensboro, where Kevin went to work for The Brooks Group, a leading sales management consulting firm. Before being deployed to Ramstein Air Base in Germany, Jean Reinert taught nursing at UNCG and returned from active duty to become nursing administrator for Cone Health.

“Greensboro was a place we fell for in an instant,” Reinert explained. “It has everything, great restaurants, theaters, wonderful people and a location that was perfect for us — the mountains in one direction, the coast in another. Our kids were grown and doing their thing, and North Carolina really felt like home.”

But all of that changed in an instant as Reinert pushed his golf trolley toward Starmount’s beautiful finishing tee.

“There was a group ahead of me, just out in the fairway, when my phone went off alerting me to incoming messages. I looked down, thinking it might be Jean, as I walked toward the tee. That’s when I heard this ferocious sound. I looked up but I didn’t quite register what I was seeing.”

What he saw was a Kia Rio with smashed side mirrors barreling directly toward him over the course’s cart path.

“I had just enough time to try and jump out of its way. So I jumped, hoping — I don’t know — that maybe I’d land on the hood and roll over the top like you see guys do in the movies. I didn’t get high enough,” he notes with a laugh.

The car struck him at the knees and knocked him over the hood and roof before barreling on. Reinert was tossed 30 feet from the site of impact, landing on the tee. The car was estimated to have been traveling anywhere from 35 to 45 mph, driven by a man who was on a violent robbery and mugging spree, trying to outrun the police. He managed to get one hole farther before the car went out of control and wound up in one of Starmount’s meandering creeks. The driver set off on foot, commandeered another car and was later apprehended.

“My first thought, as I lay there, was a kind of stunned disbelief. I saw that one leg was lying at a 90 degree angle from my body, and when I tried to lift myself up, my arm wouldn’t function.”

Workmen from a nearby residence hurried over, calling 911. The group ahead also rushed back. Reinert asked one of the golfers, a fellow member named Mike Corbett, to find his phone and call his wife. “Jean was over at UNCG and thought I said I’d been hit by a golf cart. She hurried over and actually got there before the ambulance did.”

Owing to heavy rains, the EMS unit couldn’t reach the spot on the course where Reinert lay, but head professional Bill Hall hurried out with a flatbed cart just as a fire unit arrived with a rescue board.

“They got me on the board and Bill drove me back to the parking lot, where the ambulance was waiting. It was a bumpy ride and he kept apologizing. I was probably close to being in shock but joked to him that he’d better not charge me for a cart because I’d walked the course. He thought that was funny. I also told him that if I’d parred the hole, I probably would have shot 87. He couldn’t believe I was conscious and making jokes. But I knew I was in pretty bad shape.”

Both Reinert’s knees were crushed. He’d suffered a shattered femur, a broken tibia, a broken right ankle and a fractured right humerus bone, the upper bone of the arm. “There was a deep cut on my face but, amazingly, no head injuries,” he said. “I was conscious the whole way, already wondering if I would be able to walk again.”

The next morning he underwent six hours of surgery. This was followed by four more surgeries over the ensuing weeks. “The doctors couldn’t give me a clear prognosis or even tell me if I would ever be able to walk or referee or even play golf again.” Besides golf, one of Kevin Reinert’s other pleasures was a budding avocation as a college-level lacrosse official.

After 18 days in the hospital, he was sent home.

He began therapy three days a week that continues to this day.

“The hardest part was just not knowing what was ahead. I sat and tried to watch TV, but the news was so discouraging I decided to turn it off and read books instead.”

An old pal from Long Island who taught him to play golf during their college years together at Adelphi University sent him a box of books, one of which was Ben Hogan: An American Life, my biography of professional golf’s most elusive superstar.

At the height of his success, while returning home from a golf tournament in Arizona, Hogan and his wife, Valerie, were struck head-on by a Greyhound bus that shattered Hogan’s legs and nearly killed the star golfer. His obituary, in fact, went out over the Associated Press wires before it was learned that he was actually hanging on in a rural Texas hospital. Doctors advised Hogan he would likely never walk again, much less play championship golf.

“Frankly I was really down before those books arrived, worried that I might not even be able to walk and play golf,” Reinert admits. “There were real similarities in our stories. I was so moved by his determination to somehow get back to the game — to simply walking — I vowed to myself that I would do the same.”

In 1950, at Merion Golf Club outside Philadelphia, Ben Hogan did indeed come back, capturing the U.S Open on a pair of legs that had little circulation — widely regarded as one of the most heroic comebacks in sports history.

Kevin Reinert made his own big comeback, too. One evening last May, family and 60 or so friends turned out to watch him finish playing Starmount’s 18th hole. “I was blown away so many folk came out to watch,” he said. “Everyone had been so encouraging. I’d made so many new good friends. The support I got from complete strangers was incredible. I simply wouldn’t have made it without them — especially my wife and children. My daughter LeeAnne, who is also a nurse, really pushed me at times.”

Son Phillip, an Air Force flight engineer working at the Boeing factory in Seattle, was also present to play that final hole with his father. He’d flown home the day after the accident on air miles donated by Mike Corbett.

Reinert was wearing a cap given to him by a friend that cleverly read: I Was Run Over By A Car On The Golf Course. What’s Your Excuse?

Another gifted cap read Starmount 18: The Toughest Hole in Golf.

“It was very emotional for us all,” he says. “Made even more amazing by what happened before we teed off.”

On the facing hill, a Scottish bagpiper strolled out in full ceremonial regalia and began playing “Amazing Grace.” Another new friend offered to be Reinert’s caddie.

“Somehow I made bogey on the hole, which allowing for my handicap let me write a par on the card,” he explained to me as we played Pinehurst No. 4 on the first day of the Father’s Day golf fest.

It was his first full round of golf since the accident and he did very well indeed, shooting in the low 90s with both legs wrapped in athletic supports, just like Hogan.

The next day, he even walked mighty Pinehurst No. 2 with a caddie.

“This was one of the greatest weekends of my life,” he told me later. “It feels good to be back.”  PS

Contact editor Jim Dodson at

Gone Fishin’

By Jim Dodson

As you read this, I’m sitting by a trout stream in an undisclosed location somewhere deep in the North Carolina mountains. If I was wrapped in hickory smoked bacon, Lassie probably couldn’t find me.

But fear not, friends, I’ve left behind a few well-chosen words from my dear old friend Ogden Nash, who always has something timely to say.

To Donald on his way to Cleveland:

Love is a word that is constantly heard,

Hate is a word that’s not.

Love, I’m told, is more precious than gold,

Love, I have read, is hot.

But hate is the verb that to me is superb,

And love is a drug on the mart.

Any kiddie in school can love like a fool,

But hating, my boy, is an art.


The danger of a hole in the porch screen:

God in his wisdom made the fly

And then forgot to tell us why.


An ode to poison ivy:

One bliss for which there is no match,

Is, when you itch,

To up and scratch.


Song of the Interstate:

I think I shall never see

A billboard lovely as a tree.

Indeed, unless the billboards fall

I’ll never see a tree at all.


Wish you weren’t here:

Some hate broccoli, some hate bacon,

Some hate having their picture taken.

How can your family claim to love you

And then demand a picture of you?


To the family at the start of the week:

How pleasant to sit on the beach

On the beach, on the sand, in the sun

With ocean galore within reach,

And nothing at all to be done!

No letters to answer,

No bills to be burned,

No work to be shirked,

No cash to be earned.

It is pleasant to sit on the beach,

With nothing at all to be done.


To the same family at the end of the week:

One would be in less danger

From the wiles of the stranger

If one’s own kin and kith

Were more fun to be with.


And finally, a few original Ogden-inspired lines jotted down by a
pristine stream where the trout are laughing at my hand-made flies:

A gal at the beach paints her toes,

To catch the attention of beaus;

But a guy at the beach will just scratch his feet,

And wonder if anything good’s left to eat.


Gardener’s lament:

To a gardener  in the heat of late summer,

Oh, my, what a seasonal bummer,

With hydrangeas so wilted, you feel almost jilted,

It’s a wonder you bother to rose.


Politics as use-you-all:

I suppose I’m the Average American,

Tho I can’t say  just how the hellican,

Vote for these two, either one of which who

Make me wish I was just a mere skeleton.


A brief escape:

So here I sit by a stream,

Dreaming the American dream,

I might not come home, just pick up and roam,

At least till I find some ice cream.  PS

Contact editor Jim Dodson at