(Mid-City Errands is a novel set in 1959 New Orleans, about Vonny Foster, a precocious 7-year-old trying to find out who ran over his friend Jimmy Broom. That incident, along with his upcoming First Communion, prompts Vonny to ask some big questions, such as in this scene, when Vonny is caddying a golf game with some of his many uncles.)
One other time I went to City Park with my Uncle Martin because he had a golf match. Which is when there are two golfers and they play to see who’s better. Like a boxing match, except no punches. Anyways, the other man hit his ball into the same trees where my Uncle Gauthier was hitting his ball all day. And just like Saturday, guess who got to go and look for that ball? It was my first time being a golf caddy for my Uncle Martin and I knew some of the etiket rules. But I didn’t know about the rule that you’re not suppose to pick up anybody’s golf ball. So, when I found the other man’s golf ball and picked it up and said, “Here it is,” instead of everybody saying, “Hey, thanks a lot!” my Uncle Martin and the other man just stared at me, then at each other, then at me again, and then at each other again. For about a minute. Back and forth.
“You lose the hole,” the other man finally said to my Uncle Martin. “Your caddy touched your opponent’s golf ball. In fact, he’s holding my golf ball.” I dropped the ball right then and there. I thought my Uncle Martin was going to be upset. But he wasn’t. He just explained I wasn’t suppose to touch any of the golf balls when I find them. Just let everybody know where they are. Which I did. All that afternoon. And my Uncle Martin won anyways and after only fifteen holes too.
So, when I was looking for my Uncle Gauthier’s golf ball under the trees, I knew better than to pick it up and I just called out to everybody where it was. This went on all morning. Then after the ninth hole, my Uncle Stephen, my parain, said, “Fifty-two for Black, forty-five Charlie, forty-three Black, and forty-two for me,” and he pointed at my Uncle Gauthier the first time he said black and at my Uncle Martin the second time he said black.
“I thought I had a forty-two,” my Uncle Martin said.
“Nope,” my parain said back, “I got you down here with five, five, six, three, four, five, six, four, four. Forty-three.”
My Uncle Martin asked to see the scorecard. “Uncle Martin,” I said. I tapped his arm. Which is skinny and dark like mine. Not with a lot of muscles like Daddy.
“Just a minute, Vonny,” he said back, “I want to look at this scorecard.” Which he did. And then he said, “Bogey, par, double bogey, birdie, bogey, bogey, bogey, par, bogey.” Whatever that means. “That’s what I had.”
“But that makes forty-two,” I said to my parain. All of my uncles stared at me when I said that. So, I said, “Two sixes and a three make fifteen, three fives make fifteen, which is thirty, and then three fours make twelve, which makes forty-two total.” Then they all stared at me even harder.
“Where did he come from?” my Uncle Gauthier said after a while. “I mean, boy, where did you come from?” he said again. His eyes were twinkly.
“Give me that card, Black,” my parain said to my Uncle Martin. Which he did. Then he counted up the numbers again and said, “That little rat is right!” My uncles all laughed.
“How did you come up with that, Vonny?” my Uncle Charles said.
I just moved my shoulders up and down and then said back, “I don’t know.” Which I don’t. It’s like when I think something. I just think it. It’s the same way with numbers. I just add them up when I hear them. I can’t help it. Except I don’t ever have to put adding up numbers on my confession list.
Then my Uncle Martin rubbed my head and said, “You’re a great caddy, Vonny. Keeping my score in your head.”
“And Parain has a forty-three,” I said again. “Not forty-two like he said.”
“You little rat!” my parain yelled, and he came up to me and started to tickle my ribs. I couldn’t get away. “How do you figure I had a forty-three?” And then, while I was laughing because he was tickling me, I told him how I figured it out, calling out his score on each hole and then multiplying the number of fours and the fives and then adding them and then adding the threes and the sixes to them for the total. Which was forty-three.
“He’s right again!” my Uncle Martin said. Because he was looking at the scores again and checking the numbers.
“What did I have?” my Uncle Charles said.
“Same as Parain already said,” I said back. “Forty-five.” And I called out his scores too. And how I added them. And then I did the same for Uncle Gauthier. Whose score was fifty-two, like my parain said to begin with. Everything was in my head. Every single shot.
“How much are you paying this boy?” my parain said to my Uncle Martin.
“To tell the truth,” my Uncle Martin said back, “I wasn’t planning to pay him anything. Except for the two doughnuts he ate this morning. But I guess I’ll have to pay him at least a quarter now that’s he caught you trying to cheat us.”
All of my uncles laughed. My Uncle Gauthier said, “Where did Irene find this kid?” Who is my Mother.
Then my Uncle Charles walked over to me and put his hand on my shoulder. “Next time we’re in town, Vonny, you’re going to be my caddy. I’ll pay you fifty cents.”
All of my uncles laughed again. “Well, gentlemen,” my parain said back. “We have nine more holes of work to do.” He tossed the scorecard into the trash can on the next hole. “We won’t need this though. Vonny here is going to keep all of our scores in his head.” Which I did.
Some of the golf holes were very long and others were not so long. While we were walking, my Uncle Martin explained to me that some were par threes and others were par fours and still others were par fives. Which means that you want to get the ball in the hole after that many number of hits. So, for a par three, you get three hits. Par four, four hits. Like that. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a long hit or a short hit. They all count the same. Even little ones. It’s the same in my back yard. If I hit my little plastic ball all the way to the back of the fence, that counts as one. If I just hit it a few inches to get it in the little cup I used, that counts as one too. It’s not like baseball where it’s better if you hit it far. But that made me wonder. So, I said to my Uncle Martin, “What’s a perfect score in golf?”
“What do you mean by perfect?” my Uncle Martin said back. “For me, eighty is pretty good.”
“No!” I said back. “Not a good score. I mean perfect. Like in bowling. If you get all strikes, it’s three hundred.” I saw that on a TV program one time. “And in baseball, if a pitcher gets all three batters out in all nine innings, that’s a perfect game. Like that guy did in the World Series. Twenty-seven outs in a row. So, what’s a perfect score in golf?”
Just then we got to my Uncle Martin’s ball. Which was right in the middle of a pile of sand that was near the green. Which is what he called the place where the hole was with a little red flag on a pole in the middle of it. I never had flags on my golf course in our back yard. This hole was one of the shorter ones. A three par. “Oh, boy,” my Uncle Martin said when he saw his ball. “A fried egg.” Which I knew then he wasn’t going to tell me yet what’s a perfect score in golf.
“A what?” I said back.
“See how the ball is settled right down in the middle of that ring of sand?” my Uncle Martin said back. “It looks like a fried egg.” It didn’t to me. But I eat scrambled eggs anyways. Egg juice gives me an upset stomach. “Well, Caddy,” he said. “Let me have that sand wedge.” Which almost sounds like sandwhich to me. So I smile whenever my Uncle Martin says it.
“Here’s your sandwhich,” I said back while I was handing him the club. I can tell the sand wedge from the other clubs because it is the fattest one that is made of metal. Uncle Martin didn’t laugh at my joke. He just smiled at me. He knew I know the difference.
When my parain is playing golf, my Uncle Stephen, he talks almost the whole time. He hardly ever stops talking except when other people are hitting or getting ready to hit. But when he’s hitting, my parain is talking to everyone around him like he wasn’t even doing anything. If he’s telling a story when he gets to his golf ball, he just keeps telling the story while he stands by it and hits it. He doesn’t even stop while he’s hitting it. Same if he’s telling a joke. He just keeps telling the joke while he’s hitting the ball and sometimes is laughing right when he is hitting. But my Uncle Martin is very quiet. And he wants me to be very quiet too. And he also wants me to stand in a particular place. Which is behind him. But not too close behind him where I could get clobbered by the club when he hits. But not too far away that he can’t turn around and just hand me the club without walking too far. This is part of golf etiket, is what Uncle Martin says.
So, after I handed him the sand wedge, Uncle Martin walked into the little pile of sand and was very quiet. And then he stood over the ball for a little bit. He looked at the fried egg, he looked at the red flag, then the egg again, then the flag again, the egg again, the flag again, and then finally the egg one last time. And then he raised up the club and dropped it down just behind the egg. Which was the golf ball. Which made sand blow up in the air and back at him and back at me too. I closed my eyes and never saw the ball or my Uncle Martin either. But then after a while, I heard my parain shout out in his very loud voice, “Great shot, Black!” I could hear my other uncles clapping.
Just when I got my eyes open again, my Uncle Martin was stepping out of the sand and handing me the club. We were both brushing sand off of us. “Now, Vonny,” he said as I took the sand wedge from him, “that is as close to perfect as you get in golf.” Which I didn’t understand what he meant. “Now, do me a favor, would you? Please run and get that ball out of the hole.” Which I did. Out of the hole? My Uncle Martin got a two! I hardly ever get twos, even on my little golf course in our back yard.
After my parain and my other uncles finished that hole and everybody made their first hit on the next one, my Uncle Martin first because he had the best score on the hole before, which is also part of etiket, I said to him, “So, would a two on every hole be perfect score in golf?” The next hole was a long one, so we had a lot of time to talk. My other uncles were walking in front of us, the three of them pushing their carts on the green grass with the blue sky in front of them and us just a little behind.
My Uncle Martin laughed. “Well, I guess one way to look at it, Vonny, would be to say that, in golf, par is a perfect score,” he said back.
That didn’t make sense though. Right away, it didn’t make sense to me. I didn’t want to contradict my Uncle Martin. But I couldn’t help myself. “You just had better than par on the last hole,” I said back. “You had two hits on a three par. One less than par. So, par can’t be perfect. If it was, then you made one better than perfect. And you can’t do better than perfect. That’s what perfect means.”
“Who says you can’t do better than perfect?” my Uncle Martin said back.
“But that’s what perfect means!” I said back. “It means the best. You can’t be better than the best.”
“But I can be better than my best,” my Uncle Martin said back. “Better than your best is something, isn’t it? To have your best score? What’s your best score on your two holes in your back yard?” Which my Uncle Martin knows about.
“Five,” I said back.
“Never scored a four?” he said back. I shook my head. “Well, what if you scored a three one day? Just three shots for your two holes. Wouldn’t that be perfect enough for you?”
“Perfect enough?” I said back. “That doesn’t make sense! Perfect would be just two shots. Just one shot on each hole. Straight into the cup. Both holes!”
“One shot a hole?” My Uncle Martin whistled and his eyes looked up into the blue sky. He pushed his hat back on his head and then straightened it back where it was. “Is that what I need to be perfect? You’re tough, Vonny. You’re saying a guy has to shoot a score of eighteen to have a perfect round of golf?”
I just lifted my shoulders. “Eighteen is the least hits you have to make, right?” I said back.
“But that’s impossible, Vonny,” Uncle Martin said back.
“Don’t you try to get the lowest score in golf?” I said back.
“But it’s impossible even to just take two shots for every hole. Or just three. Nobody ever does that.”
“Just because nobody ever does it doesn’t mean it’s not perfect,” I said back. “Before anyone pitched to just twenty-seven batters in a baseball game, that was still a perfect game.”
“Only if none of them reached base,” my Uncle Martin said.
“Okay,” I said back. He was right about that. “But before anyone bowled twelve strikes in a row, that was still the perfect score, wasn’t it?”
“How many of these examples do you have?” Uncle Martin said back. We reached my other uncles who were all standing near his ball. He got to hit first again because he didn’t hit his ball as far as the other ones. That’s part of etiket too. “So,” he said to my other uncles, “Vonny and I were talking about what a perfect score in golf would be?”
“Par, of course” my Uncle Charles said back. “That’s what you’re suppose to get.”
“Wrong,” my Uncle Martin said back. “According to Vonny here.”
“One better than you ever did before,” my Uncle Gauthier said back. “What’s more perfect than the best you ever did?”
“Wrong again!” my Uncle Martin said back.
“Eighteen,” my parain said back. “A hole in one on every hole. That’s as perfect as it gets.”
I started smiling. My Uncle Martin laughed. “Well, Stephen, you’re not his godfather for nothing.” Then I started laughing a little bit. But then Uncle Martin turned to me and said, “Six iron, Vonny.” Meaning I should hand it to him. Which I did.
Everyone got very quiet. All of my uncles. And I stood behind my Uncle Martin. But not too close behind him where I could get clobbered by the club when he hit the ball. And not too far away that he can’t turn around and just hand me the club without walking too far. Then my Uncle Martin stood over the ball for a little bit. He looked at the golf ball at his feet, he looked at the red flag flapping in the wind a ways away in front of the blue sky, then the ball again, then the flag again, the ball again, the flag again, and then finally the ball one last time before pulling the club back and hitting it down at the ground just where the ball was. A big slice of green grass flew up in the air and landed on the ground a few feet in front of us. But the golf ball went out and up into the blue sky and flew right at the flag like it was a bird heading south for the winter. Except south was on the green about a foot away from the bottom of the pole that the flag was hanging on.
“Another great shot, Black!” my parain said. “Must be your caddy.” He smiled at me and bended over and kissed the top of my head.
“Vonny,” my Uncle Martin said, “was that perfect?”
I lifted my shoulders. “Did it go in the hole?” I said back.
My uncles didn’t stop laughing for about ten minutes.
Ronald Fisher was born and educated in New Orleans, Louisiana. He currently works from homes located in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania and on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Mid-City Errands is his first novel. Find out more about it at vonnyfoster.com and Twitter.