When I was a kid living in Ankeny, Iowa, living on Belmont Street, my dad had a yellow-ish plastic bucket of old golf balls in the garage. He kept them for golf practice, I guess – although I don’t know how good they were for that, given that they had gouges out of them and dings from being used. I think my dad must have collected them from the water hazards at whatever golf course he went to, because he also had a golf-ball retriever scoop on a pole. (Did you know there are people who run entire businesses scuba-diving for golf balls in water hazards? I did not.) Incidentally, my dad still retrieves golf balls, only now he lives on an exclusive golf course in the mountains in Arizona, and has trained the dog to pick them up while out on walks.
Paul and I and Todd used to try to steal one or two of the balls from the bucket and cut them open, because we’d been taught by the Schmidt kids (we were taught a lot of shit by those neighbor kids – all good stories for another day) that inside, nested in a tightly coiled bundle of rubber band-like threading, there was a rubber ball we could use as a superball – one of the small bouncy balls that came out of gumball/prize machines that we always unsuccessfully lobbied my mom for at the supermarket entrance. After you used someone’s pocket knife to cut through the white outer shell (or scraped the ball against the ground until you wore through the shell when you weren’t allowed to use a knife) you could cut the rubber bands and they would start to unravel, the bundle bouncing around until it had all come undone. And inside was a rubber ball. It did work – although we were also told by the Schmidt kids that in some balls, the center was a toxic gel that would burn your skin instead of a rubber ball. That may be true, (apparently, some do have gel, but not toxic) but I don’t recall ever running across a ball like that. To keep us from messing around, my dad put the bucket up on a shelf in the top of the garage.
When the tornado hit on 1974, and the swing set slammed into the back of the garage, (at least that’s how I recall it happening; I was six, I think, so my recollection is a bit dim and often I need to consult with my mom on these sorts of things) and the garage tilted over at half-keel, the bucket of golf balls fell off the shelf and spilled out over the garage floor and onto the driveway, mixed in with yellow fiberglass debris and wooden fragments from the roof of the Hy-Vee grocery store behind our house. That was one of the more helpful hints that made me realize that our garage was strong! I have a picture in my mind of that, but that may be informed or reinforced by photos taken of the storm damage on the day after, which I would have viewed much later on.
The other day, I was helping my mom retrieve for disposal some of the junk that had accumulated over the years in the attic above her garage, and I found that yellow bucket of battered, beat-up golf balls. Let me spell out why that was odd – it means that bucket traveled from Belmont Street to SE Fourth Street in Ankeny, where it resided several years, and then got packed up and traveled with the whole family to Canton, Ohio for a couple years, too. Then it got packed up once again and made its way to Noblesville, where my family moved in the early eighties, and its been in the attic for probably all of that time since. Why on earth did we pack a bucket of golf balls and cart it over the country? Maybe my dad and mom used them all that time and I just don’t remember it, but it seems odd. As soon as I saw them, though, I had the impulse to scrape one of them against the sidewalk to peel off the white shell and see the rubber bands underneath. Nevermind that I have a couple golf balls laying around the house that the dog plays with that I could do that to – it’s something about the familiarity of this particular bucket that made remember this long string of associations I’d forgotten.