When first we met he growled at me.
This was the first (and last) multiple martini lunch of my career, but not Don’s. During his day the martini lunch was almost a ritual, part of a businessman’s normal routine.
I was working on my second martini when he started to growl. I tried to keep my composure and looked down while thinking what to make of Don’s growling.
“You went to Cal? You went to Berkeley? You’re a Bear?” he shouted, practically spraying his soup de jour with every syllable.
“Why yes, yes I am!” I declared, “I’m a ‘Bear’!” by which time I’d concluded that the preceding guttural exhibition must have been something Cal students did back in the 30s when he and his Olympic Rowing Gold Medalist older brother both attended Cal.
He was delighted to find another bear in Olympia, way up the coast a long way from Berkeley. Soon thereafter we bonded. I really enjoyed him … he was observant, smart, curious, vastly experienced in business and full of stories about Cal life way back when. He even started calling himself “Ol’ Dad.”
We talked about business, life decisions, the Bears and golf … for we were also both members of the Olympia Country and Golf Club. Consequently we golfed together from time to time.
Don had grown up as one of that unlucky generation that faced decades of disastrous hardships, from the Great Depression to World War II. But by the time Don and I met all of that had faded into history … for me and my playing companions that is. But not for Don and his generation. Those blood-red hues of the war hadn’t faded too awfully much.
It’s hard for me and those of my generation to truly understand the nightmare of that time when rage and fury determined the fate of nations and threatened the very lives of your family and friends as if they were nothing more than ante in a global game of mass murder.
Sure we’ve been at war as a nation since then, from Korea to Granada to Iraq, but they were “safe wars,” that is to say they weren’t wars in which you thought the enemy could actually come thundering down a Main Street obliterating everything in its path, or flying overhead showering bombs on everything and everyone below.
But, I guess when the killing and mourning are finally done, you just get on with your life. You learn to compartmentalize and try your best to let bygones be bygones.
Don had done that … or so he thought until, on an idyllic summer afternoon when we walked up to the club’s fourth tee box, we came upon a a foursome of Japanese businessmen huddled around a golf ball just over 200 yards ahead of us down the fairway.
Don’s golfing abilities were pretty good for someone who came to the sport late in life, but neither I nor our playing companions had ever seen skinny, old Don drive a ball over 175 yards, max! Consequently we felt quite safe when we urged him to “Go ahead. You hit. You’re safe!”
So Don took the tee, teed it up and smacked it. He pounded it! He hit a bomb! He launched a drive that would have made Arnold Palmer proud … and it just did clear the heads of the Japanese convocation!
We were astonished, astounded and awe struck. Our eyes opened to the size of ostrich eggs and our mouths flapped open. It was totally amazing!
Don turned to us looking as confused and surprised as we were. “I really, really didn’t know I still felt like that,” he said, a bit dazed. “I had no idea!”
Naturally we apologized to the Japanese, and after much mutual bowing and many expressions of goodwill they begged us to “play through” … which we did and for which we thanked them.
Don had been particularly apologetic and courteous, but as we walked to the green he whispered to me, “You know, I guess I’m really not over it. I thought I was, but I guess I’m not. Must be that some things in life, like all-out war and its plague of tragedies, never leave you … ever.”
I realized right then and there how blessed I’d been up to that point in my life. And ever since that day, the day Don bombed the Japanese, I’ve understood just how lucky I’ve been to have escaped such fearsome times and their off-spring … soul-deep angers that cast life-long shadows.
From what I witnessed that day I felt compelled to conclude that there’s no real glory or final victory in war … only its survivors.
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