Everyone called him Mr. Jim; I never figured out why. He was an enigma. The Camden Cumberland Presbyterian Church issued us a ministerial call in April, 1971, to serve as the twenty-first pastor of the church effective July 1, 1971. We accepted. Prior to our move, we attended our denomination’s annual international business meeting convened in Jackson, Tennessee, only one hour from Camden. Mr. Jim and his wife, Elnora, were strong leaders in Tennessee and usually attended denominational activities in a variety of locations around the United States.
He walked up to me with a sweat-stained University of Tennessee baseball cap in the convention lobby and said, “Hey, Bob, you want to play golf at the Jackson Country Club this afternoon?” Jim’s head always hovered close to the ground at 5 foot, 5 inches. He appeared anything but a golfer. His short hairy arms connected to an apple-shaped body. He hitched his grey wash pants up as far as possible without putting the crotch of the pants under unsustainable stress, thus creating the appearance he purchased his britches entirely too short, revealing an inch of his white socks.
I replied, “Sorry, but I don’t have my clubs with me.” Besides, I didn’t want him to get the impression that I was so lazy that I’d sneak off from a business meeting to play golf. And, I added, “plus they wouldn’t let me into a country club.”
“All you have to do is show your local club membership and they will give you reciprocal privileges. It’s no problem.”
“I’m sorry, but I don’t belong to a country club; I never have.” I replied.
He looked surprised, puzzled and a bit disappointed, “You don’t belong to a country club?” Then he repeated himself in a gruff voice, only louder. “You don’t belong to a country club; you don’t belong to a country club anywhere!?”
Now I was beginning to feel uncomfortable and inadequate, “No, Sir, I don’t.” This must have put him into a state of disbelief because he turned away and mumbled to himself as he left.
I learned over the next span of four years that I could not hope to predict what Jim would say or do next. He was a mystery. Jim grew up in the hills of Arkansas, a son of a conservative Church of Christ minister. He never mentioned his mammy or pappy much, only that they wrote him out of their will when he left their denomination.
Periodically, Jim would stop by the office when he had a vacation day from DuPont, a chemical factory near New Johnsonville, TN. He usually appeared in one of his many hats, a casual shirt, hiked-up wash slacks, white socks and a cigar. Most successful people blend intelligence, common sense and wisdom. This old man possessed all three. As a UT engineering graduate, he had a good deal of the so-called liberal arts under his belt. When at home, he could be found in an over-stuffed thread bear Lazy-boy in his den, surrounded by stacks of books and magazines. An avid reader, he noted inside the front cover the day he completed each book, as well as noting pages where he underlined important passages for future reference. Without exaggerating he had fifty books within an arm’s reach of his chair. He would never commit to whether he loved books or cigars most.
He always knocked three times loudly on my door before entering. Today he came on a mission. “You know Bob…I was talking to Pete Johnson and he said you fall somewhere between a poor and horrible golfer. Said your slice is a constant endangerment to the landscaping and people playing on a parallel fare-way.” Mr. Jim said all that as if I had absolutely no pride or feelings. But, then he laughed deeply.
“Tell you what I want to do! I have never met a golf problem I can’t fix. Why don’t you knock off and let’s run out to the club?” I still hadn’t joined the country club.
He trapped me between a rock and person that didn’t know how to accept a NO. So, I agreed to meet him at Magic Valley after lunch. Honestly, I entered this contract with zero optimism. He wasn’t the first to try to cure my slice.
We arrived and walked to the practice range. He always chewed or sucked on a cigar more than he smoked it. And, I detested people chewing and spitting as if they owned public land. For the lesson, he came in his grass stained black and white golf shoes (me in my tennis shoes), his baggy shorts, and his bright red Bangor bucket hat. He didn’t bother to bring his clubs.
“Ok, man, let me see your stuff.”
My neck and shoulder tighten, similar to the belt around his belly. I ripped my first drive long and deep into the timber to our right. I glanced to Mr. Jim. “Try that again.” Again, I hit the ball with great accuracy, back to the same spot as the first time. He raised his hand, pulled out his cigar stub, and grimaced.
“Have you ever had a lesson Preacher?”
“I didn’t think so.” He giggled.
“Well, let’s work on your grip, then your address, followed by your takeaway, then the breaking of the wrists, and finally your follow through. We will have this straightened out in one hour. Mark my word.”
One hour later, he had finished his corrective steps and pronounced me ready to hit the ball correctly.
I teed up the ball, decided on the flight path from the back of the ball, addressed the ball with a better stance, positioned my grip perfectly as he taught, drew the club back slowly in a nice arc, swung at the ball breaking my wrists as instructed, and followed through like a professional. The ball took flight from the tee magnificently and then without a signal made an unlawful right turn; landing somewhere close to where I hit the ball before the lesson.
He paused and closed his eyes, bent his perfect oval-shaped head to the right, and then to the left. He looked me straight in the eyes and said, “I can’t help YOU.” He wheeled to the left and waddled back to his car without uttering another word.