There was once a great golfer named Bill Kilroy. Born in 1920 to a rich professor at the University of Minnesota and his lovely, respectable, and sexy wife, the young William (he later adopted Bill for tax purposes — don’t ask me) was introduced to the royal and ancient game at the tender age of 10, when his father, who was enduring the hardship of a low-enrollment semester, took him out to play in one of the then-suburban areas that now boast more people per square mile than downtown Seattle, Washington. William was feeling quite proud of his new wooden-shafted clubs, ordered directly from the old country. He shot a Red Grange, while his well-practiced father, inconvenienced by his trademark gut (heck of a trademark — don’t ask me), couldn’t even muster a hundred. It was then that his father — along with the small gallery that had amassed to watch the boy wonder — knew that his William was going to be some golfer.
William played golf on the Saint Thomas Academy team for two years before dropping out at sixteen to become a professional golf instructor. At first, his only customers were high school students who wanted to shape up their games a little bit, but after one boy beat his uncle after a lesson from William (it was the boy’s first round, his uncle’s twentieth year, of golf), word began to spread, and not at too slow a pace. Eventually, at age eighteen, Bill was earning a hundred dollars an hour to teach lessons at the Town & Country Club, where he had an exclusive and lucrative contract.
Faithful former students say Bill was a natural teacher. His mind worked in the ways of his students’, and he let them continue along at their own pace. Some of the slower (and you know what I mean by slower, like a nice way of saying stupider) students eventually ended up shelling out a few thousand bucks.
At age twenty Bill, wanting to get out of Minnesota (like any golfer with half a mind), purchased a large piece of land down in Florida and built the Oliver Kilroy Memorial Golf Course. Some said this was a rash move, especially since Bill’s father, Oliver Kilroy, was still alive at the time. These people did not worry for long, however — Bill’s dad obligingly kicked the bucket within a year. Bill buried his mother, at the appropriate time of course, and his father in a small cemetery at the front gate of the golf course. A little insensitive, maybe, but a great marketing move — what better front gate establishment at the Oliver Kilroy Memorial Golf Course than Oliver Kilroy himself? At any rate, Bill moved his flourishing little golf school down to Florida and began teaching at the Oliver Kilroy Memorial Golf Course. This was another great marketing move, as it opened him up to the retired, rich set that resided down there. Just before his untimely death in 1974, Bill was getting five hundred dollars an hour “teaching old fogies how to swing a club.” This analysis was not entirely correct, however — most of the fifty-five plusers had started taking dramatically shorter lessons around the two hundred-dollar mark, and most had dropped out entirely at two fifty. Bill’s main student body had been, for the most part, composed of touring pros.
Well, that’s Bill Kilroy’s story, greatly abbreviated — easily an entire book could be written on the humorous foibles of William Robert Kilroy. Yet another volume could be compiled pondering the mysteries of this strange man’s life — the cause of his death is still unknown. This story, however, is not about Bill Kilroy, but about a boy who had absolutely no relation to Bill at all. Then again, maybe he was more related to Bill Kilroy than anyone could have known…
Our story will make more sense if we pick it up at a point where it makes sense to pick up our story, so we’ll pick up our story on August thirteenth, 1974 at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
A large crowd had gathered in, outside of, and around the clinic. Apparently some big celebrity had been brought in on emergency. At least, that was what the traffic-control cop had told Jim McKee. Wonderful. Another great whoop came from the back seat.
“You all right back there, Nancy?” The only response was a groan. Jim glanced back. They should have brought more towels. His wife had the whole linen closetful stuffed between her legs, but still his classic G.T.O.’s seats were getting soaked. Traffic was at a standstill again. He rolled down his window and yelled at a cop.
“Hey! Excuse me, officer! Officer!” The cop jogged over.
“Alright, whad’re you with? We’re movin’ ’em along as fast as we can.” The cop was tall, with a vivid shock of blonde hair protruding from under his cap.
“Officer, my wife is going to have a baby! We need to get through!” Another groan from the back seat. Good ol’ Nancy. That’d convince the rookie.
The cop glanced into the back seat. Nancy gave him one of her best pitiful looks.
“Okay. Sec.” The cop wasn’t even fazed! Like he had to usher a fine car with a woman in labor in the back through a sea of fanatic admirers of a dying celebrity every day. The cop was conversing with a short fat sergeant about ten feet away. Every once in a while the tall cop would wave his hand in the air in the general direction of the G.T.O., or the fat one would look over at the street near the bottom of the car. Was he checking out the whitewalls, or what?
The two of them finally nodded their heads simultaneously and began heading back towards Jim and Nancy. The fat one kind of wobbled as he walked, and the rookie kept bobbing his head. Laurel and Hardy.
The fat one stuck his head in the window, peered at Nancy in the back, and, shooting out little drops of spittle as he lisped, enquired, “So what seems to be the problem, sir?” Nancy groaned again.
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Jim leaned his head against the automatic vending machine and waited for it to fill his cup of coffee. What a night. He straightened and heard a little pop from the vending machine. He looked down and groaned, surprised at how much he sounded like his wife. He had been leaning against the “sugar” button. More good luck.
At ten o’clock he had been informed that his child was coming out sideways (that explained the groans), and that Nancy would require a Caesarean section. The clock on the wall read midnight. He downed the rest of his coffee (had he been drinking it?) and chucked the cup. All right, that was it. He’d had enough of this messing around. He hiked up his Lees and strode over to the service desk. The girl behind it looked up from her file sorting. “Can I help you, sir?”
“My wife went into the delivery room two and a half hours ago. I haven’t heard anything since ten. What’s going on? I want some information, and I want it now.” Nancy would have been proud of him.
The girl turned to another bank of fils and pulled out a sheet of paper. “Oh, yes, Mrs. McKee. Alright. Apparently, there are quite a few c-sections to be performed tonight. Your wife is scheduled for nine.”
“In the morning? But if you don’t do it soon, my kid is gonna come out sideways!”
“Oh, I can assure you that won’t be the case, Mr. McKee. Your wife will be just fine.”
“I sure as heck hope so. Well, can I at least see her?”
“I’m afraid not. She’s required quite heavy sedation.” So much for natural childbirth. “Now I would advise you to go home and get some sleep. We’ll call you.”
Jim walked away from the counter. Well, he certainly wasn’t going home. He slumped in an overstuffed chair, sighed, and closed his eyes.
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There was a wind blowing, and Jim could hear a dull roar of human voices. An odd dream, thought Jim. He seemed to be dreaming he had his eyes closed. He opened them. His first thought was that he was dreaming that he was in the lobby of the Mayo Clinic maternity ward. Then he realized he was in the lobby of the Mayo Clinic maternity ward. It all came back to him now. The clock read 12:10. He must only have dozed for a few minutes. Cripes, he felt lousy.
It was then that Jim realized that there was still a light wind blowing from his left side, and that the dull roar of voices was still audible. He cocked his head left. An air vent. Well, that explained it. The voices must be coming from the floor above or below the maternity ward. Should check it out. Good to move around.
Jim somehow pulled his six foot one body up out of the chair, and strode over to the directory by the elevator. The floor below was the morgue. Well, the commotion certainly wasn’t down there. That left only the floor above, the critical care ward. Man, they certainly had a variety here. He looked around the empty lobby. Except for the girl shuffling files and the dull roar from the vent, it was dead silent. Well, no action here. Might as well check out he action upstairs. He hit the up button, and almost instantly the doors opened to reveal an elevator packed to the gills.
“Excuse me, excuse me. Excuse me.” Jim muscled his way in. Boy, must be some event. He turned his head right and found himself face to face with a worried-looking man in a windbreaker. In fact, there were several worried-looking people in windbreakers in the elevator, along with a few older people.
Jim queried of the man on his right, “So what’s going on?” The guy didn’t have time to answer before the elevator doors opened and he faced a wall of people. It was deafening. All those people packed into the relatively small lobby were all yelling for someone coming from the left. Jim mounted a chair, which provided him with a one percent better view. Someone shoved him off the chair, and he fell into the midst of the crowd below. Jim was trying to get his bearings when he was struck in the stomach. When the stars cleared, he saw that he had been hit by — a stretcher! And, lying on the stretcher, being grabbed for by many pairs of hands, was none other than Bill Kilroy! Jim gasped. Then, suddenly, he was pulled away, and shoved against the wall. The stretcher rolled on.
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Bill Kilroy felt tired. He wanted to fall off to sleep, but he knew that if he succumbed to the tiredness now, he would never wake up again, which would be fine with him, actually, but he hadn’t written a will. He assumed his sistr would get the money, the course, and all that, but he still had to find an heir to his most valuable possessions — his custom-made, titanium-shafted, Sure-Tac leather-gripped, perfectly sanded, sized, and angle-shafted matched golf clubs.
He felt a jolt. Oh no, this is it. He opened his eyes to get his last glimpse of he non-ethereal world, and saw that the stretcher had hit some poor guy who looked like he hadn’t slept for a week. Sheesh, that guy looked terrible. The stretcher rolled on, and Bill shut his eyes again.
Ten minutes later, the roar sharply dropped off, and Bill opened his eyes again. He was back in a bed in one of their rooms, and he was hooked up to an I.V. or something. His lawyer was by the side of the bed.
“How’re you feeling, Bill?”
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.” Yeah, right. “Listen, Bill, I hate to have to bring this up, but…”
“Everything but the clubs go to Barb.”
“And the clubs?”
It suddenly came to Bill. “Dick.”
“There’s a guy out there, probably near the elevator. He looks like he’s ben awake since Nicklaus’s first Masters win. Tall. Jeans and one of those shirts that usually have a little penguin on the breast pocket. You’ll know him when you see him. Go get him, and show him in here.”
“Okay, Bill.” Dick gave him a strange look. “Just a sec.”
Dick must have known the guy when he saw him, or, knowing Dick, he probably just asked for a tall, tired guy in jeans and a penguin shirt, but, at any rate, Dick had the guy within five minutes. “I just caught him getting on the elevator, Bill.”
“Okay, thanks, Dick. Could we have a minute alone, please?”
“Sure, Bill. No problem.” Dick graciously exited, but not before shooting Bill another one of those queer looks.
“Have a seat.” The guy did, obviously plenty gladly. “What’s your name?”
“Got any kids?”
“Hopefully within the next twenty-four hours.” So that was what the guy was there for.
“Where do you work?” Bill was getting more tired than ever.
“McKee Sign Service.”
“You got a card?” Jim did, and offered it to Bill, who could not so much as take it out of his hand.
“Just put it on the table.” Jim did. “Thanks. ‘Bye, Jim.”
“Goodbye, Mr. Kilroy.”
“Goodbye, Bill.” Jim left, and Dick reentered.
“Bill, would it be too personal a question if I asked what that was all about?”
“The clubs go to the child of Jim McKee of McKee Sign Service. His card is on the table.” And Bill shut his eyes and went to sleep.
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When Jim stepped (or was pushed) out of the elevator, the girl at the counter leaned over it. “Oh, Mr. McKee! We’ve been looking all over for you. Your wife went into heavy labor while you were gone. Congratulations, Mr. McKee. You are now the proud father of a baby boy.”
“…and then they all joined hands, friends once more, and danced a little jig.” Nancy closed Myrtle Turtle. “Are you done, Andy.”
“Yup. I’m all done!” Andrew William McKee released his grip on the little duckie between his legs and stood up. Nancy took care of business with a piece of toilet paper while Andy giggled. “That tickles!”
Nancy smiled and put Andy’s first pair of underwear back on. He sped out of the room, and Nancy dumped the potty chair and flushed.
Jim was sitting on the sofa in the basement reading the paper when Andy burst in. “Hey, big guy, where’re your shorts?”
Nancy appeared in the doorway with a junior-sized pair of Nucleus shorts and Andy’s Nikes. Boy, thought Jim, she was still beautiful after three years of marriage. Her green eyes perfectly offset her black hair.
Jim’s thoughts were interrupted by a small shape that jumped onto his lap. He looked down and smiled. Andy smiled back. Jim wondered where his son’s looks had come from. Maybe one of Nancy’s distant relatives had that mop of dark brown hair, those deep hazel eyes, that gently rugged complexion. Nancy picked Andy out of Jim’s lap. Jim made a mental note to check Nancy’s old picture albums. Later. Now, it was Saturday morning — Miller time. Jim, a non-drinker, celebrated by popping open the Caffeine Free Diet Pepsi sitting on the floor near the foot of the couch and opening the sports section of the Star & Tribune. Right there, in living color, was a picture of a man with a mop of dark hair, deep hazel eyes, and a gently rugged complexion.
“Ah, Kevin, I don’t think those two pieces are supposed to go together. Look, the colors don’t even match!” Despite Karen’s suggestion, Kevin Hall persisted in trying to jam the two jigsaw puzzle pieces together. He was getting quite frustrated. Karen called a parent volunteer over to work with Kevin, and began moving toward the reading center — she wanted to check on that McKee tyke. After several minor encounters with the students, she finally made it over to the “Book Nook.” Sure enough, most of the Poohs were browsing through the selection — some settling on The Lord’s Prayer, other, less pious Poohs fighting over Oscar the Grouch & His Messy Vacation. And cute little Andy already halfway through Bert & Ernie Play Golf. Poor kid — he was too young. That sport was for grandpas and grandmas.
Andy tore open the Scooby Doo paper covering the large gift Santa had left him. “All right! Golf clubs!”
Jim grinned. Santa had really hit the mark this year. Andy had been asking for a junior set since he had been three. Santa had finally given in and picked up a “My First Golf Clubs” set at Sears — slashed to nine ninety-nine.
“…and it’s something we can really use!” Jim pulled his eyes away from Andy taking practice putts under the tre and realized that Nancy was singing the praises of her gift to him — a TI-99/4A personal computer. She had even been so generous as to pick up some software: “Multiplan,” “Terminal Emulator II,” and (here was the clincher) “Household Budget Management.” Hint, hint. Right. Jim had gotten the message. He tossed the three-hundred-plus-page literature on the floor and patted Andy on the shoulder.
By the age of nine, Andy was playing regularly with his junior clubs. At least, he called it playing. He would go to the driving range with his dad, who was futily trying to get the feel of his dad’s clubs. Andy would imagine he was teeing off at Pebble Beach, Saint Andrew’s, or Madeline Island. Jim had no idea where his son had heard about the Madeline Island Golf Club. Jim’s best guess was that Andy had heard him talk about it, although, for the life of him, Jim could never imagine actually having anything to say about that monster.
The only time Jim could even remember seeing or hearing about it was one time, when he was delivering a sign up north, some business acquaintances of his were going to play it, and, as theirs was an important account, he rented a set of clubs (dang pricey, but he did get the account), and played his first round ever up there. It was the hardest course Jim had ever seen. When you weren’t dropping a new ball for fear fo angering a mean-looking deer, you were pulling out your driver on a par three just to get it over the gol dang water. Jim couldn’t remember what he had shot — somewhere in the mid-three hundreds. And here his son was talking about it like it was the Old Course.
Jim could hear his son mumbling over his next iron shot. “And here’s Andrew McKee, a former caddie making his professional debut, looking over the second hole — one hundred nine yards, par three.” Andy was using some kind of British accent.
Jim turned his attention back to his own shot. He was aiming at that white flag out there, right? He was using Andy’s grandpa’s old driver. Jim looked down the wooden shaft at the little white ball and awkwardly pulled the club back. He cocked his wrists, just like the book said. Then, with all the force he could muster, he brought the massive head through. Great. A snake-killer one hundred yards down the range. It would be nice to outdrive his son once in a while.
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Jim, finished with his dad’s clubs for a while, was furtively trying to shove them back into the closet in his basement where he kept all his old college stuff. “Oof!” The clubs finally lodged back into their nook. Jim instinctively flung his arm up to keep his boxes, very heavy boxes at that, of old business records from falling off the top shelf, which was barely supporting them as it was.
When it felt like the boxes once again had more or less of a foothold, Jim let his arm fall back to his side. A card fluttered down, and Jim scooped it up with the reflexes of a high school basketball star. Well! It was the score card from his lone, miserable round up at the M.I.G.C. He’d have to show it to Andy in the morning. He flipped the card open. He had shot a three fifty five. Natch. His worst hole, surprisingly, had been the par three second hole. Par three… Jim looked at the yardage. One hundred nine yards. From the blue tees.
Andy hefted the box into the trunk of the G.T.O. After making sure that it was in a totally stable, well-protected position, he jogged around to the side of he car and scrambled over the door into the passenger seat, Dukes of Hazzard style.
“Andy, would you please try to restrain yourself from scaling the side of my classic? It’s called a handle. You pull on it and the door opens. At least, it always does for me.”
“Okay, Dad, if you insist.” Silence. “Dad?”
“Who’s Jim Thorpe?”
“A famous golfer.”
“I never heard of him.”
“Well, he wasn’t on the Tour. He played in the Olympics.”
“Oh.” Andy’s curiosity as to the nature of the man who endorsed his clubs was not exactly satisfied, but he could see that this avenue of investigation was going nowhere. He would have to look him up in his Golf Encyclopedia.
It wasn’t as if Andy and Jim had selected the set of clubs out of respect to a golf great. They had been the cheapest at Target. Andy loved Target. You could get all kinds of stuff at real reasonable prices. Naturally, they didn’t offer the custom-made clubs that Andy was interested in, but these would be fine. And, after all, he had picked up a nice putter.
– When he wrote this at age 16, Jay Gabler didn’t know (a) how childbirth worked, (b) what a polo shirt was called, or (c) that Jim Thorpe the professional golfer was not the same person as Jim Thorpe the Olympian.