People don’t always stick to the script

Robert Rufa Columnist

It was a pleasant fall day in Pinehurst that year, and as I headed to the post office to check my mailbox, I greeted and was greeted in turn by everyone I passed. Since there was no home delivery of mail in Pinehurst in those days, everyone stopped by the PO at one time or another during the day.

As I was approaching the steps, I was greeted by one of my favorite retirees, Dr. John Parsnip. “Mornin’, Robert. How are you?” he asked.

“I’m fine, Doc. How’re you?”

“Not so good,” he replied.

Momentarily at a loss, I stammered, “I, um —”

“Oh, no-no-no,” he said. “I’m not looking for sympathy. I just . . . I just . . .” And then he sobbed.

Awk-ward. I was nowhere near his age — he was like a father figure to me. How in the world was I going to comfort this elder statesman, this fount of wisdom who’d once recommended a horsehair mattress to me? Fully expecting to hear about the passing of Bruce, his Scottie, the best I could do was, “Uh, what’s wrong?”

“It’s my favorite niblick,” he said.

In case you don’t know, Pinehurst is a major American golf resort, but more than that it’s a golf community. Everyone lives, breathes, and plays golf in Pinehurst — except me, that is. So all I knew about a niblick was that it was a club. I just didn’t know what kind.

“What’s wrong with your niblick?”

“I lost it,” he said.

I was afraid to ask, but I did anyway. “How’d you lose it?”

“I flung it into the rough, and I couldn’t find it. Looked for hours too.”

“That’s awful.”

“It is. It’s irreplaceable. You can’t get ’em anymore. Now I’ll have to use a pitching wedge.” OK — I knew what a pitching wedge was, sort of.

“Why did you pitch your niblick into the rough?” I asked, instantly wishing I hadn’t.

“You don’t play golf, do you,” he said.

“Not really,” I said, “although I’ve taken pictures of golfers.”

“Not quite the same thing,” he said. “See, golf can be aggravating, and throwing a golf club is a good way to let off steam. As a rule though you don’t throw it where you can’t retrieve it. I always throw my clubs into the rough, but I’ve never lost one before.”

He glanced at his watch. “Well, I best be going — I’ve got a foursome waiting for me at the clubhouse bar.”

Suddenly looking forward to tomorrow, I rushed up the steps and, head down, hurried straight to Box 477. Finding just the water bill, I reversed course and headed back toward my car, vowing as I walked to never to say “How are you” again.

But before I got there, I bumped into Brendan Loupe, who said, “How’re you, Bob? And let me warn you — if you say anything but ‘Fine,’ I’ll whack you with Parsnip’s niblick.”