Learning One of Life’s Lessons The Hard Way

I had a couple of members drop by the clubhouse today to say hello, and to take care of their memberships for the upcoming season. We got to talking for a bit, and during the course of the conversation the subject of handicap parking came up. How it is irritating when people are disrespectful of the reserved parking spots, either parking in them when they don’t have a permit, or when they have a permit they shouldn’t have or don’t need.

This hits a little close to home with me. My brother had a stroke about 15 months ago, and while he’s no longer confined to a wheelchair, there are situations where he needs it to get around. So when my mom or his wife are taking him to doctor appointments, physical therapy or to conduct interviews for his newspaper column, he really depends on the accessibility those handicap parking places provide. And for someone like my father who had battled Parkinson’s Disease for 15 years, while it took him a long time to give in to using a handicap parking spot, it helped him so much the last couple of years he was alive.

I’ve been thinking about the conversation all afternoon, because it reminded me of something that happened while I was working at Gold Mountain Golf Course in Bremerton, WA, back around 1992 or 1993.

We had one designated handicap parking place that was next to the front door of the old clubhouse, and it was rarely used. But we did have one fellow that would play once or twice a week, and he would always park there. I’m guessing he was in his late 70’s or early 80’s. His name was Mr. Grant. He always came out in the afternoon to avoid the crowds, always played by himself, and he always walked the course. There were a couple of us that noticed, and while we never said anything to him, we always wondered between us why he would need to use a handicap parking place, especially since he was able to walk 18 holes on a course that had more than its share of hills. And it may have rubbed us a little bit the wrong way.

One night I had the late shift, and once the bartender had closed up the bar, I started my rounds to lock up the building. When I got to the front door, there was Mr. Grant’s car, still sitting in the handicap parking spot. It was after 10 p.m., had been dark for at least an hour or two, and there hadn’t been anyone on the course for quite awhile. From time to time there would be cars left in the parking lot overnight (usually for a good reason), but usually if a vehicle wouldn’t start, someone would come in to let us know.

So I called 911 and both the Bremerton Police and the Kitsap County Sheriff’s departments responded. The deputies ran the plates, located the owner’s address and got the phone number to the house. When they called, his wife answered and said her husband hadn’t come home yet, and was she was starting to wonder where he was.

Between the police department, sheriff’s deputies, myself and Dave Siliven, there were 8 to 10 of us that went out looking for Mr. Grant. We were hoping that maybe he had fallen in the woods, possibly sprained or broken something, and just wasn’t able to get back to the clubhouse without some help. So we started up the first fairway, calling out for him in the woods. The left side of the second hole was dangerous….there was a ravine about 175 yards off the tee, and it would have been easy for someone to have fallen and gotten hurt there.

I can’t remember how long we looked. It might have been an hour or two, but eventually Silky (Dave Siliven) found him in the woods between the first fairway and the seventh green. He had been out ballhawking after his round, had a heart attack, and died in the woods. He still had a golf ball in his hand when Silky found him.

I came to find out later that Mr. Grant had congestive heart failure. His doctor had told him that walking the golf course would be good exercise for him. So the handicap parking permit he had was certainly legitimate.

That experience really got my attention. Darryl (Matheny) and I talked about it a little bit afterwards, and we were both pretty ashamed of ourselves for what we had thought, and for what we had said to each other about Mr. Grant for using that parking spot. We both felt pretty crappy about ourselves, as we should have.

I learned that day to never judge anyone about anything. Appearances can be deceiving, and so often they are. To this day I feel bad because I wasn’t a little friendlier to Mr. Grant. I wasn’t rude to him, but because it stuck in my craw a little bit about that handicap parking spot, I never did more than take his money and get him on his way. I would have given him the time day if he had asked, but since he didn’t, I never did.

Some life lessons are tough. But I guess those are the ones that stick with you the most. I’m sorry that it took me 33 years to learn that lesson, but 25 years later I haven’t forgotten it. And I never will.