Red Smith, the famous sports columnist, wrote that dying is easy. “The least of us will do that,” Red determined. “Living well is the trick.”
Ron Curran lived well. No, he checks that. He lived wonderfully. I know because I asked him. Ron was old when I met him and then he got cancer, which made him age like a dog. His health was a particular concern for him and me.
“How are you feeling Ron?” She asked him, sometimes twice, every time she saw him.
“Fantastic, fantastic, fantastic,” said Ron. Three great. Every time.
When he died, Ron had taught me to play “solid, respectable golf,” meaning I could shoot mid-90s and feel fantastic about it. If that had been Ron’s only lesson, he would never have forgotten it. (Or forgive him, depending on my game on any given day.)
As it was, golf was just opening the door. It was Ron’s way of teaching me everything else.
Do you think we know people for a reason? That they are sent into our lives, with a purpose in hand, to make us better versions of ourselves? I make. I believe that. And I knew that this world, or some other, completely mysterious world, had sent Ron Curran to me, just as Someone sent the angel Clarence to George Bailey.
It is, indeed, a wonderful life.
Many people have danced up and down throughout my days. It has been the nature of the work. I have met people. It was also natural to let them go. Not on purpose, of course. The river of time has carried them away. Time passes, so do we.
Some people stay. Joe Acito, the late English grandmaster at Elder, stayed. We’ve been friends for 20 years, ever since the day Joe was so nervous about being in an East Side establishment, he spilled his beer on my wife’s lap. Joe was a kid from the West Side. He once invited me to play golf at a course he said was “halfway” between his home at Hidden Valley Lake in southeastern Indiana and mine in Loveland.
“Miami Whitewater,” said Joe.
Joe’s friendship gave me the people of Elder, whom I love to this day, and a great appreciation for the deep ties of family and friendship on that side of town. Joe didn’t leave me his sense of direction or geography. Good.
Skip Prosser was my friend. It wasn’t supposed to be. Hackers aren’t supposed to befriend the people they write about. It messes with objectivity. Well, hell with that. Skip was an immensely good human being, a lover of literature and Guinness, not necessarily in that order.
Now he’s perched on an Irish cliff, somewhere on the Dingle Peninsula, alternately reading a good Celtic history book and watching the waves. Someday, who knows when, I will join him.
I didn’t cover Fred, my lifelong best friend, even though I did write about him occasionally. Fred was a trapped soul, whose courage kept him trying to live. whose example I never forgot. A few years ago, Fred died alone in a motel room in Tucson, Arizona, 30 years after he was taken over by vodka.
Jim Daugherty died in September 2018. Elsye Daugherty passed away 11 months later. My parents reminded me of stealing time. Better protect our time while we can. Their deaths influenced my retirement. I am 64 years old. I have a lot to live for, but not behind a keyboard.
I met Ron Curran around 1995. He was at the Golf Center on Kings Island, waiting for a rain delay during a round of what they used to call the Kroger Senior Classic golf tournament. I started reading the classified ads in The Enquirer, why I have no idea. I never read them before, never placed one. Life is chance.
In a four-line ad – INSTANT BOGEY GOLF, it echoed – Ron promised to teach me “solid, respectable golf” in three hours. Yes, of course. After that, I would prepare for my Everest ascent with a week on the climber. However, I called Ron. What the hell.
He had me play with a dime on the rug in a motel room. The diameter of a golf cup is 4¼ inches, Ron explained. If you could roll the ball on a dime, a golf hole would look like the Grand Canyon.
Our friendship lasted 15 years, more or less. Maybe five years later, Ron got cancer. He didn’t talk about it, ever. Instead, he kept playing golf whenever he could. The disease took the strength out of his left leg. Ron adapted his swing and still managed to hit the ball 175 yards off the tee, with his back leg, without rotating his body during the swing.
He never complained. Her leg was in constant pain. More than once she fell while we were playing. Simply collapsed. Ron used his clubs as poles, walking from his golf cart to his ball.
The last time we met on a golf course, he fixed the horrible leg that had infected my short game. “How are you feeling Ron?” I asked.
“Fantastic, fantastic, fantastic.”
That was in May of 2011. Ron died on the last day of that August. He was 75 years old.
He had been a salesman. He started Instant Bogey Golf to have something to do when he retired. He got good at teaching the game. The money from the lessons he gave covered his health insurance bills. Ron helped a lot of people play better golf. He reminded me that golf was secondary to his most important lessons.
Ron knew how to appreciate. He was good at gratitude. He taught me that playing golf well was not the goal. Simply playing golf was the point. In the end, Ron was playing with only one leg.
I think of him now, every time I feel a groan building on the tee or in the rough. I’m a little ashamed of myself. Then I think of Ron and he disappears.
Life is just a little bit about who we are today. It is more about who we are capable of becoming. By learning from the past, we honor the future. To absent friends Ron, Joe, Skip, Fred, Jim, and Elsye, thanks for the reminders.