Most of my close friends know the story of Andy and the ‘old couple’ who allowed him to play golf with them so many years ago. But today warrants a retelling of that story. Today warrants that I share how God’s spontaneity exceeds our imaginations, expectations, and even our reality.
The following is from a journal entry dated November 27, 2005.
Andy played his last game of golf on Thursday, March 28, 2002. As usual, he insisted on going by himself, although it was spring break and he could have asked several guys to go. I took him to Reynolds Park Golf Course around 1:00 that afternoon. When I picked him up around 4:00, he jumped into the car and said, “Mom, do you see those old people right there,” pointing to the not-so-old (in my opinion) couple who were putting their clubs in the trunk of their car. He continued, “They let me play with them. They were really nice. The man taught me a lot.” I asked Andy what the man taught him about, assuming Andy would answer an affirmative ‘yes’ to my question, “Golf?” Andy replied, “No mom, he taught me about life.” I tried to get Andy to explain his answer in greater detail but he just insisted that the man talked about ‘life’—“you know Mom, just what life is all about.” I decided that Andy didn’t feel the need to tell me everything (typical male). So I dropped it.
Four days later, when the couple came to give us their condolences at the funeral home that evening, I realized that this sweet, humble man did exactly as Andy had so succinctly explained—he just talked to Andy about life…about God, the giver of all life…and about faith in Him, what would guide my life for the rest of my days.
Today is Saturday, May 14, 2016. And today was a beautiful day to honor Andy’s memory for the 15th annual Andy Burton Memorial Golf Tournament. The tournament was founded by Steve Mann, one of many co-counselors for our youth at Mt. Tabor UMC in the early 2000s. Steve is a mover and a shaker; when he puts his mind to something, he gets it done. He organized, together with the United Methodist Men and Women, a hotdog/hamburger lunch and an afternoon of golf in August of 2002, just over five months after the accident. It wasn’t really a tournament at that time, just a day to remember both of our sons and to fellowship with our church family.
I remember it being a very difficult day, which should come as no surprise. At least 50-60 church members were there, including the teenagers that were friends with both of our sons, but mostly Andy’s because he was our social child, close friends of ours, golfers, and of course, our little family–my sister and Blaine’s dad and step-mother, who were the only non-Mt. Tabor folks present. I vaguely remember riding around on a golf cart with some of the girls with whom Andy was best friends. We have photos from the day. The pained smiles that Blaine, our family and I wore can bring tears now, if I allow. We were still in ‘zombie grief’, going through so many motions because, well it’s just what parents do when they’ve lost a child. Or in our case, both of our children.
I’m grateful that those early days, months, even years are behind us. Sometimes I think grief does get easier with time, but I know that there could come a moment in which it can flood my soul and I want to shake my fist at God, or assume the fetal position, or plant my face in the rug and bawl like a baby. Thankfully, I don’t do those very often, if at all, but I do have my moments of staring into space and sighing. But mostly, I lift my eyes to the heavens and say a prayer. Surprisingly, it’s not as much a plea to God to give me strength to keep putting one foot in front of the other, but a praise for the daily reassurance He gives me that my sons are safe. There’s a peace that is unexplainable, that does indeed “passeth all understanding.”
Now, fourteen years later, the tournament has changed management hands a few times; It has become a well-oiled machine. When we received the cleverly and tastefully crafted letter and registration card for the 2016 Andy Burton Memorial Golf Tournament that was sent both to players and possible sponsors, we were shocked to read that the tournament had been moved from the peaceful, country club setting of Salem Glen to Reynolds Park Golf Course. The shock was not of “Why isn’t Andy’s tournament at a country club?!” but of “Wow! That’s where Andy played his last game!”
Before the start of every tournament the youth minister gives us the opportunity to say a few words. Sometimes we both say a brief welcome and thank you, but, being a storyteller, I usually tell a very brief one concerning Andy and golf. Today was the chance to retell, as briefly as I could, the story of “Andy and the Old Couple.” I visualized myself attempting to parallel park as I arrived to pick Andy up, watching him in the rearview mirror as he loaded his clubs in the back of my Volvo wagon, and hearing his very words as he climbed into the front seat beside me for the last time “Mom, see those old people?” and my reply, “Andy, they don’t look so old to me.”
I couldn’t hold back the tears today as I retold the anecdote to all those teenagers, parent workers, male golfers and the one brave female golfer. I didn’t care that I didn’t know more than half of the golfers; they knew this was a memorial tournament. There is no shame in MY tears.
The morning wore on and Hope reconnected with three Mt. Tabor girls quickly and was off having nine to ten-year-old girl fun as I caught up with the moms who were in charge. At lunch, Blaine and I sat with his tennis friends, Lonnie and Jerry, (who play golf sans Blaine). We are great friends with them, their wives and families off the tennis court and golf course. Sitting beside of me was another longtime friend who we met two weeks after our wedding. David and Janet became fast friends and we even vacationed together before and after the birth of their two sons and ours. David had not signed up to play but showed up just in case. Thankfully, his drive from Tobaccoville paid off, although he didn’t win. Well, he won a door prize.
I hadn’t noticed that Blaine had left the table, but the urgency of his call beckoned me to come meet someone. When your husband and a stranger have tears in their eyes, you know there’s about 99.99% chance that you will cry too, right?
“Beverly,” Blaine choked out, “this is Mr. Miller. Uhhhh, Stephen Miller. He is the man who talked to Andy the day before the accident here at Reynolds Park.”
The rest is a bit of a blur, as were my eyes. They were full of boxwood or privet pollen and had been watering since morning. Basically, I had rubbed and rinsed any semblance of ‘beauty’ off of them, i.e. I probably looked like a raccoon who tried to apply eye makeup. My tears washed the rest away as I tightly and unabashedly hugged the last person who had carried on a conversation about life with my youngest son. And he hugged back.
We learned that his wife, Charlotte, was now physically unable to play golf. We learned that he was indeed not old when he and Mrs. Miller let Andy play golf with them on that sunny, warm day in late March of 2002. They were actually close to the ages that we are now, in their late 50s. They’re not old to me even now! Mr. Miller shared that when they had down-sized a few years ago they were going through old newspaper clippings and came across our sons’ obituary. He and Mrs. Miller had both agreed that they couldn’t throw it away.
I asked if I could share this gift of his miraculous visit with the attendees. None had left yet as the winners hadn’t been announced. I briefly recounted the story and then, in a gush of tears, introduced Mr. Miller.
Thankfully, we had the wit to get his phone number and email address. Blaine says he will send him an email and I’ll snail-mail a July 2011 Forsyth Woman Magazine in which the story of that day was published along with a couple of photos of Andy. I will email him this story as well. He told us that he had just showed up to play today. Part of me would like to think that there was an elaborate scheme to get him there, but I know full well that everyone involved in the planning didn’t remember Mr. Miller’s connection to Andy and Reynolds Park Golf Course.
I remember a conversation with Andy in the car not long before the accident. He was explaining what a mulligan meant. According to Wikipedia, “Its best-known meaning is in golf whereby a player is informally allowed to replay a stroke, even though this is against the formal rules of golf.”
Miracles are like mulligans in a way. God can replay anything He desires, like giving us a miracle in the same place He used a humble man and woman to teach our youngest son about Him. And God rules my life; He gives me a replay every day to make it through this game called life. And I think, in Heaven, He gives Andy all the mulligans he wants.