I always had a great time with my father-in-law. Gene was someone who really knew how to have a good time. He wasn’t just a partier; he was the party! Give him thirty seconds, and he’d know the bartender’s or waitress’s name. Any pretty girl was instantly his friend, and they loved him for his quick smile and ready laugh. Nancy accused him of leading me astray more than once, and always blamed him for my affinity for Jack Daniel’s and a good Manhattan.
Gene and I spent quite a bit of time together at his vacation home on the Lake of the Ozarks. He loved boating, and we’d head out readily when the girls were shopping for a tour of the lake…and a stop at one or more of his favorite watering holes. His favorite restaurant, I think, was Klotze’s Oar House. It was a floating burger joint not far from his home, and the waitresses all wore bikinis. It was a natural hangout for him. He really enjoyed life.
I can only remember one time that I ever saw the man totally flustered. We only played golf together a few times, but I remember one particular hole very well. Neither of us was really any good, but we liked to get out and hack around. Tan-Ta-Ra is a well-known resort on the lake, and in the ’70s had one golf course. The terrain, naturally, was hilly and the out of bounds areas were mostly thick timber typical of the Ozarks—lots of undergrowth and poison ivy. The fairways were not that wide, so we knew we needed to take lots of cheap balls with us.
The hole I remember was a long, straight fairway, probably 350 yards or so, about 60 yards wide with the usual timber on both sides that made it look like a hallway. From the tee box we couldn’t see the flagstick, and I don’t remember if we had a map. It looked like the fairway just went straight into the woods at the other end. We teed off.
Eventually we reached the woods at the end of the fairway. Undoubtedly we both left a ball or two out of bounds before we got there. It turned out that the hole was laid out sort of like a golf club: straight shaft and a 90-degree angle to the green…on the other side of a small pond. I mean small. Maybe twenty yards across. Get to the end of the fairway; chip over the puddle onto the relatively forgiving green. I did. Gene missed and ended up in the water.
The lay up area was just the bank of the pond, about eight feet above the water. He put a ball down and swung. Hit it almost straight down. “Damn.” Reached into his bag and put down another ball. Hit it into the water. Again. And again. And again. And again. Emptied the bag. We had to quit.
I don’t even remember how many times he lined up that shot. I think he even put a few on a tee. Years later, several years after Gene died in a car crash on one of those twisting Ozark roads, I watched Kevin Costner in Tin Cup do about the same thing and exasperate Cheech Marin: “Give me another ball.” I fixed myself a Manhattan and toasted persistence, and the best father-in-law I could have ever had.