The Adventures of Harry Fruitgarden: Who Would Have Guessed?
by Lawrence Vijay Girard
The air was so hot that I felt like I was breathing through my sister’s hair dryer. Once again I was in a long yellow school bus. This time I was sprawled on top of a huge pile of suitcases, backpacks and sleeping bags in the very back of the bus – it was the best seat in the house. As I looked up the aisle towards the front of the bus I could see thirty-nine more of my contemporary “city” boys. We were all headed to a summer camp in Colorado, but first we had to cross the Arizona desert with no air conditioning!
The last time I had been camping was with the Boy Scouts. We went to Crescent Lake in the San Bernardino Mountains outside of Los Angeles. That had been a lot of fun. It had awakened in me a desire to spend more time in nature. So when I heard about this camp from my Physical Education teacher at school, I ignored the fact that he wasn’t high on my list of people to listen to carefully and opened myself up to the idea of spending two months in the San Juan Mountains of Southwestern Colorado.
Convincing my parents to let me go wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. When they heard that I wanted to go away for two months their eyes lit up. Hmmmm. Now that I think about it, maybe there is a hidden message there?
Well, I can be pretty prickly at times, but that’s my charm! Or at least, that is what I keep telling myself. I don’t actually seek to cause problems or get into trouble, it just seems to come my way. I attribute that to my creative approach to life. My grandmother just says that I’m stubborn. She might be right, but it seems like however I am, that is the way I’m made. You can say, “Tomaato” or you can say “Tomauto” but you can’t say Harry Fruitgarden is boring!
My tendency to rub adults the wrong way has actually been a dilemma for me. You see some years ago, well …about four to be exact, I had an experience that put some pressure on me to behave well. It wasn’t something that came from my parents or anyone else. It was something that happened inside me – in my own self.
It isn’t something weird like hearing strange voices in your head or anything. Maybe I should explain.
When I was about eight years old I would sometimes find myself at my father’s office. I can’t remember my older sister ever being there, but I am sure my older brother and younger sister had the dubious honor of being in the real estate business for a few hours on Saturday afternoon.
Our main impression of the real estate business was that you sat at a desk and shuffled papers.
The exciting part was using the typewriter!
Back in those days there weren’t any auto-correction buttons on the typewriters, not even liquid white correction fluid, to say nothing of word processors. If you made a mistake you had to use an eraser type pencil and rub out the offending letter. Most of our time in the real estate business was spent making more business for the correction pencil and the paper companies, as well as, the typewriter repair companies. As you can imagine, we would wear out our welcome pretty quickly at the office.
Fortunately for my Dad’s office, as well as for us kids, across the street and up the block there was a miniature golf course.
I wonder if my Dad ever calculated the point at which it was cheaper to send us over to the miniature golf course than to repair his office equipment? Anyway, I think we thought our luck was pretty good. After all, how many kid’s Dad’s offices are across the street from a miniature golf course?
A miniature golf course is a kind of fantasyland where you can not only learn the futility of good putting, but explore the mind’s realm of unseen possibilities.
As I listened to some of the golfers that I met while being on a real golf course with my Father, I had sometimes wondered if golf might be an inherently spiritual experience. I heard men pray for a good shot. I heard plenty of golfers ask God to “Damn it” or “Damn it to hell”. I even heard an occasional “God bless it”. Maybe they also had other requests for God that I don’t know about. It even occurred to me that maybe golf was the same as religion since so many people went there on Sunday morning.
For me, it was miniature golf that lead to what might be described, not so much as a spiritual experience, but as a spiritual “situation”.
My inner conversations with God started as the result of the very last hole on the miniature golf course. You know the one. It is the one that, if you get a hole-in-one, you get a free pass to play again.
After having visited the course a number of times I became a fair player for my age. I knew the object was to use the least number of strokes necessary to get around the course.
The more I played; I noticed that my focus began to shift from how I played each hole, to how I would perform at the last hole. I started to see the course as a kind of preparation time for the only really important putt of the whole course – that last shot for the free pass.
Once you have tasted the excitement of getting that hole-in-one and waving a free pass in the air as your victory flag, well…that is the Superbowl for a kid!
My desire for that experience welled up inside me to the point that I was desperate for victory.
I will never forget that day!
As I putted past the staggered blocks, over the little bridges, through the tunnel, over the bumps, down the slopes towards the windmill, my plight became more and more desperate. Oh how I wanted that hole-in-one at the end of the course!
How was I going to get it? What extra edge or hidden power could I bring to my side at this time of need?
And then it struck me.
After all, if God couldn’t do it, it couldn’t be done. Yes, God was the answer.
While I putted around the corners and through the blocks, I began to think more seriously about how I could get God to intervene in this quickly approaching moment of need. Possibly because my father is a salesman or because I was brought up in a society that says nothing is free, or maybe all minds think that life is a bargaining table – whatever the reason – I decided that if I was going to ask God to do me this huge favor, I was going to have to offer something in return.
When I came to the windmill hole and started to mentally time the whirling blades as they passed the opening at the base of the wall I realized that I didn’t really have a whole lot to offer God.
What does God, Maker of the Universe, need?
And if God needed something that He couldn’t get for Himself, how was I going to give it?
As I pondered the situation it came to me that it wasn’t a question of God’s need, but really of my desire. After all …I was the one who wanted a hole-in-one. God was probably willing to let my ball roll where it may and not give it much thought.
I had to show God how important this was to me. So I would offer something that wouldn’t be easy to offer. I would offer to be a good boy. I reasoned that since Santa Claus’s criteria for getting presents was whether or not a child was naught or good, that might also be the gauge that God used.
I really tussled with this for several holes.
What exactly was I committing myself to? Did God have specific requirements for what a good boy does or does not do? Did being a good boy include eating green vegetables at the dinner table? And, how long a time was I signing up for?
The seriousness of the situation was growing like a volcano. My mind and emotions were wrestling with the myriad of ramifications. That final hole was approaching with unwelcome speed. I still didn’t grasp the whole of what I was getting into.
As I stepped up to that all-important last hole I felt that my eight years of life were suddenly on the line. I had somehow moved from being a little boy playing miniature golf to a human being facing the most elemental of questions.
Does God really exist?
Can people talk to God?
Will He/She/It hear? And respond?
The moment was finally at hand. I hunched with concentration over that little round ball that now represented my relationship to the universe. With a sudden thrill of abandon my putter came to life and sent the little missile hurtling toward our common future. As it raced forward I inwardly gave the nod and knew that the deal had been sealed. God was now involved.
I no longer thought of what I had done. I just watched that ball from a seemingly timeless perspective. The spinning ball appeared to move quickly and slowly at the same time. As it neared its goal I stood motionless. I was simultaneously intensely calm and wildly excited.
Suddenly I became aware that the moment had passed. My ears were the recipients of what seemed like a fanfare of trumpets. But it was really a very loud bell ringing to the world that the ultimate had been achieved. A hole-in-one!
I was delirious!
I raised my putter in victory. I grinned from ear to ear. I pranced to the counter for my medallion – a free pass for another round of miniature golf.
And as my little boy self rejoiced, there was my silent watchful self reminding me that I had made two commitments that day. The first was that I would try to be a good boy. I wasn’t absolutely sure if God existed or not. As I thought about it I realized that I had struck a bargain with myself as much as with God. I knew I couldn’t actually be good all of the time. But I did know that I had the choice of whether or not to try. By inwardly giving the nod I had committed myself to trying.
The second commitment was that a hidden well of interest in the spiritual nature of life had been awakened in me and I was determined that I would seek greater understanding about such things as opportunities presented themselves.
Yes, I was very lucky that my Dad had an office across the street from a miniature golf course. As I sat atop my throne of baggage in the back of the bus I inwardly smiled. Ahhh….that hole-in-one was sweet!
Just as I fully embraced the joy of that good memory a loud hacking sound came from a few rows in front of me. One of the boys was losing his lunch into a bag. The driver had warned us to keep bags handy for just such a need – apparently, he was an experienced driver. The sickly sweet odor wafted back towards me as the hot wind blowing in the windows came rushing through the bus. I quickly pinched my nose and looked the other way. I didn’t want to join that unlucky fellow by losing my own lunch.
Whenever a boy wanted to know how much longer the trip would take, invariably someone would answer, “Ten more throw ups….or….fifteen more barf bags.” Personally, I didn’t even want to think about the subject, just thinking about it made my stomach feel queasy. I was pretty sure that folks would be more than a little upset if I heaved all over their stuff.
Here was a perfectly good question that I didn’t know that answer too. If I threw up on people’s baggage, would God consider that bad behavior? Certainly most of the kids would feel that I had done a bad thing. The driver would yell at me saying, “I told you to have a bag handy.” How was I supposed to know what is good or bad?
Mile after mile I wandered in my mind pondering these and other seemingly unknowable questions until the weight of my thoughts wore me out and I fell into a hot but restful slumber. Little did I know that even falling asleep would point me in the direction of trouble.