Montana's Longest Drive

What a Difference a Year Makes

Standing in the cold late October Great Falls wind that feels like sandpaper against your face I laid a rose down beside the leaf covered green and thought to myself, “It has been a year.”

Staring up toward the heavens and seeing the clouds slowly pushed across the face of the sky the thoughts came rushing back like they so often do. Instinctively my jaw tensed, I bit my tongue just enough to keep my mind off the pain inside my heart and blinked feverishly to keep the salty tears from sneaking down the sides of my cheeks.

What a difference a year makes.

It was a year ago that my dad called me and broke the news saying, “Jay is gone”. Truthfully the rest of what he said remains a blur. I can retrace my steps and remember exactly where I was when my world lost a bit of its color.

And what a difference a year makes.

Taking Jay’s golf cart out for a final round on the golf course’s last day of the season, my dad and I shared some silent moments with the old lovable redhead.

“Jay spent so much time out here working to make this golf course what it is,” my dad said with a tremble in his voice I don’t often hear. “He did so much work, so he and I could come out and enjoy this course when he retired… Life just isn’t fair.”

In a fair world, cancer wouldn’t take people who fill our lives with color. In a fair world, I wouldn’t be leaving a red rose on the apron of every green on a bitterly cold last day in October. In a fair world, my heart wouldn’t break, my jaw wouldn’t tense, and I wouldn’t blink to fight back tears when the memories come flooding back.

Memories, like the ones I’ve got of Jay hide around every corner of Eagle Falls Golf Course. And now thanks to Jay, I have memories across every golf course in Montana.

Jay’s was a story I shared with nearly everyone I met and teed it up with across the Treasure State this summer and it would go a little something like this:

One the first tee of every golf course in Montana, from Plentywood to Dillon, and Eureka to Broadus, I would dig in my golf bag for a ball and a tee and see your obituary tucked safely inside the side pocket. Tattered and ragged from being held and passed around the fourth largest state in the Union, I would tell my new friends about how your passing inspired me to make my own dream of playing every golf course in Montana a reality.

I would share that, “A great friend of mine passed away after a short battle with pancreatic cancer who had always wanted to go on a golf trip with my dad and me. There were ideas for golf trips we had kicked around and planned in the hypothetical sense only to have Jay taken away before we could ever make it happen. So, I put Jay’s obituary in my golf bag when I started this journey and would play every golf course in Montana with him with me.”

And I did just that.

Across the 8,507.3 miles I racked up on the odometer in my 2012 Ford Focus that was packed to the gills with notebooks, golf balls, a golf bag, and six golf shirts, four pairs of shorts, two pairs of pants, and more socks and underwear than I knew what to do with, I had a copilot in spirit. Cruising down the lonely highways of Eastern Montana and the windy mountain roads of Western Montana, Jay was with me.

During the long days when I walked more miles with a golf bag slung over my shoulders than I ever thought possible, and my feet would ache, and the rainstorms that all too often included bits of hail hit like a ton of bricks, I would have moments of weakness. The doubting thoughts would sneak into my consciousness.

And that was when I’d reach into my golf bag and pull out Jay’s obituary.

On the anniversary of Jay’s leaving us, my dad and I played one final round of our first year without Jay. As we played we scattered roses across all 18 holes at Eagle Falls in memory of a great friend who I know we wish we didn’t have to fight back tears whenever we think about him. But the pain and hurt of missing a loved one doesn’t fade with time. And neither does the amount I miss him.

What a difference a year makes.

 

In loving memory of my friend Jay Baumberger (Jan. 7, 1952-Oct. 31. 2017)

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