Sloan Young Bashinsky caused the Golden Flake Potato Chip Company in Birmingham, Alabama to become a market force in the southeastern United States. This below leaped out of me right before I learned he had died.
“THE HIT AND MISS CLUB”
IT’S AUGUST 3, 2005. I was involved in something for a few years that did not turn out very well (in my estimation), and I was beating myself up about it and wondering what I was going to do instead. Then came a series of dreams last night. In the last two dreams, my oldest daughter, Nelle, takes me by the hand and leads me away from something toward something else; then my father’s wife, Joann, is a legal secretary who hands me a case file I do not have in a bundle of other files I’m already carrying. I wake up about sunrise, knowing there is something I have missed or do not yet know about. Then I find myself thinking about a hunting club that went by the name of “The Hit and Miss Club”. Now why, I ask myself, am I thinking about that?
In 1964, my father purchased a membership in this club, which mostly was for quail hunting, while I was still in my senior year at Vanderbilt. He was not a hunter but in those days hunting was a pretty big deal for me, and he did it for me. We went down there some together, and sometimes I went with friends. What I remembered this morning, after waking up and thinking of this place, was a time my father and I were coming back to Birmingham after hunting over the weekend, and I was driving and we were talking about different things. I was going to leave Birmingham and return to Vanderbilt that night. It was good between us; it felt tight. About halfway home he said he liked me driving, he felt safe, which he said he did not usually feel when he rode with other people. Maybe he felt safe because I drove a lot like he did, which some people in those days told me made them a bit nervous when they were riding with me. Well, maybe it wasn’t that. Maybe it was just one of those things that happened on that day but might not have happened the next day.
Another thing that came to me this morning was that a lot of what I seem to be given to do, and a lot of my life before I got into this way of living, has had a lot of hit and miss in it. Maybe more miss than hit. In baseball, if you bat .333, that is, you get a hit one in every three at bats, that’s considered very good. You might even win a league batting crown with that percentage, but certainly you will be a star and maybe play in the All Star Game and will get well paid for hitting so well, and with a life-time batting average that high, well, maybe Ted Williams and a few others would be higher up the ladder but you would be way up there yourself, too. Maybe that was God’s way, this morning, of telling me to stop beating myself about not hitting a home run with every job assignment, or even a triple, or even a double, or even a single, or even just getting a walk or hit by a pitched ball.
Darn, I’m about to have myself a big conniption here, if I’m not careful. Why that is, is that for a very long time now, it has seemed to me that heaven has had me on a training regimen that is all or nothing. I do assignments perfectly, or it’s judged for naught. I bat 1.000, or I bat 0. And even if I bat 1.000, if my playing partners don’t also step up to the plate, then it’s as if I did not step up to the plate, too. I heard a few times in dreams that this is what has been going on, so for me it’s not mere conjecture. I told a friend after I got up this morning that this whole thing was driving me nuts, feeling that I have to do everything just in a certain way, or I get plastered afterwards. Jesus surely made mistakes, I said. How could he not have made them? He was human.
The Job assignment that had not gone well came to a head out of nowhere, like I had stepped unexpectedly on a convey of quail I did not see hidden on the ground in plain view right under my very eyes and the darn things suddenly erupted with all of their unnerving flapping wing-noise right from underneath my startled feet and swarmed up and all around me in various trajectories and directions designed to get me to shoot at holes in the air and run out of shells as they frantically dove for safety, and maybe I got one or even two of them but I didn’t shoot the whole damn convey out of the sky and maybe I didn’t hit even one of them. Hit or miss, that’s what bird shooting is. That’s what life is. Despite Jesus saying in Matthew 5:38 et. Seq., for his disciples to be perfect, even as their Father in heaven was perfect, that dog simply doesn’t hunt, at least not on his world.
After God has gotten ahold of someone real good and that has gone on for a while, the aholdee starts to see things both from the perspective of both a human being an angel. However, this is not the same perspective that just being an angel enjoys. An angel doesn’t have to mess around with and put up with the human being messing up what the angel is doing. An angel can just be an angel. But a human being can’t just be an angel. A human being has to mess around with and put up with being a human being, too. It’s a serious problem; maybe it’s a kind of multiple personality disorder: a perfect angel yoked to a perfect donkey, or something like that.
I probably could say that my father was a perfectionist and his father was a perfectionist and his father also was a perfectionist and so I am a perfectionist therefore. Perhaps there is some truth in that. But then, I said, perhaps it is fucking impossible to be a perfectionist, because it is fucking impossible to be perfect. However and despite all of that, I told John that I now find myself thinking of some perfect moments I had with my father, and that drive home from the Hit and Miss Club was one. Maybe just a small one, but it was one. My father knew how much I loved to hunt, and he didn’t care that much for it yet he made it possible for me to have that experience. I had some very good times down there with college and law school buddies, and our wives. I don’t care to hunt now, but that doesn’t take away what it was for me then.
I remember when my fourteenth birthday came, and my mom and dad asked me what I wanted for a birthday present, and I said I wanted to go to Destin to fish in the Rodeo. I’d heard about the Destin Fishing Rodeo, that it was the best fishing time of the year. My birthday was in October, in the peak of the Rodeo. So my father came and got me out of school on Friday and off we went to Destin, five hours away, before I had learned to drive in the way my father drove, all rather exciting for me, but he seemed blessed with a sixth sense and we arrived safely and a bit early, as I recall, at the Silver Beach Motel, which you might still be able to find today underneath all the high rise condominiums down there.
I remember a few years before that fishing trip, the last day we were to be there that summer vacation, we were staying in at the Old Miramar Hotel in Ft. Walton, which is about twelve miles west of Destin. In those days, there were no motels and no anything else on that beautiful beach lying east of Destin, and my father and brother and I went out there to swim, and it was one of those magic moments, like I had died and gone to heaven, but was still on this world, and I really didn’t want to leave that beach that day, I wanted to stay there forever actually, just us, no one else was there. I asked Daddy why it felt so good that day and he said it was because it was our last day down there. I think it might have been because of this day, too. My tears say it is so.
Anyway, when we got up on Saturday morning, it was raining and the seas were stirred up. We had a boat chartered for that afternoon and the next morning, but nobody went out in this sort of weather. Over breakfast in the Silver Beach Motel restaurant, I don’t think I was drinking the water but only milk, because the water from under the ground there is full of sulfur, Daddy said we could stay and try to fish tomorrow, if the weather let up, or we could go home and come back the next weekend and fish. I chose to go home and come back, and when we came back the next weekend the weather was perfect the first day and we caught a lot of nice king mackerel that first afternoon, after fishing on Crystal Beach pier that morning. The wind had shifted by the next morning, a cold front coming in. The kings were not biting so we went to bottom fishing and caught a bunch of nice red snapper. We took it all home. It was the best birthday present I think I ever had.
Many years later, my father started taking me into the Florida Keys to fish there, for bonefish mostly. This is not something rookies can do very well, as you have to learn the flats and tides, see the fish, stalk them, and so forth. It’s a cross between hunting and fishing and finding and stalking the fish is similar to using bird dogs to find quail, which bird hunters feel is as important as, if even more important, than actually shooting. Most people who don’t know how to do it already use flats guides; and most people do it out of skiffs to cover more territory, although wading works very well if you know where a good wading flat is. I fell so in to love with bonefishing that there are no words to describe it. When my father bought a nice home on Lower Matecumbe Key, about Mile marker 76, I really got to do a lot of bonefishing.
I went down there a lot with the family, and with wives and friends. It was Paradise. It made me want to live in the Keys. It seemed when I left the Keys headed back to Alabama, that my soul stayed behind, and when I went back down there and reached the Overseas Highway, just below Homestead, my soul was there waiting for me. I could literally feel my soul greet me when I left the mainland. It’s still like that, and I am having these big raindrops falling out of my eyes right now over this. My father loved it down there, and I felt awful when I learned he had finally sold his beautiful home on the Atlantic, because I knew how much he loved it. But, I was told he had not been up to going down there for a few years, and so it was sold.
My father once told me that he didn’t go down and live there all the time because he was afraid he would find out just how sorry he was. But I tell you truly, when I learned he had sold it, I wept, because I could not imagine him being more happy than down there; but he had all sort of things in Birmingham that were important and close by that he was involved in, and he let go of what I once told him was the only thing he had that I really wanted: The Fish House. I didn’t feel that way when I later I learned it was gone, but I felt that way when I said it, and it looked to me that it sort of got to him that I said it, because it sort of looked to me that he saw that I really meant it.
Most likely, I would have lived in the caretaker’s cottage, gotten guide papers and fished the flats with clients, and rented out The Fish House, when it wasn’t being used by folks who had fallen in to love with it too. For my father let many people use it: family, friends, business customers. Beside the front door, as I recall, was a sign on which was printed: “Welcome to my home, please treat it as you would your own.” Somewhere inside, as I recall, was another sign saying, “Some guests please us in their coming, others in their leaving.” And over the toilet in downstairs bath was a drawing of Bear Jesus, er Bear Bryant walking on water, and underneath were these words: “I Believe!” Coach Bryant spent some serious time down there with my father and other close friends of theirs, and in the Green Turtle Inn still hung, last time I looked, a pair of old white tennis shoes in a plastic bag, with some sort of card or sign hanging off them, saying “Bear Bryant’s Booties.”
I caught a passel of bonefish wading that flat out in front of The Fish House, and I caught another passel of them in the little Boston Whaler my father bought when he got the place back in 1963. I fished those flats hard, got really sunburned chasing those grey ghosts hither and yonder. And then, as had already happened with hunting, which I had come to love after I had fallen in to love with fishing, it went away. I no longer wanted to fish for sport, and I really didn’t even care much to fish for the skillet either, even though I might do that sometimes.
The changes started in early 1987. I felt it, like a great shadow coming over the land. I felt it over me, against me, and inside me. There really is no describing it, but I knew it was going to be very different. Very different. Then an odd thing happened: I saw that I was still fishing, but it was a different kind of fishing. Very different. I still used what I had learned on the flats, and before that at Destin, and fishing lakes and ponds and streams near Birmingham: cane pole, bait casting, spinning and fly, but invisible. In this moment, I have no doubt that my father’s spirit was there with me all along, and my son’s, we three were fishing together. We three are fishing together now.
My father was fishing when I was twelve and it was early spring and baseball was warming up and there would be a Little League in our community that year. We made up a pitcher’s rubber and a home plate in the gravel drive behind our home. He bought a catcher’s mitt and came home after work every day, and I threw until his knees wore out from stooping in the catcher’s position. I got to where I could get it over the plate pretty well and could hit different spots in the strike zone. I didn’t have any stuff on the ball, no curve, no knuckle ball, but I had zip, and I was left-handed, and that was unusual for a pitcher in those days and batters were not used to it coming from that side, and I got on a good team and I was one of the pitchers, all because my father and I had gone into the zone together those many afternoons after he came home from work.
He had season box tickets behind the visitor’s dugout at Rickwood Field, where the Barons played. We went a couple of nights a week. I’d get in the back seat and go to sleep on the way home. Jimmy Piersall played one year, before he went up to the majors. He hit a lot of game-winning home runs, to the opposite field (he was right-handed), in the bottom of the ninth, as I recall. In those days, baseball was the most important American sport to me, although football would take its place one day. In football, winning is everything, or so said The Bear. I suppose it is, but it has killed me, trying for perfect records every day of my life.
I made a lot of bad casts to bonefish, but I caught my fair share. I wrote a number of very good books, non-fiction, novels, verse. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say, a lot of good books wrote themselves, using me, as I had no clue where it was coming from, just as I have no clue where these stories here are coming from, before they come from wherever they are coming from. Yet by the measures of this world, those books were inconsequential. How they sold in heaven, I cannot say, because I have not been told. The best novel I may ever write was written right here in Helen, Georgia, 2001, perhaps on this same library computer.
And I just now received a phone call from John McKleroy, my father’s lawyer, to tell me that my father passed away in his sleep yesterday morning…
Maybe I need to stop writing, for now…
Next morning epilogue…
I burst into tears when John McKleroy called yesterday afternoon, because, I said, I had not gotten to see my father before he left. John said I would see him soon, and I said, yes, but still my tears were because I had not seen him here, on this world, before he left. I said I see him often in my dreams; it is good for us.
The night before John called, I also was told in dreams why my father and I were not seeing each other: it wasn’t anyone’s fault and was just one of those things I would never have known if it had not been revealed to me. Then I got up and went into town the library and I wrote yesterday’s story. Then John called to say he had not been able to reach me the day before yesterday, to tell me that my father had gotten up that morning in his home and had breakfast, then said he wanted to take a nap and thanked everyone there for helping him.
About four months ago I was told in a dream that something undefined would change by August 2. A friend has offered to drive me over to Birmingham this afternoon so that I can attend the memorial service tomorrow. John McKleroy has offered to get me a rental car and place to stay. Friends in Birmingham have offered me their home, for a place to stay, and I will take John up on the rental car. Dreams last night were encouraging. It did not turn out as I had hoped, nut then, maybe that’s why I awoke yesterday morning thinking of the Hit and Miss Club. Maybe some things just turn out the way they turn out and that’s a good enough batting average.
Sloan Young Bashinsky Jr.
Age 63, April 2006 photo