Raised in the Polish section of Chicago during the 60’s William was a tough and street-smart kid. In 1968, when he saw John Wayne in The Green Berets movie; he knew what he wanted to do. The day he graduated from high school he joined the Army. Four months later he was patrolling the jungle in Nam toting a M-60 machine gun. He earned the nickname of “Smokey” because when he squeezed the trigger of his M-60 he kept firing until the smoke was so thick he could not even see a target. Smokey’s war ended early when a mortar shell nearly blew his left leg off. Fast work by the chopper crew and excellent medical care form a team who saw this carnage on a daily basis saved his life and his leg.
Twenty years later Smokey’s leg had healed, though he walked with a pronounced limp, but his head still suffered from a Vietnam hangover. He had bounced from job to job and even spent some time on the streets. Then one day in 1990 while visiting an old war buddy he took a part time job cutting grass on a rural golf course in the U.P. of Michigan. Life had meaning – again!
Smokey experienced the dawn of each new day and monitored the change of seasons. He observed fox cubs and how their mother taught them to hunt. He watched the mallards raise their ducklings. Starting with a weed-eater, he steadily moved up the ranks from rough mower to fairways mower and now was the best the small course had on the triplex greens mower. Smokey took great pride in making his lines perfectly straight and the cleanup lap with a sharp edge. He loved his job!
On a late August morning, Smokey had his hoodie up and a pair of light gloves as protection from the brisk breeze that blew off the big lake. He had just completed mowing the wonderfully designed 7th green. The green was tucked into the wooded hillside and guarded on the left by a huge century old white pine.
Smokey had climbed off the triplex and removed two of the three baskets (used to catch the grass clippings), as walked to the edge of the cart path to dump his harvest when he heard a noise in the heavy arms of the old pine. Pushing his hoodie back and craning his neck, he saw two black bear cubs in a wrestling match on a naked tree limb. The nature loving, Smokey smiled so big that the tobacco juice trickled down the right side of his mouth. As he wiped the brown juice with the left sleeve of his hoodie, his smile turned to a frown and he nearly swallowed his chew of RedMan!
Where is momma bear?
Smokey stood frozen in his tracks as his head did a slow 180° periscope observation. Then he saw her – about the same time she saw him. She was coming down the cart path not 30 feet away and Smokey stood directly between her and her tree top offspring. The low threatening growl and her piercing eyes scared Smokey more than anything in Nam as his mind raced for a solution. The only sound was the rhythmic idle of the mower as Smokey and the bear had a stare-down. Momma bear never took her eyes off Smokey as she moved, inch by inch, around him placing herself between Smokey and the tree.
Smokey breathed for the first time in what seemed like an hour and, maintaining eye contact. Ever so slowly he retreated to the idling mower. He placed the triplex in reverse and eased backed down the false front portion of the green. When he reached the fairway below he shifted into forward and, never looking back, headed for the maintenance barn.
The Smokey and the Three Bear story has been told and retold over a mountain of red Budweiser cans. Oh yes! Smokey is still happily cutting greens.