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Ron Gawel: Golf course is etched in boyhood memories

I have found to my joy and satisfaction that reveling in fond memories from my youth is a nostalgic and wonderful pastime. The thought never left me that one day I was going to passionately relive those awesome days of growing up on Hyde Park Golf Course in Niagara Falls in the 1960s.

Was it really that long ago? I cherish those unforgettable days of boyhood during which incredibly long, hot summers existed.

Certain “you know it’s summer” scents, all too familiar and prevalent, pervaded the air from June through mid-September, pleasantly tantalizing us with an all-around good feeling. There was the fresh-cut grass of a hand mower, the morning-after smell of a recently used charcoal grill, the sweet yet pungent aroma of golden dandelions and the wild strawberries that called out to us while growing rampantly in the vacant lot across the street.

All of those scents meshed together in a summer fragrance that only nature could provide. And all conspired to be part of an exciting summer of unknown wonders about to be bestowed upon us. These were the days of that great season I remember so well.

Tony, Ricky and Craig were my main men back then. They were my comrades in innocent crime. Each played a huge part of my youth growing up on Niagara Avenue and, all too often, “living dangerously” alongside me on the golf course, as we pursued what was our means of financial survival – looking for golf balls. It was good, clean fun and totally innocent.

We never stole, but in fact often assisted golfers in locating their shiny white prizes. The only balls we claimed were those lost to the world.

There was an enemy, however, who hovered around the sprawling fairways and surrounding woods that set the stage for our Indiana Jones/Three Stooges escapades through the park seeking those gleaming white treasures.

The park ranger rode about on his three-wheeled scooter pursuing us. He was the most despicable creature on the face of the earth back then. I still get the willies as I picture him maniacally racing around the golf course, hoping to catch and intimidate us.

He wrongly accused us of hiding out in the woods and waiting to pounce on any golf ball that haphazardly went the way of the wind and into the brush because a hacker had misjudged his tee shot. The pleasure he derived in obsessively wanting to “run us in” still makes my blood run cold.

Nowadays, I stroll through those wooded lands reminiscing about every detail of how it was. The once clear pathways we trudged through are much more grown in now, perhaps because looking for lost golf balls is a thing of the past.

There are no traces left of the Tarzan-like rope swings that once hung on huge limbs of elm trees over the creek by someone who remains unknown, and strategically placed at two locations that helped beautifully serve as a quick getaway from this monster.

As if in a dream world, I walk through the bend in the forest known as “balls of paradise,” hearing the faded phantom voices of friends from some other time.

I am enjoying the merging of my past with my present, nostalgically reliving my magical and wondrous boyhood days and long ago memories of an idyllic, at times scandalous age of youthful innocence never to be forgotten.

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