It’s not nice to be kicked off the board after seven years of loyal service. Just because some up-and-coming idiot wants to earn a few brownie points for back-slapping, I get beaten by two votes. I could kick myself. Fred and Vera were anxious to come along and vote for me, but I said, “Look, it’s a twenty mile round trip, Uncle Fred. I’ll get plenty of votes. I’m not worried.” Famous last words!
President Cliff Heath said to me after the meeting, “I’m sorry to see you go, Merry.”
“Like hell you are!” I complained. “It’s Deberoh all over again!”
That set him back a foot or two. But only for a moment. “It’s got nothing to do with Deberoh,” he whispered. “It’s entirely your own fault, Merry. You didn’t do any campaigning.”
“I did all my campaigning in Viet Nam, Cliff. A man’s entitled to think his record speaks for itself. For seven years, I’ve helped this Country Club get back on its feet, and all my thanks is a kick in the pants.”
“I know what you’ve done, Merry. Good yards, the whole caboodle. But the voters don’t. It’s as simple as ‘A’ meets ‘B’. You’ve got to get ’round and tell ’em. Promote yourself. Blow your trumpet good and loud.”
“Never been one to blow a bugle, Cliff, — mine or any other joker’s. You know it, and I’m dead sure not starting in now. If the Club members don’t appreciate all I’ve been doing for the past seven years, they can go to hell. I resign!”
As I stormed out the door, I realised my grand gesture was pretty empty. The only person I was going to inconvenience was myself. Sycamore Country Club was just up the street from home. An easy walk. A nice lunch for ten or twelve dollars; a terrific dinner for fifteen or twenty. I’d have to resign from the Euchre Tournament and the Scrabble Social as well, and I’d no longer be a favored contender at the Snooker Championships.
Well, I wasn’t going back, eating humble pie now. I’d burnt my bridges to eating and socializing. I’d have to find something else to do with my time.
Six minutes and I was home. I sat down in the kitchen, and spread out a map of Sycamore Junction on the table. In knew the score already of course. I just had this masochistic desire to confirm that Sycamore Country Club was nearest and sweetest. The Tennis, Golf, Badminton and Memorial Clubs were all on the other side of the railroad line. The sports clubs were out. I hate tennis, can’t stand golf and despise shuttlecock. I was already a member of the Memorial, but rarely went to the Club as it was so far away and so awkward to get to. No buses went anywhere near the Club and I don’t drive. However, the Club did run its own Courtesy Bus four nights a week. I’d just have to depend on that. I hate Courtesy Buses. They take their own sweet time to pick you up and treat you to an exhaustive tour of the whole district taking you home. But at least I’d tuck into a decent meal Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. I hoped.
But here it was only Sunday afternoon. I’d missed lunch at Sycamore Country, thanks to the AGM. Three hours to kill before the Memorial Courtesy went on the road. And nothing to eat in the house but stale chocolate cake and break-your-teeth rice crackers.
And whose fault was it that I was all alone, living by myself in an otherwise empty house with nothing to look forward to but eating and socializing at the Club? Nearly ten years since Janet died. But then I meet Deberoh. At the Club. We played scrabble, went for walks. She drove me to Sycamore shops, cooked meals in my kitchen. I met her married daughters. We all of us had a grand time. Even went along to the local Episcopalian church once or twice a month. I was brought up Baptist, but I let it all go once I landed in Viet Nam. That’s the place to knock religion out of a man’s soul.
Anyway, Deberoh and I were all set for the altar when Cliff Heath moved in. Didn’t worry me. He was out of the running. Married to Bev. A lovely lady. Too refined for Cliff by half. But next thing I knew, Deberoh started picking quarrels with me. And before you could say Henry the Eighth, Cliff and his Bev were divorced and Cliff married my Deb.
They even had the gall to invite me to their wedding. But of course I didn’t go near the church. Or the reception either.
I suddenly thought of Bert Barrett, President of Sycamore Memorial. I’d ring him up and get his advice. Admittedly, I hardly knew the man, but he was a former Viet Nam digger. And I had met him two or three times. Maybe he’d remember me.
He didn’t. But his interest perked up when I told him I’d just been kicked off the board at Sycamore Country.
“You don’t say, Mr Manning. You’ve been on the Country Club board a long time?”
Bert was probably guessing, but I played along. “Seven years.”
“Seven years. As long as that? It’s probably too early to think about this Merryll, but we could use a man of your ability at the Memorial. At the Club, I mean.”
“I’d be glad to help any way I can.”
Memorial Clubs are like baseball clubs. No Tom, Dick and Harry straight off the street can win a seat on the board. Just paid-up members, sprinkled with a minority of longtime associates. I’d no trouble at all in being elected. Eight Memorial vacancies, eight candidates. Four associate positions to be filled, thirty-seven hopefuls. That’s the way to run a board.
“Tell me, Merry, are Sycamore Country planning to put in a bid for the old hardware and timber complex at the end of Main Street?”
“You know that’s privileged information, Bert. I’m surprised at you. You know full well I have a duty of care to Sycamore Country not to let anyone know about their two million dollar tender for that old timber site.”
“How high will they go?”
“You know I can’t tell you that, Bert. It’s no use asking me. But of course I can give you my own personal thinking about the matter. I think that a million point two is their limit. But that’s just my personal opinion, mind.”
I enjoyed my new-found role as a Director of Sycamore Memorial, but the meals were a big disappointment. Dish of the day invariably took the form of either shepherd’s pie or sausages and mash. I couldn’t stand the deprivation any longer. I hated pizzas and Chinese takeaways. I’d force myself to eat humble pie and go back to the Country. Fortunately, I hadn’t actually sent in my resignation since walking out in a huff. So I was free to return any time I liked. Galling, but better than slow starvation on boiled rice and noodles. I’d get my own back on the Country by not putting a penny in the slots. Just go in, eat a nice subsidized meal, and go straight out. Do not pass Go! Do not collect $200!
While dining heartily on fillet mignon with cabbage, potato, onions and peas, I was startled by the glad-handing approach of President Cliff Heath. “I hear congratulations are in order,” he said, shaking my hand before sitting down opposite me.
“I was elected like that!” I snapped my finger. “Bert Barrett’s the sort of President that looks after the men he wants on his board.”
Heath ignored the thrust. “We could have a vacancy here,” he said. “Sid Oldfield’s not well. Thinking seriously of resigning.”
“Sid Oldfield’s brains went west twenty years ago,” I commented. “A perfectly useless Director in all respects. I sat right next to him, you might remember. Had to wake him up when it was time to vote. He’d look at me with his bleary eyes. ‘Yes or no, Merry?’ he’d croak. An absolute nong. Yet he was re-elected year after year, year after year.”
“The members like him.”
“Glad to hear it.” I looked Cliff Heath straight in the eye. “If the members want to trust a twenty million dollar business to the likes of Sid Oldfield, they deserve to belong to a Club that’s going bust.”
“You don’t mean that, Merry.”
“When I joined the board, how much was the debt?”
“Around twelve million.”
“And when I was kicked out?”
“You weren’t kicked out.”
“No? The members just preferred to entrust the smooth running of their Club to Oldfield and company. As I recall, the debt was nil, the year’s profit close to one and a half million. Who put in most of the spadework? You, me, and Charlie Fetherstone. It’s a wonder he wasn’t given the boot as well.”
“He draws a lot of support from the Bowlers. That’s your trouble, Merry. You don’t have a readymade group to barrack for you. Charlie’s got the Bowlers behind him, I’ve got the fishos, Sid’s got the locals — ”
“I suppose winning the Inter-Club Snooker Championships twice doesn’t count?”
“Snooker’s only a small following, you know that, Merry. Same with your other groups. Euchre, whist, scrabble — all strictly small-time. Most of ’em don’t turn up at the AGM and vote anyhow.”
“I managed to get elected for seven years.”
“Doing it the hard way. Drawing votes from all over the field.”
“That’s the way it should be, in my opinion.”
“Well, what’s your complaint, Merry? You stood and lost. But now there’s a chance for a comeback. If Sid resigns, you’re next in line.”
“Of course you’d have to resign from the board of the Memorial.”
“Again, no. Why would I desert a fine man like Bert Barrett, a man who looks after his Directors? Unlike present company.”
“That’s unfair, Merry, and you know it.”
“How many votes did you get for President?”
“You only had to direct a quarter of those votes to me and I’m home.”
“I don’t run a ticket, Merry. You know that.”
“It’s about time you did, if you want this Club to stay on its feet. Who’ve you got now? Charlie Fetherstone. Who’s doing all the work? You and Charlie.”
“Reg helps out a bit too.”
“On draining and guttering?” I surmised.
Cliff nodded. “Well, Stan? I’m counting on you.”
I stood up. “Sorry, Cliff. The answer’s no. I’m not going to let Bert Barrett down. I’m not going to resign from the Memorial board.” Payback time, Cliff! Payback time! Thank God, I didn’t feel guilty. In fact, I felt a great deal of satisfaction. My reasons for rejecting Cliff’s offer and leaving him in the lurch were both honest and true . With Christian principles at work in the heart, mind and soul, let the chips fall where they may! That’s the godly attitude. And as for hoping the Country Club really would go the wall, that was nonsense too. If the Country closed, I’d have nowhere to eat.
It wasn’t hard for the Memorial to outbid the Country for the old timber complex and use their reserves to build a new super-duper Club. As the site neared completion, our problem was staff. I suggested hiring the best from the Country: The caterer and his chef, the secretary-manager, the chief barman, the slot machines promotions officer, the office manager, and as many of the receptionists, change girls, barmen and duty officers we could lay our hands on. We got some knockbacks sure, but I made certain we bagged the caterer and the chef.
When the New Sycamore Memorial opened, it meant an extra five minutes walk from home to the other end of Main Street. It actually took me an extra ten, but I enjoyed every second of it. Always dropped by the Country on my way to see how they were coping. Did my heart good to view all the deserted rows of slot machines, note all the empty stools at the bar, count all the unoccupied chairs at the Country Café and Grill.
One night Cliff rang me up, told me the Country’s situation was desperate. Could I help? Could I ask the Memorial for a rescue package?
I suggested amalgamation.
Cliff was deeply grateful.
I don’t think he realizes yet that once amalgamated, he and the rest of his board hit the street.
They can of course compete for the four non-ex-servicemen positions on our board. Along with the thirty-seven other hopefuls.