Somewhere between a drive and a 9-iron shot on hole No. 18 Dr. Jack Donovan made an observation that leaps from my memory to the foreground of so many events and situations here in Carroll today.
Where have all the characters gone? We used to have so many, the good doctor despaired as we made our way around the Carroll Country Club with our friend David Wunschel, now living in Washington State, one morning a few years ago.
“We don’t have the characters,” Donovan said, when I called him this week to discuss his earlier comments. “You go to a meeting now, and you just know it’s going to be blah.”
Donovan’s comment on the course emerged after I talked of the magnificently eccentric characters I worked with and for at the country club back in the 1980s — supremely entertaining people who were quick with one-liners and wildly amusing (and often prescient) views on everything from politics to how to manage a second marriage to the best way to cure a hangover.
While a student at Carroll High School, at age 16 and 17, I had the privilege of working for golf professional Bobby Deevers as a bag boy at the club. I’d clean bags full of clubs after members were done playing, help with tee times and generally absorb an atmosphere that’s lifted, a forever-gone festive fog.
Deevers taught customer service like we were in the antebellum South. The members are always, always right. Men are “sir,” and women are “ma’am” — and that goes double if you are related to them, said Deevers, who has since passed, leaving me with one of the more challenging obituaries I’ve ever written. I loved that man.
He had these great Southern-fried isms, like, “Go catch ye a rope.” Translation: use a right-to-left wind to maximize distance on your tee shots.
Donovan, 82, and a still-practicing chiropractor, has lived in Carroll for 56 years.
Bottom line: Past generations, he said, were more full of color. And so was life in Carroll.
Today, a wave of conformity, fed by the politically correct left and the churchy right and a box-store commercialism, has swept us over.
“Everybody lives in a comfort zone for some reason or another,” Donovan said. “Everybody’s covering their rear.”
Of course, some of the stories of these days-gone-by involve some people perhaps having more than a few drinks from time to time. But to connect this observation to a diminishing bar count and healthier attitudes about alcohol consumption is to miss the point altogether.
We are bombarded with information. It cascades from our 200-channel cable or satellite TVs and flows 24/7 from our computers. There’s more fodder. But people, counter-intuitively, have less to say than in the days about which Donovan is talking, fewer really clever or original thoughts.
People just aren’t thinking outside of the box, Donovan observed.
Some of this loss, Donovan said, is no doubt connected to changing roles of parents. Often, in two-parent homes, both are working, meaning there is less time for civic organizations and social activity, both of which used to thrive at a level we don’t see now in Carroll.
At the end of the day, so many of these town characters were leaders in ways large and small in Carroll.
“We had just so many almost patriarchs,” Donovan said. “You could count on them for just about anything.”