Character Number Twenty-Four

And then there was Neal Harris. DDS.

In 1965, I and my family moved to Atlanta, GA and we very soon got a family membership to Druid Hills Golf Club. I played there regularly, Doris joined the Ladies Nine Hole Club and our three kids, Nigel 11, Nick  9 and Melanie 7 were all involved in the swim teams year by year as they aged.  We all dabbled at tennis there but none of us were very good.  In 1972, Doris and I with Nick and Melanie moved to Jacksonville, FL, leaving Nigel, who had just been accepted at Georgia Tech, in Atlanta.  Around the club pool we had been noticing Nigel spending time with a girl named Beth Harris.  Early in 1976, we were told that Nigel and Beth were engaged and we had a big champagne fountain brunch to introduce them both to our Jacksonville friends and near the end of 1976, we went to Atlanta for their wedding.  The reception was at Druid Hills Golf Club and that is where I first met Beth’s father, Neal Harris.  We immediately found that we had much in common as he also was a club member.  I had not played with him but I knew he was quite good.  We played in a two-man tournament and did so badly that we were in last place after the first day.  On the second day, Neal obviously had been drinking and we missed our starting time and got disqualified.  Neal was happy about it because he wanted me to see his boat up on Lake Lanier.  I was worried about his driving skills but we got to the dock safely.  He had a nice cabin cruiser about 20 feet long and the name at the back of the boat was, “Back of the Boat.”  We had a great cruise to another dock with a restaurant and bar.  I had to not only drive his boat back to the dock in the late afternoon but also drive his car back to the club and I was by now worrying about my own driving skills.

I invited Neal to be my partner in the Dixie Classic Golf Tournament at the Deerwood Club in Jacksonville. This was a three day tournament and Neal stayed at our house.  He was literally a colorful golfer, wearing fully matched bright shirt and pants. He also had the finest ser of golf shoes of all colors.  These were expensive leather shoes and I don’t believe even Jimmy Demaret could match them.  Neal was a dentist and he had two golf pros whose family teeth were bad and he did their dentistry on a swap basis and that is why he had so many first class shoes.  Each of the three mornings of the Dixie Classic, Doris had to choose what he should wear for the day including his shoes.  At his home his shoe collection proudly sat one by one on the steps down to his basement garage and was a colorful sight.  Later when we had moved to Houston, I have a good photo of he and me sitting by our pool with fishing rods. One nearly exciting golf game was set up by a friend of Neal’s who knew Gerald Ford and it was all arranged for us to play in a five-some at Highlands Golf Club with their pro, Neal and I, Neal’s friend and Gerald Ford.  We got to the club early but the weather looked bad.  We were all ready, surrounded by security people, waiting for Ford’s helicopter.  We could hear it above us but they could not see the ground and flew away.  This led Neal and I into arranging Annual Celebrity No-Show golf games with celebrities you know won’t come.  He was a dentist but worked quite a bit doing emergency and accident cosmetic surgery and had also done work on well-known stage and film industry stars.  He had a reputation for doing dental work for people he knew could not pay.  Some of these paid by swapping product or services.  Neal was always so cheery and friendly and I am sure his demeanor really made his patients relax. So, you have a picture of Neal Harris.  Let me tell you more about his very different early life.

He was born in Auburn, AL and his father died while he was young, leaving he and his mother homeless, moving from relative to relative.  He was able to go to Auburn University and later to Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania.  The day after the Pearl Harbor attack, he joined the US Air Corps where he got his wings in 1944 and reached the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.  He joined the 479th Fighter Group squadron in England.  On his 45th mission, protecting bombers over Berlin, he lost his engine in a dog-fight.  He crash landed in a field and stayed free for two days before he was forced to surrender.   He was taken with other officers and lined up for a firing squad that, after scaring them, fired into the wall close to them.  They then went to a POW camp where they were beaten and treated badly.  He was in the camp for close to a year and was freed by George Patton’s Army.  He is proud to say that he walked out of there with a hand on Patton’s jeep.

With a GI bill, he went to Emory University and became one of the nicest, friendly and competent dentists in Atlanta. He was a joy to be with.  We watched Neil Armstrong walk onto the moon together and he clearly showed his patriotism.  At my son Nigel’s wedding, I was the best man and as we paraded out after the ceremony, I walked by Neal, Nigel’s new father-in-law, and we hugged each other, , speechless with emotion and tears in our eyes.  I shall always remember him best for that one moment. His wife, Sara died in 2002 and Neal died in 2008, aged 84.

2 thoughts on “Character Number Twenty-Four

  1. Thank you for having Dad as one for your characters. It brought back some fun memories. I love your Gonzo style of writing. You have a great talent.

    Like

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