Category Archives: Memories



If you miss both the North Salem Street red lights in “downtown” Apex, North Carolina you will drive through the center in about one minute. Why then does such a small stretch of road, 750 miles from where I live, hold such a deep reservoir of fond memories?

The short answer is checkers.

My daughter, Katy, and my grandchildren, Molly and Jack, moved to the Apex/Cary area five years ago. My wife and I make certain to visit from our Rhode Island home a few times a year. Our times there are always a whirlwind of activities; Durham Bull baseball games, events in Raleigh and making the drive to swim in the ocean at Wrightsville Beach.

Yet, what thrills me most, and stays in mind longest, takes place on the circular top of an upturned whiskey barrel in front of The Rusty Bucket store on North Salem Street in Apex. Painted on the rough surface of this barrel top is a checkerboard. Young Jack, now six years old, loves to play checkers with Gramps at this spot. I think he and I start anticipating our matches weeks before Grammy and Gramps’ arrival. We started playing about three years ago. That first year I had to teach the then three year old grandson how the pieces could move, what “king me” meant and to not let go of a piece until you were sure of your move.

His Mom, Grammy and Sister were happily occupied spending time, and a little vacation money, at the All Booked Up and Gone Stitching stores which also grace North Salem Street. This affords Jack and me enough time for a few games which have become increasingly competitive as the years roll by. No longer do I have to teach. Now I have to be wary for Jack has learned how to trap me in a corner, he now spots every multiple jump and knows how to defend his back row. Next year I’ll give him my final piece of checkers advice. I’ll let him know he has a “tell”. When he has made a move that puts him at an advantage he raises his eyebrows above those beautiful dark brown eyes, which will one day drive the girls crazy, and Gramps knows to check the board for impending danger. Last year Jack told me he was learning chess. He’ll have to tell me how those pieces move!

At a certain point the females of our family, done shopping, will join us and we will head off for some delicious pizza next door at Anna’s a place that destroys my Northerners’ assumption that you can’t get good pizza in the South. Or, maybe we will cross the street to enjoy some wonderful comfort food at the Salem Street Pub. No matter which place we choose we will likely top off our meals with some ice cream at the simply named, The Ice Cream Store. Flavors like Birthday Cake and Superman for the kids and Vanilla Fudge for the adults.

Sometimes, after the food carnage, Jack and I will be informed that the ladies want to check out the goods in The Rusty Bucket. He and I will exchange quick glances and smiles while heading back to our checkers match.

Each year the paint on the game board surface gets more and more splintered and faded, to the point that setting up the pieces in the correct squares takes some concentration. I find this strangely reassuring and comfortable. Each year I’m afraid some red or black pieces will be missing, or even worse, the barrels will no longer be
outside the store.

Somewhere, way back in my family lineage, there was, supposedly, an ancestor who worked for a cooper. The story has it that he made, and installed, the round metal straps which secured the barrel’s wooden slats in place. I think of that long lost, perhaps even fictitious, relative as I sit on a wobbly stool in front of an old barrel playing checkers with my grandson Jack on a tiny stretch of North Salem Street in Apex, North Carolina which has become my favorite spot in the world.
– END –

Jim Raftus

Sunrise Lessons

IMG_20150506_063305850SUNRISE LESSONS

T.S. Eliot famously wrote, “This is the way the world ends not with a bang but a whimper.”

I think it may end with the soft click of a selfie stick.

Wednesday, May 6th, I awake, unplanned at 6:05am. As a retiree I’ve grown accustomed to sleeping in later than that, but instinctively I know why my sleep has ended. My mind knows that in just a few minutes a glorious sunrise over the early morning surf will happen no more than 50 yards down a grassy path from the hotel suite I am staying in at Wrightsville Beach in North Carolina. Now, I do live in Rhode Island, called the Ocean State, but my home is about 40 minutes from the shore, so viewings of sunrises over the Atlantic Ocean there require some planning.

Quickly, I throw on a pair of shorts and a light jacket, moving quietly to not disturb my wife, daughter and grandchildren who are still soundly asleep in the suite, and I head out to the beach. My timing is good, there is the soft, reluctant light of early morning which portends the upcoming sunrise. Looking east over the curling, grey waves I see there are a few wispy clouds above the horizon. Perfect, as these types of clouds usually provide beautiful bands of gold, pink and blue when the sun makes its first slow, seemingly reluctant appearance.

The shore is sparsely populated, but I spot a group of four young women, about college aged, posing with their feet in the shallow surf of the incoming tide. One of them snaps her phone onto the end of a long selfie stick and wide smiles appear. I watch them for a few moments. My problem is that in order to take the photo they all have their backs to the impending sunrise. I grumpily conclude that to this generation capturing themselves is more important than witnessing the actual sunrise!

I’m 68 years old and I try really hard to have an internal curmudgeon meter to warn me against becoming a sour faced senior citizen. Sometimes, in moments like this sunrise morning, my meter fails to register. It also doesn’t always work when I see about 30% of the folks at Fenway Park staring at their text messages while the pitcher throws a curveball on a 3/2 count with the bases loaded! Or the curmudgeon meter doesn’t click on when I watch a family of five eating in a restaurant in stone cold silence while they all thumb the keypads of their personal devices!

Now, I don’t think I’m a technophobe. I own, and use, my Apple Mini-Mac, my AirPad6, and my Android phone, but I have a growing concern that all those recent science fiction movies of machines taking over the world are becoming more documentaries than works of fiction.
What I truly fear is the diminishing of real human companionship. But, wait, what’s that slight buzzing sound I hear as I stand here watching the sun make its glorious, golden appearance over the Atlantic? I do believe my curmudgeon monitor is working.

Just in time the young women to my right turn around and gleefully greet the sunrise with youthful applause and and joyful kicks at the surf. I finally recognize that they had the sense of joie de vivre to come down to the sea at this ungodly hour to enjoy the nature show even with the likely burden of a prior night’s Cinco de Mayo celebration.

Maybe this somewhat, by definition, self involved selfie is just their way of spreading the joy. Perhaps the soft click of the selfie stick is not, as R.E.M. sings, “..the end of the world as we know it”, but the beginnings of this new generation’s new adventures.

Funny how one sunrise can flip so many perceptions. I’m glad I woke up early.

– END –

Jim Raftus

I Am Not Chasing Richard Jenkins – (Published in the Providence Journal 3/28/15.)


Let’s start with a roll call. How many Academy Award nominees for Best Actor live in my small town in Rhode Island? Answer? One, Richard Jenkins.

So, when I see him at the produce section of our local supermarket am I supposed to pretend he’s just the guy stocking the shelves? He wouldn’t know me if I kicked him in the shins to get his attention. (I won’t do this, Richard.) It just intrigues me that this highly acclaimed actor has chosen to stay in Rhode Island despite all of his Hollywood success.

Sure, his early career included a fifteen year stint at Trinity Square Rep Theater in the 1970’s and 80’s and his talented wife still does choreography for some of their shows. Plus, Jenkins returned as Trinity’s Director in 1990 and saved the troupe from near extinction brought upon it by the previous Director’s penchant for cutting edge avant garde work and her total misreading of the Rhode Island audience. However, common sense says that to be a working screen actor means living in either New York or California. Jenkins, apparently, likes to be an outlier. I gather he must enjoy his privacy.

My first real notice of him came in the 1987 film “The Witches of Eastwick” an adaptation of a John Updike novel. Jenkins’ role as a milquetoast husband who eventually succumbs with murderous rage inflected upon his wife was a small masterpiece. It also showcased one of the actor’s greatest strengths, the portrayal of the “slow burn”.

Several years after the release of “The Witches of Eastwick” I found myself standing next to Mr. Jenkins behind the baseball backstop as our sons played a Little League game. “Witches” is an odd movie starring Jack Nicholson as Daryl Von Horne a mad near Satanic seducer who could, seemingly on demand, call on the fury of Mother Nature. While Richard and I watched the young players scurry around the field the sky above us became more and more threatening. Wow, I thought, what a perfect line I have for an icebreaker with this actor.

“If these clouds get any more ominous, I’m looking for Daryl Von Horne.” I would say.

Richard’s head would first warily turn towards me then his face would break into a smile at my witticism. Instead, just before I delivered my bon mot, the heavens erupted. Torrential rain and a clap of thunder sent all the parents and kiddies scrambling towards their sundry SUVs and mini-vans. My inquiries about Updike, Nicholson, Michelle Pfieffer, Cher and Susan Sarandon went unasked.

Several years later Richard was leaving the dry cleaners as I was entering. I had recently watched him in “The Visitor” the role which earned him his nomination for best leading actor in 2008. This time I did not hesitate.

“Loved ‘The Visitor’ and I tell everyone they have to see it.” I blurted.

Perhaps as a defensive mechanism Richard shifted the plastic sheathed assortment of clean shirts from one hand to the other.

“Thank you. I appreciate that.” he quietly replied.

O.K., no harm, no foul. He seemed truly grateful, but wary of drawing the attention of others still in the store. My compliment was sincere. Jenkins’ transformation in the movie from a stilted, bored widowed college professor into an enraged citizen playing an African djembe drum on a New York subway platform as a protest to injustice is amazing.

In the past several years his career has continued to flourish. He starred in the quirky tv show “Six Feet Under” as the ghost father who visits his family to dispense advice and sarcasm. He has now had roles in sixty films showing a wide range of acting skills. To me his comedic talent is best seen in 2005’s “Fun With Dick & Jane” in a scene where Jenkins’ character a corrupt, often drunk, businessman, Frank Bascombe, describes the failing company’s financial schemes to a disbelieving Jim Carrey. His verbalization and hand pantomiming of where the “profits” really went is just hilarious.

While I still occasionally saw him running errands in town, a regular guy just like you and me, I managed to stifle my “fandom”. Until recently. I mean we were practically handling the same carrot in the vegetable bin!

“Enjoy your work, Richard.” I offered.

He nodded and smiled.

“ I love what David Denby said about you in The New Yorker, ‘…Richard Jenkins did what he always does, take his part in a movie and make it the best part of the movie’. “, I ventured using part of the critic’s review of 2011’s “Friends With Benefits” for my intended compliment.

“I truly appreciate that.” Jenkins graciously replied.

I walked away with my carrots.

Well, now I’ve intruded upon him two times in about two and a half decades. That’s enough.

The man deserves his privacy. That’s why the photo accompanying this article is not of Richard Jenkins. It is me. I am not a celebrity, so feel free to stop me and we can talk about sports, politics and my writing.

Oh, and Richard, if you are reading this, I’m working on a script that I think would be PERFECT for you.
– END –




Summer – Mid 1950’s.

Three stitches were working their way loose. The red strands disengaging from the dirty, stained horsehide. I menacingly tapped the bat in the middle of the crudely shaped home plate. My brother, already stretching to six feet three inches at a mere fourteen years old loomed toweringly close from our makeshift mound. The crunch of tires on the gravel filled driveway preceded the nose of the ancient Hudson as it announced our parents’ return from the local A&P market.

“That’s not a hard ball you’re using, is it?” our mother called from the car’s open window.

“It’s okay, Mom,” my brother replied.

“Not if you break a window!”

“He’s just seven. He can’t hit it that far.” he answered.

Mother lugged the brown grocery bags around to the side mudroom entrance, her path approximating the warning track in left field. Her brief concern about the hard ball was about as severe as her discipline would venture. She wore a patterned dress, circles and squares and not being a church day, sensible shoes.
The air around her always smelled of caution.

Without straining imagination, the back yard of our modest Pawtucket bungalow was a miniature Fenway Park. A short wire fence in right field even had a strange rectangular depression running in front of its length like the bullpen in Boston. Right field was where young Jackie Jensen patrolled for the Red Sox. Fresh out of college, where he had played football as well, Jensen brought some much needed speed to the slow footed roster.

At our backyard ballpark if the ball cleared the right field fence it landed in the Olsen’s yard. Most times you just leaped the fence to retrieve the ball, but occasionally, Charlie Olsen would be out back wandering around. Charlie was a bachelor of indeterminate age who lived with his elderly mother and spinster aunt. Our parents encouraged us to be nice to Charlie because he had the “shakes” from the Korean Conflict. A more thorough explanation of “shakes” would have reduced the youthful, unnecessary fear I had of Charlie. His hair was a burnt orange, fringed with premature grey. Was the grey caused by something horrible he witnessed in a battle? When he spoke, which was not often, his voice had a quiet hesitation. You needed to lean closer, not a viable option for me, to catch the end of his sentences. His blue eyes would look past your right shoulder as he surrendered the ball back over the fence.

Father had noisily popped the Hudson’s hood and was peering incomprehensibly into the maze of mechanical parts that powered the beast. Steam hissed menacingly as it escaped from around the radiator cap. Soon, I knew, Father would be pouring a Clorox bottle full of water into the radiator reservoir, forestalling, for a bit, another roadside catastrophe. Father’s confidence in his mechanical abilities never came close to matching reality.

The Hudson was parked in the center field triangle. At Fenway, this region was owned by Jimmy Piersall, who was battling his own delusions. Piersall, along with Jensen, the only speed the Sox had, played an extremely shallow center and loved to race back to the four hundred foot mark to snag long drives in full stride. I wondered if his mental problems were anything like Charlie’s “shakes” ?

My brother teasingly twirled into his windup, all spindly arms and legs gyrating, hiding the release point of the ball. Yet I trusted that he wouldn’t throw the real heater towards his little brother. The exaggeration motion was all show. Comic relief.

The final most critical detail of our home Fenway was the left field wall. The Green Monster in Boston was replicated in the back of our simple home. It loomed over our little yard and our imaginations. Father had painted the house green and I never dared ask why, fearing he might change his mind and desecrate it with a cream or brown do-over. The only spoilage to the image was a six paned window that brought light onto our kitchen table. The sextuplet squares glistened in the sun as I squinted, trying to decode my brother’s delivery. Of course, at Fenway, left field was reserved for Teddy Ballgame, Theodore Samuel Williams, the greatest hitter of his era. I would sometimes vainly try hitting left handed to emulate #9’s perfect assault on the ball. But from that side I had a hitch in my swing you could tie six horses to. Ted Williams, a boy’s hero in so many ways, had just returned from the Korean Conflict, his second stint of dangerous duty as a fighter pilot. I could never envision Ted with the “shakes”.

My brother’s arm finally reappeared from the whirligig of his windup. He released the ball with a sidearm delivery, the seams spinning crazily as it headed in my direction. I fought my youthful habit of flinching and squeezed the bat tightly, my weight on my back foot. The pitch looked to be about belt high, an orb hurtling toward destiny. I cocked my wrist for extra power and shifted my weight forward as I brought the bat level.


The sound was noticeably different, more violent than anything I had generated before. The ball recoiled off the meat of the bat at an alarming rate. Not my usual squibbler to third or slow roller to the mound. It was my first line drive and it was headed for the Green Monster. More precisely it was headed, unerringly, towards the shimmering glass rectangle in the center of the wall. I watched, mesmerized, as the blast neared the house.


The left pane middle row of the window imploded into our kitchen. A round hole with spidered hair magically appeared. Charlie, browsing in his garden, ducked instinctively at the sound of the explosion. My brother placed his gloved left hand on top of his crewcut.

“What the heck?” my father asked, as he backed into shallow center field, looking to his left.

I stood at home plate frozen by a mixture of fear, pride and amazement.

“I’m sorry, Dad. I never thought he could hit it that far,” my brother said, gallantly falling on his sword for me.

“Quite a poke,” my father mused. “Guess I’d better head to Bunting’s Hardware to get some glass.”

The door to the mudroom creaked open, then clacked shut. My mother turned the corner, coming into view with the offending object held like a bomb in her right hand.

“Can’t hit it that far?” she mimicked my brother.

This time he feigned invisibility. The Hudson roared to life, stealing our mother’s attention.

“Where is your father going?” she worriedly asked.

“Bunting’s, for some glass,” I offered.

“Great! We’ll end up with six broken panes!” she sighed, tossing the ball back towards the mound.

I exhaled for the first time in what seemed like minutes and decided that this disaster would not, in fact, be the thing that would give me the “shakes!”

– END –

“What’ll I Do” About the 2015 Bob Dylan? – Published in the Providence Journal 3/1/15

New album by Bob Dylan
Posted Mar. 1, 2015 at 2:01 AM

By Jim Raftus
Two songs into Bob Dylan’s new CD “Shadows In the Night,” I decided it was the worst album I’d ever purchased. The premise, Dylan channeling Sinatra, had seemed beyond risky and by the end of the second cut my fears were confirmed. I turned it off and began randomly reminiscing previous Dylan moments in my life.
Summer 1969:
Because I was a squad leader I had been assigned a room with a view of the Alyeska mountain range on Fort Richardson in Anchorage, Alaska. Often guys would stop by my room to smoke, swear and listen to music. One day after listening to my collection of Dylan, Tom Paxton, Buffy St. Marie and Phil Ochs albums a thoroughly Southern boy, Private First Class E.Q. Smith from Little Rock, drawled, “ Ya’ll know what you are, Raftus? Ya’ll a short-haired hippie.” A precise, concise observation. I doubt many other barracks walls echoed with the sound of Dylan’s “Masters of War” during that horrific summer.
October 1965:
The old Rhode Island Auditorium was infamous for the low hanging, suffocating cigarette smoke that would engulf the crowds at Boston Celtic and Providence Reds games. The smoke had a different density, and distinct aroma, when Dylan played the North Main Street venue just a couple of months after “going electric” in Newport. I had forgiven Bob by then, even embracing his new sound. My girlfriend was less than enamored. She convinced me to leave early to beat the crowds, but as we started up the stairs toward the exit the first few chords, the organ riff from “Like a Rolling Stone,” tore through the pungent air and stopped me in my tracks.
“We’re not going anywhere.” I announced to my companion.
It was the beginning of the end of that relationship.
Summer 1998:
As a youth I had a passion for sports and a cursory interest in music. My son, Steve, now 29, was the exact opposite. From the age of 8 he dedicated himself to learning guitar. As a youngster he probably spent as many hours working on chords as I had perfecting my mid-range jump shot. Oddly this mix of aspirations helped form our bond as we traded tidbits from our separate passions. However, early on in Steve’s musical journey he was not into folk. He was a hard rocking young lad so, when I invited him to join my wife and me at a Dylan concert at the TD North Garden in Boston he was hesitant. I’d played a great deal of early acoustic folk Dylan in our home. Steve felt he’d be bored. Dylan, 57 in 1998, rocked at the Garden.As we left the concert my young son exclaimed, “That was awesome! Thanks, Dad.”
So, the other day, as I sat in my car in the Emerald Square Mall parking lot, having turned off “Shadows In the Night,” I felt abandoned, as if some connective tissue in my life had snapped. It’s not as if I had been a life long Dylan acolyte. He’d lost me for some stretches before; his Christian conversion and deep country phases left me cold. But since the mid-1990s, I’d regained my enthusiasm. “Shadows In the Night” seemed like a divorce-worthy misstep.
No one, not even the most ardent Dylan fans, would have ever said they listened to him for the purity of his voice. At its core it was the words, the searing, prophetic lyrics and the painted pictures in musical verse, that captured us. How could a CD of Dylan’s voice, more ruptured than ever, singing someone else’s words possibly work? Out of obligation I pushed “play” as I started the ride home. The third track, “Stay With Me” had a little bounce to it. It was palatable. By the end of the final song, “That Lucky Old Sun,” I was unnerved.
“I can’t be liking this!” I thought.
Later that evening I found myself slow dancing with my wonderful wife of 40 years in the living room of our suburban home to Dylan’s interpretation of Sinatra’s “What’ll I Do?”
Now the question remains: Who has changed more in the past five decades — Dylan or me?

Jim Raftus (, an occasional contributor, is a retired marketing executive who lives in Cumberland.

Final Out F-9. Published in the Providence Journal

The bright orange roof of the Howard Johnson’s was a benchmark. This particular Ho-Jo filled the triangle formed by the merging of Routes 1 and 1A in North Attleboro. Even at 11, I knew if we were driving this far north of our Pawtucket life, we were heading for Fenway Park! The Green Monster, the CITGO sign, sausage grinders from the street vendors, but, best of all, Ted Williams at the plate.
We’d drive past Ratty’s Car Hop where, if Dad was feeling flush and the Sox won, we might stop on the way home for the world’s best burgers on buttered and grilled rolls. Your order was taken, and your food even brought to your car, by achingly pretty teenage girls gliding on roller skates!
Dad’s hulking green Hudson maneuvered its way through the curves of the VFW Parkway like an armadillo on a mission. Duct tape, secured by faith, held the tailpipe in place. We’d be fine until we hit the rotaries in Brookline, where Dad always managed to exit either one spoke too soon or one spoke too late. Never mind batting practice, we rarely managed to see the first inning.
On this day, July 20, 1958 — 55 years ago today — the Detroit Tigers, my favorite team after the Sox, were in town.
We finally arrived, parked the beast somewhere illegal and scurried down Lansdowne Street. A loud roar poured out of the old brick ball yard as we turned toward the entrance.
“I bet Williams hit one out!” I pouted angrily.
But the crowd noise was unusual. It didn’t quickly spike then fade. Rather, it lingered punctuated with new passion then ebbing away only to reverberate again. This one mystified me. My father, brother and I pushed through the turnstiles and jogged up the tilted, zigzag ramp toward our first base side grandstand seats. The noise was over by the time we shot through the tunnel and finally looked onto the diamond. Umpires were concluding a huddled conference as we found our seats.
“What happened? What happened?” I pestered the man in the seat in front of mine.
“Billy Martin spiked Runnels sliding into second base. All hell broke loose,” he replied.
We had missed a real baseball rhubarb! A bench-clearing, infield-dust-swirling wrestling match. I consoled myself by rationalizing that the donnybrook had delayed the game some, so we’d missed less of the actual action.
The ball-filled afternoon then spun itself out on a tradition-laden web of hot shots to third, 6-4-3 double plays and the rhythmic “We want a hit” chanting and clapping.
Too many decades and too many ballgames have passed for me to recall all the details of the game. However, the final out in the bottom of the ninth is etched as clearly as Catechism lessons in my mind.
Jim Bunning, long and lean, was on the hill for the Tigers. He was one of the best hurlers of his time and I secretly admired him even though he played for Detroit. Heck, in those days, the Red Sox never had any pitchers to root for. Bunning was on top of his game that day, literally unhittable, carrying a no-hitter into the final inning.
If this game had been proposed as a Hollywood script, and the writer cajoled the action into having Ted Williams stride to the plate with two outs, some editor would have red lined it as too clichéd.
But, that’s how it happened, Ted taking languorously smooth half swings for practice as he headed for the left-handed batter’s box. (He would hit .328 that year, with 26 home runs and 85 runs batted in, in 129 games.) I froze, paralyzed by torn emotions, my devoted loyalty to Number 9 punctured by my wanting to see Bunning succeed.
The two baseball icons dueled for a couple of pitches, I think, but can’t swear. Bunning whirled and tried to sneak a fastball over the inside corner past Ted. Williams uncoiled, powerful hips turning into the swing.
“Crack!” The ball resonated off Ted’s Louisville Slugger. From our first base side seats we had the perfect spot to watch the flight of the ball.
I didn’t, couldn’t, cheer. The crowd didn’t cheer. It was eerily hushed as the ball started on its parabolic flight toward right field. Al Kaline, the Tiger’s brilliant right fielder, started drifting back. The ball reached its highest trajectory and began the slow descent as Kaline backpedaled onto the narrow warning track. Did it have enough distance to reach the Tiger bullpen?
Kaline casually lifted his Spalding glove and the ball settled in the pocket. I swear I could hear the “plop” as horsehide met leather. Ted had hit it too far down on the handle. Bunning had “fisted” him just enough. After a moment’s hesitation, the Beantown fans, still standing, started a long ovation for Bunning.
The Howard Johnson’s is gone, Ratty’s has been boarded up for decades, and my father passed away 16 years ago, but I can still instantly recall the triangle of Hall of Famers — Kaline, Bunning and Williams — and that final notation in my scorebook: F-9, which in baseball scoring means fly out to right field.

Jim Raftus, of Cumberland, is a retired marketing executive.

Rhode Island andLife Long Friendships – Published in the Providence Journal

Tonight I will be attending a high school 50th reunion. More than 2 million high school seniors across the country graduated in 1964, so I am not alone in participating in this ritual.
Here’s what will make my night somewhat different and Rhode Island-centric.
While there will be plenty of “not quite certain who that guy is” moments, I’ll be seated at a table with several graduates I’ve stayed close friends with since September 1952, on the first day of first grade at St. Leo’s School, in Pawtucket. In fact, a few of them — Bill, Steve and Ed — are often part of my regular golfing foursome. We’ve remained buddies for 62 years.
When I tell folks, especially non-Rhode Islanders, that my foursome consists of mostly friends from first grade they are incredulous. My joking reply to their response is, “Yeah, we can’t decide if we are really loyal or really boring.”
What we really are is Rhode Islanders. I’m convinced that there is something unique to our native Ocean State that tends to cultivate long-term relationships.
In our younger days, the boundaries of parochial school parishes herded us together during these important formative years. The parish school and church were links that bound us together. We navigated the influences, good and bad, of the nuns and priests as a united group.
Left to our own devices during non-school hours, we poured our energy into traditional sandlot and playground sports: baseball, football and basketball.
A few months ago, relaxing at the 19th hole after a round of golf, we reminisced about a “two-on-two” basketball league we organized between the summer of our seventh and eighth grades. My team happened to go undefeated. Steve insisted that it was only because I “towered over all of them.” I am 6-foot-4. I let him keep this fantasy for a week.
The following Saturday, as we sat on the porch overlooking the 18th green, I unrolled, like an old biblical scripture, a faded, crinkled copy of the St. Leo’s graduation class of 1961 photo. There, standing in the second row, separated only by a girl I don’t remember, Steve “towers” over me by at least a full inch. You see, I sprouted three inches the summer after this photo was taken.
Rhode Island’s most often noted feature, being the smallest state in the Union, certainly is a factor in the long-term maintenance of friendships. We are long since removed from the Pawtucket of our youths, “scattered” all around the state: Cumberland, Barrington, West Kingston and East Greenwich. (Scattered being a relative term that folks from other, larger states would find laughable.) Most importantly for our needs, we can all easily find our way to whatever golf course we want to conquer in Rhode Island.
We went to different colleges: Providence College, Bryant and Rhode Island College. We’ve served in the military, Vietnam and Alaska. We’ve had careers: education, finance, insurance and marketing. We’ve attended each other’s weddings, our children’s weddings and funerals for our parents, all now gone.
It has been a long, mostly blessed, journey. Although more than five decades removed, I can still recall the climb up the back stairs to Bill’s family’s apartment in a no-longer-existing building behind Howell Smith’s Drugstore on the corner of Newport and Central Avenues. I can still hear his wonderful mother’s hearty, infectious laugh.
Times have changed. A more mobile society, instant international communication methods and, in general, a more frenetic lifestyle seem to have made such long-term close-proximity friendships less viable. I know my children, while still in contact with old chums via social media, have established newer lives and friends in new locations.
Oddly enough, the reunion my wife and I will be attending, St. Raphael’s Class of ’64, is not the high school I graduated from. Financial circumstances at the time forced me to transfer after my sophomore year, but so strong is the bond with my friends that I’m always invited back to school functions.
So, while I’ll be saying plenty of, “Wow, I haven’t seen you for 50 years,” I’ll also, happily, end the evening with, “See you next week, 8:30 tee time.”
Jim Raftus ( is a retired marketing executive who lives in Cumberland.

My Dad’s Secret – Published in the Providence Journal

Surprisingly, my hand was steady as I teed up my ball on the first hole at the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, in Fife, Scotland. Or, as the locals would say, “Stuck my peg in the sod.” I had heard stories of golfers so overwhelmed, or intimidated, by the lore of The Old Course that they couldn’t control their shakes enough to balance the 1.68-inch diameter ball on the small wooden tee. Of course, having a crowd of skeptical St. Andrew’s natives and assorted tourists watching you from behind the low white fence near the first tee adds to the pressure.
Later, at dinner, all the golfers received the most magnificent “take away” present imaginable. Unbeknownst to us, a camera had recorded our play on the first and eighteenth holes. A Scottish announcer narrated our efforts with great humor and mirth. My video begins: “Here’s Mr. Jim Raftus. He’s a tall man with a swing reminiscent of a young Tiger Woods.”
Scottish hyperbole.
After my foursome hit our drives, the camera followed us down the wide first fairway. My face is split by a wide grin and I am swinging my arms in a gleeful X pattern across my chest.
At that moment my thoughts turned to my dad, the man who had introduced me to this wonderfully perplexing sport. He had passed away a couple of years prior. As I strolled down the first fairway of the “Home of Golf,” I thought, “Well, we made it, Dad.”
My father, Leo, was, like me, a mediocre golfer. He introduced me to the game at a very young age. If I tagged along, the more likely Mom would be to allow one more round of golf that particular week.
Dad would meet his cronies at one of the several public courses he favored in Rhode Island. When the course was not too busy, he would give me one ball and a cut-down putter. I’d play the entire course behind Dad’s group with a putter, being extra careful to never get in anyone’s way. I’d keep an eye out for his long, lean silhouette to make sure I was keeping pace.
I also knew I was in range if I could hear him whistling a song between shots. I recall that at his last job, a shipping clerk at a manufacturing plant, his fellow workers nicknamed him “The Whistler.”
Invariably after every round Dad played, he’d say to me, “Jimmy, I found the secret.” He’d then describe the subtle change in his grip or the slower backswing or some other newly discovered panacea. Every week it was a new secret, and every week the secret seemed to last about seven holes before the golf demons took notice and the usual slices and three-putt greens would derail Dad’s game. With the exception of a few soft scowls, he usually bore the rapidly rising score with good humor.
Two years before my Scotland/Ireland golf pilgrimage, I took my dad to a driving range near his home. He was wheelchair-bound and, despite the warmth, I wrapped him in an afghan. He sat behind the mat I was using to hit my shots. After I had hit half a bucket he called me to him. I figured he’d had enough and wanted to leave. Instead he said, “Your grip is too weak. Gimme the club.”
Still seated, he took the driver in his hands. He had long tapered fingers. The back of his hands always featured prominent blue veins rising from almost translucent skin. His hand looked to me like a topographic map of the Appalachian Mountains drawn on parchment.
“Here’s the secret,” he said, still teaching at the age of 86. “Move your left hand over.”
He passed away a few months after this final lesson.
So, Dad was definitely on my mind as I stood on the famous Swilken Bridge for the obligatory photo-op on the 18th hole at St. Andrew’s. I then flew my approach shot over the final green and the ball came to rest on a steep berm.
Our Scottish video narrator picked up the action, intoning, “A very difficult shot from that lie. If he gets it within 15 feet of the hole, he’s done a good job.”
I deftly chipped the ball and it came to rest 2 inches away from the hole. The spectators watching from behind the white fence awarded me a fine ovation. I was so overjoyed I literally slid down the slope on my backside in celebration, club held aloft in triumph.
As I slid down I realized that my Dad’s real secret was not the grip, the stance or any golf tip. It was to always treasure family, good friends and life itself. Tapping in my “gimme” putt, I may have even whistled.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad.
Jim Raftus (, an occasional contributor, is a retired marketing executive who lives in Cumberland.