Silver died today. You won’t find his given name, Graham McAleer, in a history book next to a catalogue of accomplishments, or engraved underfoot on a plaque at some gilded golf course. But he left a mark on this game, at least in my corner of it.
Growing up in Northern Ireland, I was introduced to golf by Silver, who was so nicknamed for his hair, which had been white for longer than I could recall (he used to insist it was a lustrous dark before he met me). He was the father of one of my closest friends since infancy, Gavin. We first bonded through snooker, a sport particular to the British Isles that was once the seven-days-a-week passion of my teenage years. Until somewhere along the way in high school I discovered golf.
I found a battered old set of mismatched clubs in the shed that had been untouched by my father in years. Silver let me tag along with him to golf courses called Greenore and Ballymascanlon. The latter is punishingly narrow in places, a fact that didn’t trouble Silver. He rarely missed fairways, while even then I rarely hit them. He would offer rudimentary swing tips, then shake his head solemnly as I made an agricultural lash at the ball, invariably followed with analysis that would have stripped skin from a sailor’s ears.
“Oh well, at least your attitude is good,” he’d say, as I beseeched another ball headed toward the woods. I would then dip into his bag and replenish my supply of ammunition for the reload.
Almost every day of my formative years, I would let myself into Silver’s home by the back door, flick on the kettle as I passed it, and assume my position on the couch as an affiliate member of the family. Once, I arrived to find him proudly modeling a beautiful new golf sweater he had purchased.
“Will you make sure I’m buried in this?” he said, turning to me.
“You’re unlikely to need a sweater where you’re going,” I replied. I can still hear his laughter ringing.
“Very good,” he chuckled, before muttering an obscenity under his breath.
The subject of death was a constant source of humor in life for Silver, a trait not uncommon among the Northern Irish who lived through the 30 years of what we euphemistically call the ‘Troubles.’ He knew I wanted to be a writer and long before I made a career of it, more than 30 years ago, he issued a request.
“I want you to write my obituary when the time comes,” he announced one evening.
“But I have nothing nice to say about you.”
“Well, make something up, you (expletive)!”
We enjoyed that identical exchange almost annually over the ensuing decades.
On occasion, work returned me to Ireland as I visited and wrote about golf courses. Silver tagged along, as I had once done with him. We went to the Royals—County Down, Portrush, the lesser-known Belfast—and to Portmarnock, the K Club and Mount Juliet. He loved everything about those experiences.
I sometimes brought him a new driver or putter, but more often I would present myself bearing a box of golf balls. He’d always gleefully accept them with a joke about how I was slowly replacing those many balls I had lost from his bag. I think we both understood, but didn’t say, that the balls were repayment of sorts, but for something much more than the errant shots of my youth. In the way of such debts, the account was never fully settled.
Even now, I struggle to remember a single score from our many rounds, even those rare times when there were fewer strokes to tally. With the passage of years I realized that score had scant bearing on the day for Silver, that it was about company, about exercise, about taking simple pleasure in the act of hitting a ball, no matter how often one had to do it. He never lost sight of that sentiment. I did, often. His son Gavin told me that even in his final days Silver was still cracking jokes about my short fuse on the golf course.
I don’t recall when we last played. It was years ago, a combination of his aging and my apathy. By then, Silver was hitting short pop-ups off the tee, and would laugh that I could catch his ball in the air with only a slight head start. We only ever played once in the U.S., when I was a member at Anglebrook Golf Club in New York. He was excited to play what seemed to him an upscale American club. In true Irish fashion, the rain washed us out after a half-dozen holes, but it didn’t dampen his enthusiasm for the day.
On his 80th birthday, 14 months ago, we had a lengthy conversation during which he repeated the now familiar order: “Don’t forget, you have to write my obituary.”
“It’s already written,” I said. “In fact, you should know it’s going to be in next week’s paper.”
He laughed hard. “Fair enough, I’ve had a good life.” He wasn’t joking about that part.
He died peacefully this morning at home in Northern Ireland, surrounded by the love of his children and grandchildren, lucid and brimming with humor to the last. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, there can be no Irish wake, which seems unfair for a man who lived for relationships. He will be missed.
So here you are, Silver. Your obituary, as requested. One final attempt to repay a lifetime of kindness. I’m only sorry there won’t be another.