by Ruth A. Rouff
This is an excerpt from Lone Star, a novel based on the life of the great woman athlete, Babe Didrikson Zaharias. In this excerpt Babe is at the pinnacle of her golf career when she meets a young woman golfer named Betty Dodd. It is Babe’s friend and mentor, a Texas society woman named Bertha Bowen, who has suggested that Babe introduce herself to Betty. The year is 1950 and Babe has been married to former pro wrestler George Zaharias since the late 1930s.
Betty Dodd was a tall, gangly girl with freckles and a shock of coppery hair that fell in front of her dark brown eyes. She didn’t care if her eyebrows needed tweezing. She didn’t care a lick about makeup. She didn’t care if her blouse hung out over her skirt when she wacked a golf ball or if her golf shoes were scuffed and dirty. She had been a tomboy all her nineteen years and didn’t see the need to change. It was hard being that way in San Antonio. Her parents were well-off members of society, but Betty adamantly had no interest in church socials and debutante balls and that kind of thing. She learned to play golf at the age of 12. Maybe that’s what saved her.
Betty met Babe Didrikson at an amateur tournament in Miami which Babe attended as a spectator. She and George had recently moved into their new home, Rainbow Manor in Tampa. It was nearly three hundred miles from Tampa to Miami, but with Bertha Bowen’s words in mind and with George away once more, checking out some business opportunity in Detroit, Babe decided to make the trek.
As Babe observed the younger golfer teeing off, she thought, “Bertha was right. This kid is raw.”
After the round, in which Betty played well but did not win, Babe strode over to the young woman as she was heading back to the clubhouse. As she grew nearer, she could see that Betty’s clothes were something less than stylish and that she needed a good haircut and perm. Babe was oddly amused.
“Hi, I’m Babe Didrikson Zaharias,” Babe said. It was always a mouthful getting that name out. She could have simply introduced herself as Babe Zaharias but chose not to on this occasion. “Bertha Bowen is an old friend of mine. She suggested I introduce myself.”
Betty was taken aback.
“You don’t need to introduce yourself. I know who you are,” she said, grinning nervously.
“You do, huh? Well, I enjoyed watching you play golf,” Babe said.
“Sorry you didn’t see me win.”
“No, but you did pretty well for a young ‘un. Why not talk about it over dinner? On me.”
Betty was only too happy to accept the invitation. At dinner, it was all she could do to keep from gaping at her idol. She couldn’t eat much because her stomach was queasy with nervousness. She was lucky she didn’t pour salt into her iced tea.
Babe was amused to see Betty picking at her food. She found her obvious nervousness flattering. Looking at Betty, with her shapeless hair style and boyish face, was like looking at her twenty-year-old self: a work-in-progress. There was no need to hurry back to Tampa. Babe would stay on in Miami for a couple of days. She had already planned to stay one night. Now she would stay at least two.
“So, tell me what you’ve done in golf so far.”
Betty told her that she had started playing when she was twelve, that she had won a few amateur tournaments in the San Antonio area.
“Did you notice anything I’m doing wrong?” Betty asked. She looked anxious.
“Yep,” Babe said. But if you’ve got time, I can show you what I mean on a course.”
“Have I got time to get a lesson from Babe Didrikson? I should say so!”
Betty and Babe spent the next day playing golf together at the Bayshore course in Miami Beach. Babe had a lot of tips for Betty, ways to improve her swing, how to play the bunkers, how to pitch and putt for greater accuracy. She was patient. She tried to teach Betty the way Stan Kertes, Gene Sarazen, and others had taught her. It was nice having someone look up to her. What did they call such a person? A protégé? Fancy word, but maybe Betty could be her protégé. She invited her to join her later that month in Tampa.
“I practically roll out of bed onto the course there,” Babe told Betty.
Of course, Betty agreed.
That night Babe called up Bertha Bowen.
“Well, I’ve met Betty Dodd and given her a few pointers,” she said.
“How do you like her?”
“She’s a nice kid. Sorta reminds me of me when I was her age. You know, we Texas gals have to stick together.”
Bertha was relieved but not surprised. She had thought Babe and Betty would get along. Though she didn’t like to think deeply about it, she realized that in some way Babe and Betty were the same. Bertha knew George Zaharias and realized it must not be easy living with him. She wanted Babe to be happy.
“That’s good,” Bertha said. There was a pause. “Have you taken her to a beauty salon yet?”
“No, not yet, but I will.”
Their final day in Miami, with a degree of tact unusual for her, Babe took Betty to a well-regarded beauty salon, the kind where most of the hairdressers were men. The salon, which looked like the marble and glass version of a Roman villa, was bustling with wealthy women patrons. Initially when Babe called to make an appointment, the receptionist had told her that she would have to wait a few days, but when Babe told her who she was, the young woman checked with her boss and then told her to come right in.
“We’d love to have you in our salon,” the receptionist gushed.
“These swishes give the best haircuts,” Babe advised Betty as they walked in. “Don’t let them scare you; they’re harmless.” She had noticed Betty’s unevenly trimmed nails. “Get a manicure too while you’re at it. I’ll wait.”
Betty had never noticed such unusual men as the hair stylists before, all bustling and whippet thin. It seemed Babe was opening up a whole new world to her. But then, Babe had been all around the world, or at least to Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand, and Scotland. Babe had told Betty about winning the women’s tournament in Scotland, had talked about how the cold wind whipped in off the North Sea, causing her to have to borrow slacks—or slocks—as the Scots pronounced the word, and about her crusty old caddy, Jock, who tried to tell her which club to use. She told her about dancing the Highland fling after she won. Betty mulled this over as a girl shampooed her hair.
Betty’s hairdresser, a tall, willowy fellow named Paul, was both masterful and gentle, with long tapering fingers and well-manicured nails. Paul held a comb and scissors like sculpting tools.
“Honey, you’ve got nice thick hair,” Paul assured her. “I can do a lot with this.”
Paul was right. Betty looked much better after she and Babe walked out of the beauty salon.
“How much do I owe you?” Betty asked.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Babe told her. “I didn’t pay anything for your haircut and manicure. When you’re as famous as I am, people throw free stuff at you.”
Later that month, Betty joined Babe at her home in Tampa. George was away again. He had returned for a few days, but then went back out on the road, this time to Tulsa, Oklahoma where he was checking out some rental properties he had bought.
Babe gave Betty a tour of the house. Betty was impressed. Even though she had been raised in a handsome residence in one of San Antonio’s wealthiest neighborhoods, her parents’ house had been rather old-fashioned, chock full of dark, heavy furniture and lots of bric a brac. As a small child, Betty had been terrified of a small stone gargoyle that her parents kept on the floor by the fireplace, a souvenir from a trip to Paris. Who even needed a fireplace in San Antonio?
In contrast, Babe’s house was new and airy, with plenty of light colors. The latest appliances, wall to wall carpeting, and handsome furniture in a style Babe said was called modern manor house.
“A lot of this stuff I got free from the manufacturers,” Babe told Betty. “It’s funny, now that I can afford this stuff, I don’t have to pay for it.”
This didn’t seem right to Babe. Where was all this free stuff when she needed it? No one had ever given free stuff to her family back on Doucette Street, when they barely had enough to eat.
“Did you pick out this furniture?” Betty asked.
“Yeah, along with the people at the stores. George ain’t, isn’t interested in furniture.”
Though he generally wasn’t, they had shipped George’s massive brown easy chair from Denver. That he couldn’t part with. It now sat by the fireplace: a behemoth with a cigar burn on one arm rest.
“Who needs a fireplace in Florida?” Betty asked herself but did not say. She guessed it did make an attractive part of the décor. It’s not what you need, it’s what you want, she was beginning to realize.
As she escorted Betty through the house, Babe recalled what it had taken to have this kind of home. It was a far cry from her old home on Doucette Street and, she guessed, George’s in Pueblo, Colorado, where he said all they had to eat sometimes was Greek bread and olive oil. She used to rib him about getting so big on Greek bread and olive oil, but she had to give him credit. He had fought his way up, just like she had. Still, respect wasn’t desire.
Betty was especially impressed by Babe’s trophy room. In contrast to the house in Denver, where Babe’s trophies were kept in a section of George’s office, there was now an entire room devoted to them and Babe’s golf equipment—clubs, bags, shoes, hats, and other paraphernalia.
Babe flipped a switch and turned on the lights in one of the trophy cases. Then she flipped another switch and the lights blinked on in another case. The silver trophies gleamed in the light.
“Wow, you won all these,” Betty said. She was not questioning it, just confirming the amazing fact.
“Yep, I won ‘em all,” Babe confirmed. “And I’m not gonna stop there. Before I’m done, I’ll win everything there is to win.”
Betty didn’t doubt it. To her it seemed like Babe had already won all there was to win. But then she remembered something.
“What about your gold medals from the Olympics?”
“Oh, I keep them separate from these,” Babe said, a slight frown clouding her face. “I keep them in the kitchen in an old coffee can.”
“Why on earth do you do that?”
“It’s a long story. I’ll explain it to you some time.”
The two women were standing close together. Each could feel the other’s warmth.
Babe breathed a satisfied sigh. She felt refreshed in Betty’s presence, as if a burden had been lifted. A break from the wearying grind, a break from George telling her what to do and when to do it, and from their boring evenings together: George drinking and Babe watching him drink.
Betty and Babe were standing so close that their bare arms touched, and then Betty unexpectedly slid her arm around Babe’s. Babe turned to her. Now there seemed to be nothing left for Babe to do but to reach out and stroke Betty’s coppery hair, now pleasingly coiffed. The girl turned to face her idol. The glass trophy case reflected their embrace.
Ruth A. Rouff has had two young adult novels published by Townsend Press, an educational publisher. Also, in 2016, Bedazzled Ink published her collection of poetry and prose entitled Pagan Heaven.