Rude: A tearful farewell to ‘Aunty Helen’

Rude: A tearful farewell to ‘Aunty Helen’

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Rude: A tearful farewell to ‘Aunty Helen’

I don’t feel like writing about golf today, not directly anyway. I feel like writing about influence, the kind that can shape a life and a career.

Remember the person who took you to all those Major League Baseball games as a kid?

The person who took you to all those high school basketball games?

The person who took you to your first NFL game?

The first person to use you as a golf caddie?

The person who gave you your first golf club?

The person who introduced you to other sports such as bowling, and took you to the lanes a hundred times?

The person who, more than anyone else, got you into sports?

The person who, more than anyone else, made you feel safe and special?

Well, I do.

For me, all those mentors, remarkably, were the same person. And she died the other day while I was in the British Isles after the Ryder Cup.

Cancer got her at 83, suddenly, and didn’t make her suffer long. When I left on that recent 15-day trip, no one knew she was really sick. When I got back, I learned she had died hours earlier.

That’s why I’ve been crying a river the past couple of days. Why I should buy stock in Scott tissues. Why I’m wrung out emotionally like never before. Why I don’t feel like writing about golf today and all its cups and tournaments and money and lists and whatever.

I’m typing this in Seat 20D on a flight home from Chicago after a Monday wake and Tuesday funeral. I feel as if other passengers are looking at me because my face is red and my eyes are moist and stained and I look like a mess.

But I don’t care because the influence of people like this is worth sharing and learning from.

And, besides, I need to get it out.

The blue-collar town of Waukegan, Ill., knew her as Helen Badegian, a loving, low-key, church-active woman. The family knew her simply as “Aunty Helen” and as my mother’s twin sister. The local sports scene knew her as a bowler of 30 years and as a longtime Chicago Bears season-ticket holder and someone who attended countless Chicago Cubs games, usually in the right-field bleachers. The obit in the local paper accurately framed her as “loved by anybody she came into contact with” and someone whose four nieces and two nephews “were her children.”

If you’re lucky, you’ve had someone like that in your life, someone who introduced you to things that you would love for a lifetime, maybe even things that would be the backbone of your livelihood.

I used to frame her as my second mother. But, during a lot of reflection on the way back home, I started thinking and taking inventory and realized she was a lot more than that. She perhaps impacted my life more than anyone else. She is the one who planted the seeds that led to a 35-year career in sports journalism. She is the one who introduced the athletic world to a kid who was 9 when his dad died.

You know, we run around blowing and going, carving out a living, raising a family, having our fun, getting lost in our short attention spans and crossing things off our to-do lists.

And then we don’t stay quiet long enough to take two steps back and add things up and realize what a person has really meant to you.

You might want to do that now. Figure it out, call him up and thank him. Do it now, just in case the special person passes away while you are, say, on a long trip. That way, you won’t be left to express it while standing next to a casket at a funeral.

There’s another lesson in here. The next time you take a kid to a game or introduce him to a sport or show him the ropes in any pursuit, don’t take it for granted. Do it with warmth and spirit.

You never know whom you might touch for a lifetime.

• • •

Jeff Rude’s “I Hate To Be Rude” column appears on Golfweek.com on Wednesday, the same day as his video show of the same name.

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