25: Mr. Fitz

25: Mr. Fitz

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grieving and Recovery

Mr. Fitz

Could we change our attitude, we should not only see life differently, but life itself would come to be different.

~Katherine Mansfield

Giant. That was the first thing that came to mind. Mr. Fitsumanu was at least 6’8”, maybe taller, and as wide as a mountain. His hands were like sledgehammers with fingers. When he talked it was as if thunder spoke English with a Samoan accent. “Call me Meester Feets,” he would say, and at the age of 13, who was I to argue?

My father had just passed away and with him went my direction in life, or so I thought. Mr. Fitz would say, “Doan fink too mush how bad you feel, jus know you feel and keep koing.” My father spoke very little English and would only speak to me in Samoan. Mr. Fitz, as thick as his accent was, had an extensive vocabulary. He seemed to always speak philosophically, which I liked. It would always make me think. Looking back, I guess I was looking for someone to fill the void left by my father’s death, and Mr. Fitz, in many ways, was like my father and so I clung to him.

Mr. Fitz had just moved to Missouri, and he volunteered to teach Sunday school at my church. Mr. Fitz came into our classroom, and boy did that room get quiet. I noticed that he only had two fingers on his massive right hand. That didn’t keep him from writing with it. Thumb and pinky, that was it. He noticed me looking at his hand and said, “Eet doan hurt me, doan let eet hurt you.” My face must have been filled with horror or fear for as I turned to the rest of the class, they burst out laughing. I turned to Mr. Fitz and he smiled. I felt ashamed for staring, but his smile warmed me and I began laughing as well.

In his twenties he had worked in Hawaii at a shipyard as a steel cutter. As his shift was coming to an end his mind wandered to this new game he and his friends were learning, golf. He was paying little attention to his saw, slipped and three fingers came off. He quickly wrapped his hand, picked up his fingers and raced to the hospital. The doctors were unable to reattach his fingers. There was too much bone and tissue damage. Mr. Fitz would tell this story with a grin and then hold his hand up and say, “Hang loose. At least I can steel play kolf.” That would always amaze me: the story and the fact that he still played golf.

Mr. Fitz and his wife had been childhood friends of my mother and father in Samoa. When he saw my name on his roll he asked who my father was. I told him his name and that he had passed a month prior. He picked me up and started weeping. A rush of emotions that I had tried to hide from my family, friends, and even my mother suddenly exploded from me in the form of uncontrollable sobs. I’m the youngest boy in my family and my younger sister and I were the only children still living at home. My older brothers would say, “You have to be the man of the house now. You better stop your crying.” I hadn’t cried a tear since before the funeral.

Now I cried, “I don’t want to be the man of the house. I just want my father back. I want to let him know I love him.”

Setting me back down, he said, “A man can steel miss hees fodder’s love. To weep for anudder chance to profess your love tells me you are da man of da house. Doan fink too mush how bad you feel, jus know you feel and keep koing.”

In the weeks following, my family and I would frequent Mr. and Mrs. Fitz’s home. This made my mother very happy. She got to catch up on gossip and I got to help Mr. Fitz fix things around his house, while listening to stories of my father’s childhood. Mr. Fitz always had something to fix and I, somehow, always had to fix it. He knew where the ladder was and I could climb the ladder and clean the gutters. It seemed his wisdom and my youth were a powerful combination.

One Sunday, after church, he asked my mother if I could caddy for him in a golf tournament on the last day of school. I heard this and begged my mother to let me go. She conceded, and missing the last day of school seemed trivial. Now was my chance to see the big guy swing those clubs.

The day arrived and I was ready to see Mr. Fitz swing those shiny clubs that looked as if they would slip right through those big paws of his. We parked and he pulled his clubs out of the trunk and handed them to me, showing me how to hold the bag on my shoulder. It was heavier than I had expected.

As we checked in and walked to the first tee, I realized that men were staring at us. At first I thought it was because of the size of the man walking next to me, but then I saw someone pointing to Mr. Fitz’s hand and making a gesture with his own hand. Mr. Fitz looked down at me and said, “Eet doan hurt me, doan let eet hurt you.” I had forgotten about his hand. A tournament official standing with the man making the hand gestures walked over to us, “Sir, are you at the right tournament?” he asked.

Without hesitation Mr. Fitz answered, “Yes sir.”

The official, startled at the thunderous voice, stepped back, asked his name and informed us that we were with the next group and were up.

As we watched the other players tee off, I noticed Mr. Fitz smiling. After each tee off, his smile seemed to widen. I began to worry. Was this his way of dealing with his nervousness? These men were hitting those balls into the next zip code. Then Mr. Fitz was up.

Men had already begun to gather behind us. Mr. Fitz took the biggest golf club from the bag and strolled out to the tee box. He teed up his ball, took the club with just his left hand, and in a flash there was a whip, then a tink, and that ball was gone. If those men were sending their balls to another zip code, then Mr. Fitz was sending his to Mars.

Applause came from everywhere. Mr. Fitz laughed and then asked the crowd, “Did anyone see my ball?”

I was astonished at the way Mr. Fitz played golf with one hand and made it look like that was really the way you played the game. He came in fourth, and by the reaction of the other golfers, he might as well have won. He did in my eyes.

On the ride home, I asked, “It must have been a real challenge losing your fingers. Were you ever scared that you wouldn’t hit your ball as well as those other men?”

He thought about my question for a minute, and then with almost perfect English said, “To lose something that you would take for granted will always be there is not the challenge. Making the best of what may come is.” At 13, these words would forever be etched in my mind.

Mr. Fitz passed away in August the following year. He drowned saving his niece from a riptide. I loved this man and the direction he gave my life. In the short time I knew him, I realized the impact that he made on my life and to this day I appreciate him for it. Every time I think of him I can still hear him say, “Doan fink too mush how bad you feel, jus know you feel and keep koing.”

~Highland E. Mulu

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